Saturday’s Associated Press story entitled, “Suicide surge: Schools confront anti-gay bullying,” raises a couple of important questions:
- How do people know within hours or even days that the reason behind a teen suicide is because of bullying or anti-gay harassment? Can the reason(s) behind a suicide be determined that quickly? What type of formal investigations, if any, are conducted by professionals to determine the causes of the suicide and do they not take longer than a few hours or days?
- Are anti-bullying advocates, gay rights advocates, and the media too quick to jump to conclusions in attributing suicides as anti-gay and/or caused by bullying?
- Is there statistical evidence of an increase in teen suicides directly and solely caused by bullying and/or anti-gay harassment or has the recent spate of incidents in national media created the perception of a statistically-significant increase over a broader period of time?
- In the study of suicidology, is there even actual evidence-based research concluding that bullying can be a sole and direct cause of a suicide, or are there typically other underlying mental health issues making a person who completes suicide more vulnerable?
Surge in Suicide or Surge in Politics Behind Anti-Bullying Advocacy?
While questions loom around a “surge” in suicides directly and solely caused by bullying, it is clear that there has been a surge in politics behind anti-bullying and civil right advocacy.
An October 5th article in Citizenlink (a Focus on the Family affiliate) entitled, “Teen Suicide is a Complex Issue” challenges The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy organziation, for calling on Education Secretary Arne Duncan to push for anti-bullying policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The article goes on to note that, “…respected researchers and experts on the issue of suicide have long warned that oversimplified, sensationalized and snap-judgment reporting of the issue can actually have a detrimental impact.”
On Saturday, candidates for governor in Minnesota drew headlines by debating the need for, and value of, anti-bullying laws.
The politics on school anti-bullying laws and policies in Minnesota goes deeper than the race for governor. The Associated Press story features the political tensions in the Anoka-Hennepin School District following a gay student’s suicide. The story reports of a politically diverse school-community, a politically-sensitive school board, and a superintendent who claims he might bring in the Justice Department to mediate disputes between gay rights advocates and conservatives who are strongly divided on the issue.
The Minnesota Family Council strongly holds that bullying policy should focus on the wrong actions of the bullies and not the characteristics of the victim, according to the story.
Meanwhile, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) argues for policies which “name the problem,” says GLSEN’s executive director, Eliza Byard.
GLSEN, and more specifically Byard, appear to have taken their advocacy to the Minnesota school district according to posts on GLSEN’s Twitter site back on September 27th:
EByardHeaded to MN to join Anoka Hennepin advocates in call for effective anti-bullying policies and greater support for district schools. @glsen 10:17 AM Sep 27th via web
EByard Inspired by statments of Anoka Hennepin Gay Equity Team at this afternoon’s event. Hoping for progress @ School Board mtg tonight. @glsen 5:26 PM Sep 27th via txt Retweeted by glsen and 1 other
This is an interesting example of how national and local special interest advocates, along with social media, can multiple forces upon a school district in a very short period of time.
Political Impact Hard on Local School District
The Associated Press story highlights how this political battle impacts a local school district:
Carlson says his district, seven years ago, was among the first in the state to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying program. Now he’s exasperated by the highly charged, politicized debate that has flared since Aaberg’s suicide.
“It’s a terribly sensitive situation,” he said. “Hurtful statements on either side are not helpful … and the kids are watching.”
Are your school boards, superintendents, and principals ready if the politicization of bullying and school safety lands in their office?
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