High school can be a minefield of insults and painful experiences, especially for kids on the receiving end of LGBT-targeted bullying. Thrown at any kid who is different, and who may or may not be queer, these kinds of homophobic comments refuse to go away, despite the increased visibility, acceptance and understanding of queer identities in the media.
Ohio based non-profit in the states, Dare2Care, is dedicated to bringing together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight youth - something I think we can all agree is long overdue. They provide sponsored teens and teachers leadership development opportunities in order to increase education and awareness about the LGBT community. With their new PSA, "Words Kill," they have sent out a powerful and, some might say, shocking message that challenges the indifference and passivity that sustains homophobic culture.
We spoke to Dare2Care Vice President Liz O'Donnell about the organisation's ideas, accomplishments and beliefs.
Your new PSA was released last week. What has the response been like so far?
One of the observations I have heard made frequently is: "It brings me right back to my own experience of being bullied." The distress and overt agitation on some of the participants' faces has been impactful. There is clearly pain and hurt, as well as anger expressed in those short 60 seconds!
What do you hope the PSA will achieve and, more broadly speaking, what is Dare2Care's ultimate aim?
Simply, we hope that the PSA will get people talking. Part of Dare2Care's mission is to provide students with the skills they need to change the current conversations they are having about identity. We do this with our student and teacher leadership scholarship program, which prepares our scholars, over 3 years, to influence and impact the present dialogue in their community about identity. As a culture, I am talking about American culture now, we need to do a better job educating our youth early about the multiple elements that contribute to an individual's identity.
The PSA uses an impactful approach, with kids speaking the terms used to bully them. Why did you choose to use curse words in the PSA?
It did not make sense to us to suggest the words or simply say, "words kill" without demonstrating what the words are. We realized that hearing them said with the full impact of the emotion behind them was a far more effective way to get people's attention.
As I mentioned before, we have had several people tear up and recall their own bullying experience while watching the PSA, and I suspect it is just as likely that some people will also see or recall themselves as the bully. Each one of us at some point has likely been on both sides of that equation.
Dare2Care is focused on LGBT youth. What unique challenges do LGBT kids face in schools?
Perceived or actual LGBT students are bullied and harassed up to five to six times more than their straight identified peers. They experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, school dropout, family rejection, homelessness and attempted and completed suicide. These are facts that are incontrovertible. We want to find a way to create a path for our world to understand that being LGBT is an embraceable human identity.
We of course have LGBT youth involved in our program, however we don't ask our 14-year-old applicants to self-identify. We ask them to commit to learning about, and talking about sex and gender issues in an informed way.
We are developing activists, advocates, and community leaders across the spectrum. We want to make noise, and we encourage our students to make a lot of noise in an educated and respectful, yet still provocative manner.
By Francesca Lewis