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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Utah Grandfather Says Addressing Anti-Gay Bullying Should Start in Elementary School

By Michael A. Jones -

Leonard Ridley is quickly becoming the most popular grandfather in the country. The Utah resident, a retired social worker, has decided that if elementary schools in his town won't address the subject of anti-gay bullying with students, then he's not going to sit around and let silence prevail. So what did Ridley do?
As we mentioned earlier this month, Ridley decided to put pen-to-posterboard and make some signs that he could put in his front yard which, conveniently, sits right across from a school. The messages that those signs carry? Pretty simple and sweet: "Tell the truth." "Stop Gay Suicide." "Gays Are Born Gay."
Nothing too controversial about those signs, right? Not if you talk to local school officials, who fear that the signs are inappropriate for children below the sixth grade. They want Ridley to remove the signs, and called him into their office recently to lecture him about the "inappropriateness" of telling youth that people are born gay.
Ridley is not backing down.
According to QSaltLake, which interviewed Ridley this week, he's keeping the signs up in order to make sure that kids get the message somewhere that it's not OK to bully people based on sexual orientation.
"I think it is a life or death issue, and I think it’s the most serious issue homosexuals face because of that,” said Ridley. "[There is a] wall of silence around the prevalence of gay suicides."
Administrators, however, see the subject a bit differently. They think Ridley's signs cross the line, and though they can't force him to take the signs down, they're making their opposition pretty clear, in an official statement from a district spokesperson.
“The District is very concerned about the content of the signs and it’s not that his beliefs are different from other people’s. It’s that the content is adult in nature,” said the spokesperson. “It discusses suicide specifically which is something that we don’t discuss at the elementary level.”
So saying that gay people are born gay, and that suicide is a bad thing, is inappropriate for elementary school kids to hear? Talk about a tragic position to take given that students as young as 11-years-old have taken their lives in recent years after being bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation.
And as Ridley makes crystal clear, anti-gay rhetoric takes place on the playgrounds of elementary schools. If left unchecked, that anti-gay rhetoric can turn into bullying, which can turn terribly tragic.
“I’m aware that what you find in grammar school is hostile teasing concerning gays and it escalates to outright bullying by junior high and can become more severe by senior high,” he said.
Which is why he's not willing to take the signs down, despite what school administrators say. To stop the cycle of violence that is LGBT bullying, you have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is with elementary school kids.
Pretty cool grandfather, eh?


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