Bullying, LGBT Acceptance Growing Concerns For Kent & Sussex - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Bullying, LGBT Acceptance Growing Concerns For Kent & Sussex

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DELAWARE – Now that it is officially summer, some community leaders are taking advantage of the break from school to address a growing concern over bullying.

Specifically, a growing intolerance for sexual orientation.

Linda Gregory, LGBTQ case manager for Delaware's Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and president of the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Rehoboth Beach, has worked with community members of over the past few months to address bullying in the community. While the meetings continue, she is also using the summer to sit down with middle and high school officials to encourage them to start a Gay-Straight Alliance Club.

Gregory says about 30 schools in Delaware have the clubs, but in Kent and Sussex counties, only a handful.

"Most school policies say that a child has to request it, but they may not be out to the family, to the staff, so to ask them to go to the adults and the school and request that is asking a little more than a lot of them are able to do," says Gregory. "The kids are excited to have a GAS when they can have one because they are able to meet kids like themselves."

According to the CDC, there were 8 reported suicides in Kent and Sussex counties alone in 2012. Gregory hopes the clubs could take the step towards awareness to combat the troubling suicide numbers among teens and young-adults, and avoid the bullying that apparently does not just happen during school.

"There's lots of bullying going on in the workplace," says Gregory. "People have come to the meeting to voice their concern saying, ‘what do I do at work?'"

One school that recently started a GSA is Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes. School officials say they previously had a group, but after the mentor retired, the group disbanded until they were able to find another leader.

Some of the school's GSA members were reportedly up in arms after school officials allegedly denied their request to wear rainbow stoles as a part of their graduation gowns. School officials could not confirm the incident to 47 ABC, but say they're working on a number of initiatives to create acceptance.

 

Their efforts include an offshoot of Rachel's Challenge, which was a movement created by the father of Rachel Scott, who was the first person killed in the Columbine shootings. Cape Henlopen made their own program of it, titled "Friends of Cape." The group meets once a week and school officials say about 100 kids jumped in to help with a number of projects.

"The challenge is to reflect, get the kids to look at themselves and then see how they can positively influence the school and the greater community," says Chris Mattioni, a ninth grade school counselor at Cape Henlopen High School. "We're growing it slowly. We certainly want to improve the school but we want it to be a student run organization with them coming up with the ideas."

It's a big effort for an area that some say, tends to not be accepting.

"I see different regions and different pockets of acceptance or lack of acceptance, fear of the unknown," says Gregory. "There's a lot of work to be done and a lot of education to happen."

Gregory says they looking for volunteers that can help mentor gay-straight alliances in local schools, and they are also hoping to hold a workshop for educators on how they can let students know they are safe to talk to about LGBT issues. For more information, visit the PFLAG website.

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