For many high school students, this time of year means one thing: PROM! The annual dance ritual is a highlight for lots of students, but for others it’s just another occasion to be ridiculed and bullied. That is, unless they go to the Rainbow Ball, an open and affirming prom weekend for LGBT youth and their allies, held annually in Machias.
We know from a recent survey that eight out of ten LGBT students report harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation. Transgender students experience even more hostile school climates. At the Rainbow Ball, students don’t have to worry about that. They’re provided (at no cost) a weekend full of activities, talent shows and workshops, culminating with the Saturday evening prom. It’s a chance to be themselves and enjoy their teenage years without the fear of bullying or harassment.
The ACLU of Maine was proud to be back at the Rainbow Ball again this year, and we were pleased to present our newest workshop on Maine’s new anti-bullying law. We led this workshop three times during a student conference we held at Freeport High School earlier this month, and it was great to discuss issues of bullying with students at the Rainbow Ball again this weekend. The new law provides much greater protections for students, and we want to make sure that every young person is aware that their school can no longer turn a blind eye to any incident of bullying.
However, for all the fun inherent in an event like this, there was some sadness too. Hearing student after student telling their story of bullying was difficult to hear. Several students remarked that they had considered committing suicide or cutting because the taunting got so bad. Many others stressed that for them, bullying isn’t just a few isolated incidents – it’s a systemic problem. One young boy told me he still had trouble getting close to anyone, even people who were friendly, because of all the bullying he endured in elementary school. It’s difficult enough to listen to these stories; I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live them every day.
Bullying is a problem for all students, but few groups bear the brunt harder than LGBT youth. The new anti-bullying law provides clear protections for them, and we’ll continue to educate students so they’re aware of their rights under the new law. In the meantime, we’re glad that the students in attendance this weekend were able to let loose and enjoy their prom without fear. They deserve it.