Brett Bigham Speech at Oregon Safe Schools Communities Coalition
|Oregon BAT Brett Bigham and Cali BAT Mel House at SOS Coalition for Action|
March for Education and Social Justice, Washington, DC
I wanted to share my keynote speech from today with you all. I was asked to speak at the Oregon Safe Schools Communities Coalition at their OSSCC Awards ceremony, honoring community members for their efforts to stop bullying.
My speech is political and expresses my feelings and my feelings alone. I represent no-one but myself in them.
Good Afternoon Everyone, It is wonderful to be here today to honor Oregonians who have stepped up to stop bullying in this state.
In these modern times, with our 24-hour a day modern media you don’t have to look far to see examples of bullying. A simple youtube search will bring up countless videos of people being harassed, called names, being physically intimidated and threatened.
No, I am not talking about the Presidential debates. But I do believe the debates show a good example of what bullying is. And sadly, they are setting an example to today’s youth of acceptable behavior. I wonder how many girls and young women were called “nasty” this week. I wonder how many Mexican kids were taunted with “Build A Wall” or called “Miss Housekeeping.”
These are the facts about bullying. Over 73% of kids in a recent GLSEN survey reported being bullied in the past year. It is a fact that being bullied damages that young ego that is developing. These damages can be life-long—statistics show being bullied is related to drinking and taking drugs at a younger age, it contributes to stress and dropping out of school.
But we also know that just being a witness to bullying causes damage to the person who sees it. Just being in the hallway and seeing someone being bullied becomes part of who you are. I understand that.
When I was younger I was walking on the sidewalk looking at this girl eating an ice-cream cone. She was cute, blond, wearing this little sun dress. And then the guy next to her suddenly punched her in the face. That was 30 years ago and it is frozen in my mind, like a short movie that plays over and over every time something triggers it. I’m still haunted by the look on her face, the cone hitting the ground, and ribbons of blood from her nose running over the ice cream that was smeared across her face.
I am right now feeling the emotions of that day as if it were yesterday.s I felt that day. Perhaps I still feel them because I know she probably does too.
I’m sorry to put that image into your mind on such a beautiful day. But that is why we are here. Because to fix the problem of bullying we have to understand the damage it does. By witnessing that act of violence I have been forever changed. To this day whenever I see a girl with an ice-cream cone it triggers that movie in my head. The Dairy Queen by my house had a giant picture of a strawberry sundae with the strawberry sauce drizzling down the vanilla icecream. I couldn’t look at it without seeing her.
That’s just one example. I have more. You have more. I would guess every person in this room probably has at least a little bit of damage from bullying.
But bullying does not just damage the person being bullied and the person who sees it, it damages the bully. It creates a life-long pattern of cruelty and friendlessness and creates an adult who continues to damage the people around them.
I would bet every person in this room knows an adult that they think is a bully. A past boss, a mean neighbor, a black sheep cousin. These people just didn’t wake up one day in their twenties and find they had become a bully. What they probably have is dark history of being cruel and nasty that stretches back to their own youth.
That mean 70 year old man might have been a mean 7 year old boy. The sad part is, a mean 70 year old can spend his life teaching others how to be bullies. When we see people on tv screaming “get out of our country” we must acknowledge that they learned this bullying behavior from someone.
And that is why so many of us are fighting to end bullying in the schools. Just as we teach math and science we are also trying to teach humanity and social structure, about feelings and kindness. And with that role as teacher goes along the role of protector. The kids in my classroom are my kids. I will influence who they become. I don’t want them damaged by a bully. I don’t want a kid who bullies to be condemned to a life filled with toxic behavior.
That is why, when I was named Teacher of the Year, I stood up for LGBT youth. Even when my district told me I could not meet with a high school Gay Straight Alliance club because meeting with those students “has no value to this district.” I took a personal day and went anyway and was later fired for it.
There is a reason supporting those kids was so important. When I was 15 my best friend came out to me and killed himself that weekend. I learned early the damage that can come from bullying and by being afraid to grow up gay.
This is why Oregon Safe Schools exists. For no other reason than to stop bullying, to create a better path for all of our children and those efforts are working.
Since I’m a teacher I’m going to give you some more facts.
In a school with an anti-bullying policy the GLSEN study found that students heard homophobic and racist remarks less than a school with no policy. All students reported that in a school with anti bullying policies they felt safer and that they attended school more often.
In schools with A Gay Straight Alliance or similar club the statistics show similar numbers. If a school has a GSA the entire student body reports the school is a safer place and the amount of bullying in the school decreases. They found in schools that have LGBT-inclusive curriculum there was even less bullying of LGBT students. There is also less suicidal ideation and lower teen suicide rates.
I’m proud to live in one of the few places in the world that have anti-bullying laws on the books. I’m proud that almost all of our Oregon teachers are trained how to deal with bullying and racism. I’m proud that Oregon Safe Schools is one of the reasons those laws exist. As a board member you may think I’m biased but the truth is I am in awe of this group of people who have come together to make our state a better place.
Think of Oregon Safe Schools as a warrior who is protecting our children. They have stood up to the bullies and proved that education and training on a state level can lower the amount of damage bullying does to our kids.
And today we honor other warriors who have stood firm to protect the students and youth of their communities. The Oregon Safe Schools Awards are not lightly given. They go to people and institutions that have made a difference for their own students and the youth in their community.
We are here to say thank you for fighting with us and thank you for putting kids first.