The past month has seen a flurry of media attention paid to anti-LGBT bullying and its sometimes tragic consequences. That national and local attention detailed the suicides of nearly a dozen gay or lesbian young people. Early this week, 500 or so Charlotte community members attended a special “It Gets Better” candlelight vigil in memory of those teens.
Today, Time Out Youth’s Steve Bentley, Laurie Pitts and youth Loan Tran appeared on 90.7 FM’s “Charlotte Talks” to discuss bullying and its impact on a local level. That conversation will continue this weekend, as Time Out Youth teams up with Crossroads Charlotte and Temple Beth El to hold a more in-depth conversation on bullying and its impact. The forum, “Bullied Until Broken,” takes place on Sunday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m., at the Jewish Community Center, 5007 Providence Rd.
Bentley, Time Out Youth’s executive director, has high hopes for the forum.
“It’s a chance to engage the broader community in a conversation,” he says. “Regardless of what the nature of the bullying is and the target of the bullying, its effects are hurtful and damaging and the consequences are severe.”
Tracy Russ, Crossroads Charlotte’s executive director, says the forum is a chance for his group to provide space for safe conversation.
“We’ve always thought of Crossroads Charlotte as having the capacity to be port of the civic space in this community, much like a town square or public hall,” he says. “It’s where people can come together around any number of issues and the intention would be to involve as many people as we can from a diverse background across a variety of viewpoints and come together to talk about these issues. Maybe we arrive at a resolution, and perhaps we don’t.”
Russ says conversations like those on LGBT youth, bullying and suicide are often difficult, but “difficult for a reason.”
“It’s certainly our intent and attempt to bring diverse backgrounds and perspective together,” he says. “That will mean sometimes we are engaging constituencies that don’t agree with each other.”
For this weekend’s forum, however, Russ says he’s heard no negative feedback or response. That conversations on LGBT young people aren’t being publicly, or even privately, challenged is Charlotte is a sign a progress. Russ thinks there’s plenty more to be seen.
“I think that you can see a number of examples [of progress] that are very visible and some not so visible but important,” he says. “The fact that there was a skyscraper uptown illuminated in the rainbow flag — that was a huge step forward. Does that affect policy? No. Does it mean that you have the right to do something that you didn’t have yesterday? No. But it is an important acknowledgment by very senior, powerful leaders in this community that the LGBT community is a part of who we are.”
Bentley hopes recent conversations on LGBT youth can turn from mourning those lost to keeping those still alive safe and included. Enforcement of local and state policies or laws protecting LGBT young people must be a priority, he says.
“One of the things we know about policies, whether in business or in schools, is that the decision on how to enforce those policies are left to individual decision makers, for example school principals,” Bentley says. “How sternly it’s enforced, how effectively consequences for violations are meted out can vary from school to school. It does invite the community to be able to step in and for every parent to have a conversation with his or her child’s school.”