Efforts to Deal With Bullying

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:56
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Two new documentaries are coming out this month on bullying: "Speak Up" premiers on the Cartoon Network on Sunday, "Bully" premiers in New York on March 30 and nationwide in April. The films are the latest effort to draw attention to what some say is a public health issue. Joining me in the studio: Lee Hirsh, who directed the documentary "Bully," Kelby Johnson, who appears in the film, Dr. Joseph Wright of the Children's National Medical Center and Duane Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania and a consultant on the film "Speak Up."

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:45
I hope you'll join us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook. Send us a tweet. But I do caution you, there are very sensitive issues, words that are used in these documentaries that you may not want young children to hear. So that's my cautionary words to you. And, now, good morning to all of you.

MR. LEE HIRSCH

10:08:18
Good morning.

DR. JOSEPH WRIGHT

10:08:18
Good morning.

PROF. DUANE THOMAS

10:08:18
Good morning.

MS. KELBY JOHNSON

10:08:19
Good morning.

REHM

10:08:19
Good to have you here. Lee Hirsch, talk about why you wanted to make this film.

HIRSCH

10:08:28
"Bully" is a film that's very personal for me. I was bullied throughout middle school, lots of elementary school. And it's -- I think, for me and millions of other adults, it's an experience that you carry with you. I grew up in a time where, you know, we were constantly told: This is just kids being kids. Just shut up. It'll go away. And it -- you know, it doesn't, and you carry that.

HIRSCH

10:08:59
And as I became a filmmaker and realized that I had a voice, it felt, like, so incredibly important to be able to give that voice back to kids like Kelby and others that are dealing with this every day on the frontlines. And that was how the project was born.

REHM

10:09:17
Give me an example of how you were bullied.

HIRSCH

10:09:22
Oh, boy, and it's really early in the morning, too. You know, daily, getting home from school, I felt like I was walking through the gauntlet. There would be gangs of boys that thought it was just fun to beat me up. And so I would try and find any way I could to get home to my house, and they would find any way they could to find me on that way. And so...

REHM

10:09:48
Why do you think you were bullied?

HIRSCH

10:09:52
Well, this is one of those questions that's constantly put on kids that are bullied, and I don't think that's actually the right question. And we can get into that with some of the folks that are here this morning. My parents were 30, 40 years older than anyone else's parents. My hair was funny. My dress was funny. I didn't have the same social skills as other kids, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that people tolerated it and thought it was OK.

HIRSCH

10:10:26
And so, you know, that daily walk turned into, you know, black and blue marks, which became permanent yellow marks which, you know, carried on into my memory. And I remember it being so difficult to explain what was happening. There was so much shame and embarrassment in my talking to my father about it, you know, facing his disappointment. All of those things were the things that I carried forward and wanted to sort of voice through this film.

REHM

10:11:01
Lee Hirsch, a Sundance and Emmy-award winning filmmaker, he directed the documentary "Bully." And turning to you, Kelby Johnson, was it difficult for you to begin to tell your own story?

JOHNSON

10:11:23
At first, yeah, of course, it's difficult to let someone into that personal aspect of your life and kind of let down your wall, and you don't want to seem weak. But, as we kept filming, I got used to the idea and realizing that the outcome was this big -- kind of made all that go away. And so I got used to it and realized that it was for a good cause.

REHM

10:11:53
At one point in the film "Bully," there's a scene where you're talking about how six guys come along in a truck. Talk about what happened that day.

JOHNSON

10:12:09
We were walking at lunch, and there was a group of six guys driving around. They had drove around the block about four times, throwing stuff at us, yelling at us. So about the fifth time they drove around, I decided that I was going to see what their problem was. I was on the side of the road, and, instead of stopping to talk to me, he sped up and ran over me in the car. I went back to school and contacted the ambulance and the police, and we tried to handle it legally.

REHM

10:12:46
Why do you...

HIRSCH

10:12:49
And no one would do anything, right?

JOHNSON

10:12:50
No, nothing was done. The police didn't help, and none of the kids had any disciplinary actions taken against them.

REHM

10:13:02
It's interesting. Lee has objected to the question of why. But I wonder why you felt you were bullied.

JOHNSON

10:13:15
I think, for me, it was definitely -- I was the only openly gay student where I came from. And so I think that definitely made me an easy target.

REHM

10:13:28
Where were you from?

JOHNSON

10:13:30
A small town called Tuttle, Okla.

REHM

10:13:33
In Oklahoma.

JOHNSON

10:13:35
Yes.

REHM

10:13:36
So, what, the students around you thought you were different enough that they could pick on you?

JOHNSON

10:13:45
Right.

REHM

10:13:46
And how did you react on a daily basis?

JOHNSON

10:13:50
I definitely went through my stage of just giving up, thinking there was nothing I could do. And then after I met Lee and talked with my parents -- this whole film kind of helped fuel my fire. And one day I woke up and decided, you know, I can fight this, and we can fight it together. And so I definitely went through different stages of denial and anger and a deep, deep depression. And there are definitely scars that will never go away. But, overall, this has made me stronger and ready to fight.

REHM

10:14:28
Kelby Johnson, she is a gay teenager from Oklahoma whose story is featured in the documentary "Bully." Turning to you, Dr. Joseph Wright, you see bullying as a public health menace.

WRIGHT

10:14:48
Absolutely. My background is in emergency medicine. And what Lee and Kelby have both described, direct forms of bullying that result in physical injury, was my entree to the issue. And I began to wonder what led to these young people being in front of me in my emergency department here at -- in Washington, D.C. And I began to realize that the antecedents of the injuries that I was seeing, in many cases, were situations like what Lee and Kelby have described.

WRIGHT

10:15:29
And, more recently, as I began to really become interested in what is leading to the behaviors and the consequences of the behaviors, more importantly, we also understand that it's not just the physical or direct injuries and consequences that we're hearing about, but in terms of those long-lasting effects, particularly around relational or indirect forms of bullying that really lead to consequences like depression, consequences like suicidal ideation.

WRIGHT

10:16:15
These are of particular concern, especially because the indirect forms of bullying, the relational forms of bullying, the isolation, the rumor mongering, that kind of behavior is insidious, difficult to see. And we're beginning to realize that the effects are long lasting, lifelong lasting. And this is why it is a health and public health issue of great concern to many of us in the medical community.

REHM

10:16:52
Dr. Joseph Wright, he is a pediatrician, senior vice president of the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Medical Center. Duane Thomas, hearing Kelby, seeing her in this film, what could her family or her teachers had done to stop what was happening to her?

THOMAS

10:17:24
Well, unfortunately, I'm listening to her story, and it's pretty commonplace. Outside of, you know, kids being victimized, about one in five kids will find themselves in a situation like Kelby. But a larger majority of kids are those individuals who actually witness events like this taking place and do not speak up or do not say anything about it. And so what we are doing as part of the Stop Bullying: Speak Up campaign, which is very relevant to your question, is that we really want to encourage and we really want to motivate people to just speak up, to say something about what it is that they're seeing. So...

REHM

10:18:04
And yet kids are reluctant to speak up.

THOMAS

10:18:08
Yeah, kids are reluctant to speak up, and part of the reason why kids are reluctant to speak up -- because we are taught at a very early stage, unfortunately, that it's not appropriate to tattle. We're also living in a day and an age right now where we have this cultural phenomenon of stop snitching. And so we have to find ways to get past all of that and encourage kids to understand that speaking up and reporting these incidents is not snitching.

REHM

10:18:37
Duane Thomas, he is assistant professor in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Short break. We'll be right back.

REHM

10:20:04
And we're talking about the issue of bullying. Two films are coming out this month: one new documentary titled "Bully," the other film "Speak Up!," which was screened yesterday here before a D.C. middle school with Health and Human Secretary -- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The other, "Bully," opens in New York on March 30. We have four people in the studio, all of whom, in one way or another, have been involved in this discussion about why bullying has become so prevalent and what can be done about it.

REHM

10:20:59
Now, here's the first email, which is, "When does criticism become bullying?" I wonder, Kelby, how you feel about that question.

JOHNSON

10:21:16
I think when someone's criticism starts making them doubt themselves, doubt who they are, and when it -- when you're laying in bed at night and that's all you can think about, that's when it becomes bullying, is when you're getting inside someone else's head and making them feel less than what they are.

REHM

10:21:36
Go ahead, Duane.

THOMAS

10:21:37
Yeah, I would also like to add to that. Any negative act, whether it's criticism, spreading rumors or otherwise, when there's a deliberate intention to cause someone harm, OK, that is part of the essence of what bullying is and, also, if there's a degree of repetition to the behavior as well. So it's intentionally causing someone harm, but it also tends to go on and on.

REHM

10:22:04
I want to let our listeners hear a clip of Tyler, one of the young men in the film, his father talking about his son interwoven with video footage of the film.

REHM

10:23:56
Lee Hirsch, talk about Tyler, his parents and what they went through.

HIRSCH

10:24:03
Well, Tyler passed away at 17 years old. He, as I understand it, was bullied from elementary school on through to his last days. His mother and father and brother and sister are the most extraordinary family, the most loving family. They took Tyler's case to the school countless times. I sat with them and went through boxes and boxes of documentation, reports, requests for meetings, requests to the police to intervene. And they just hit brick wall after brick wall.

HIRSCH

10:24:47
And there's nothing that you can say beyond listening to David talk about the loss of his son. There's just -- there's no -- I can't even begin to speak to it because it's such a loss that I can't understand, but I think that he speaks for so many families now that have lost children. We are, unfortunately, in a two- or three-year cycle now where we've been hearing about tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.

HIRSCH

10:25:29
The latest, a young 14-year old girl named Eden Wormer from Vancouver, Wash., just took her life from bullying. And I often wonder if, you know, this has been happening with the same frequently -- frequency, and we just never attributed it to bullying before. So where, you know, David speaks for many, I think, who have that loss and share that frustration of, like, I'm fighting to save my child's life. I don't know if you guys want to pick up on that.

REHM

10:26:06
Duane.

THOMAS

10:26:07
Yeah. It's -- these stories are just so horrific and so heart-wrenching, and we're starting to have more awareness around bullying, unfortunately, because of these high-profile tragic cases that we're seeing around the country. I mean, it's been estimated that about 20 kids each year commit suicide as it relates to bullying, but I would also agree with Lee, that, more than likely, that is a gross underestimate of how many cases are actually out there.

THOMAS

10:26:39
And I just want to just pick up, just briefly, about the points that I was making about understanding the nature of bullying. It's not only about the deliberateness or the intentionality of the behavior, or if it's something with a immense degree of repetition, but there's also an imbalance of power as well. So when you ask the question in terms of whether criticism, right, is bullying or not, if those three factors or characteristics are met, then that could provide a clear case for whether it's bullying.

REHM

10:27:14
Joseph Wright.

WRIGHT

10:27:15
I would like to say something with regard to parents and parents in terms of being proactive advocates for their children to protect their children. We've heard about the high-profile cases that have resulted in children taking their life, but the rudiments of bullying begin early in childhood. And it's important, I think, for parents to understand the resource that their pediatricians or health care providers can provide early on.

REHM

10:27:50
But at the same time, as I watched the film, Lee, I saw these parents sitting before the school board, hearing from other parents that nobody was doing anything, that the police were not doing anything, that it's -- sure, it's up to the parents, but the parents weren't doing anything, and even the school administrators. Here's another clip from the film.

REHM

10:30:01
Wow. Do you want to comment, Dr. Joseph Wright?

WRIGHT

10:30:07
That clip epitomizes the challenge we have in terms of adults' recognition of the problem. And I think that one of the biggest challenges we face right now is a true absence of knowledge around the issue, that adults, that young people are relying on to protect them, have around the issue. It's a huge gap.

REHM

10:30:34
Yeah. But in this case, you have a school administrator who, in fact, takes an extended hand as an excuse for what that child has been doing to Cole. You witnessed the entire exchange, Lee?

HIRSCH

10:30:58
I did. And I think that one of the things that I saw over and over in my year of -- I was embedded inside the school for a year -- is that bullying is often, in a rush to judgment, mistaken for conflict. And then this sort of -- the harried administrator, if you will, seeks a very quick resolution. And it takes -- it just takes so much more than that.

HIRSCH

10:31:26
And I think -- what was extraordinary for me about that particular moment is the courage that it took that young man, Cole, to stand up and not back down and not accept that resolution, and stand up for his rights, over and over and over again, as she kept trying to convince him otherwise. To me -- and knowing a little bit about that young man -- that was an extraordinary act of courage and faith.

HIRSCH

10:31:55
And there's another scene in "Bully" where, after we've gotten to know Alex, the central character whose story we follow for the year, and the bullying has come to light and the assistant principal has sort of done some disciplining, and they call Alex back in the office and they say -- to Alex, they say, well, do you trust us when we tell you that we'll take care of it, that it will be taken care of?

HIRSCH

10:32:19
And Alex just looks at them and says, no, you know, because, last year, when they were sitting on my head in the bus and torturing me, you said it would be taken care of, and it didn't stop. And so that -- I think that gets at the core of, like, the disconnect between what adults -- when adults say, we're bully-free in, you know, in our school and we're zero-tolerance and this and that -- and the kids understand that they live in a very different universe, and they really get that disconnect in a very powerful way.

REHM

10:32:53
There is one word that Cole uses in that exchange, which has prompted -- and there are other words throughout the film which have prompted an R rating for "Bully." And yet there's been a huge online written protest about that R rating because you all, I would think, believe that kids of all ages need to see this film. What's been the reaction to that online campaign?

HIRSCH

10:33:33
Well, we're not saying kids of all ages needs to see this film. We're just saying that kids need to see this film, and we -- you know, we are fighting for a PG-13 rating. We think it's an incredibly unjust decision on the part of the MPAA. It's extraordinary. You know, we fought it. I fought it as a filmmaker. My distributor, Harvey Weinstein, fought it. But the thing that happened that is -- I look at as a miracle, and I'll circle back to why it's such a miracle, is a young girl, Katy Butler, from Ann Arbor, Mich., on her own, launched a petition on change.org. You can find it.

HIRSCH

10:34:10
It's on the homepage, change.org. Three hundred thousand-plus, and growing, signatures. Now, these are not just signatures. These are people sharing their stories, expressing why this matters, talking to each other, supporting each other. And so, you know, I really think that we are -- we will beat this R rating. I have every confidence in the world. But what's happening is we're at a tipping point moment.

REHM

10:34:39
Lee Hirsch, he is filmmaker. He directed the documentary "Bully." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Duane, you wanted to add something.

THOMAS

10:34:54
Yeah, I just wanted to add that typical ways that we go about trying to resolve conflicts in schools, they're going to be ineffective in dealing with the cycle of bullying because of the imbalance of power. Lee Hirsch just hit it on the head here. There's immense disconnect between how kids are thinking about adults' attention to this issue and what adults are saying. We understand, in the science world, that about 25 percent of kids would indicate that when they reach out to an adult, adult has been helpful, in contrast to 85 percent of adults indicating that they have been helpful around these issues.

THOMAS

10:35:32
So it's a big discrepancy out there.

REHM

10:35:35
Kelby, did you reach out to adults? Did anyone out there help you?

JOHNSON

10:35:45
My parents, especially, had been to the school multiple, multiple times, and we had been -- we had done just about everything we could, and no one was there to support us. We had tried everything, and no one really had anything to say. So it came to the point where, after that, you know, where do you go when the teachers don't help?

HIRSCH

10:36:07
Can you talk about how your teachers made fun of you in class?

JOHNSON

10:36:10
Yes. The teachers were part of my bullying throughout high school.

REHM

10:36:15
How so?

JOHNSON

10:36:16
When it was time to call roll, I had many teachers that would say boys, and then they would say girls. And then they would say Kelby, assuming that I was neither of the gender. I had teachers talk about how they used to burn gays, you know, just different things and...

REHM

10:36:42
Burn gays?

HIRSCH

10:36:45
They didn't even use the word gay, did they?

JOHNSON

10:36:47
No. They did not use the word gay. They used another term.

REHM

10:36:51
What did they use?

JOHNSON

10:36:52
Burn -- burning fags.

REHM

10:36:57
And teachers would say this in the classroom?

JOHNSON

10:37:01
Yes. This was in class with me in the class.

REHM

10:37:05
And what did you and the other students do when teachers began talking this way?

JOHNSON

10:37:14
Well, while they were laughing...

REHM

10:37:17
The students.

JOHNSON

10:37:18
Right. I had no choice but to sit there and to listen to them laugh. And, like I said, I went to the principal. I went to the superintendent, and none of them could help me. So, at that point, I just -- I had to deal with it.

REHM

10:37:35
Kelby Johnson, a gay teenager from Oklahoma whose story is featured in the documentary "Bully." We'll take a short break, your calls when...

REHM

10:40:04
And welcome back. Here's an email from Travis, who has written about how he was bullied. He says, "I imagine my position will not go over well with the panelists on the 'The Diane Rehm Show,' but I believe parents and teachers cannot help kids through everything. Sometimes you have to let kids struggle and find their inner reservoirs of strength." How do you react to that, Dr. Wright?

WRIGHT

10:40:39
Well, I certainly agree that the development of resilience and the ability to learn social functioning skills is critical in any child. However, bullying is not normal. It is not normative behavior, and the consequences that children face as a result of bullying is not anything that any child needs to or should experience.

REHM

10:41:06
Well, then there is a question from Richard. He's in Birmingham. "Have there been any studies or surveys of school administrators as to why they so often turn a blind eye to these horrible things?" Dr. Wright.

WRIGHT

10:41:30
A moment ago, Lee talked about a disconnect in this country, and I strongly believe -- as I move around the country talking about this issue, I am struck by the absence of knowledge around the issue by adults, adults in health care, in education, across the board. And I think that the fact that we are beginning to talk about this provides an opportunity to educate adults. I think that is a huge contributor to some of our struggles.

REHM

10:42:03
All right. Let's take a caller in Dallas...

HIRSCH

10:42:05
I just want to add to that comment…

REHM

10:42:06
Sure, Lee. Go ahead.

HIRSCH

10:42:07
…you know, about strength and kids taking it on themselves. You know, I would say -- I mean, I just went to my iPhone to look up what is the world's largest river because these kids already have that. Just getting to school day after day when you're the victim of bullying takes the most extraordinary, unbelievable amount of strength. You're looking at very strong kids that endure and keep enduring the daily struggle that is being victimized by bullying.

HIRSCH

10:42:44
And so I want to acknowledge everyone that's a survivor, that's been through this, that's going through this, because you are very strong. And I know that. And as you're listening, you know that, too. So I just wanted to add that thought to that comment from your reading.

REHM

10:42:59
All right. Let's take a caller from Dallas, Texas. Gretchen, good morning. Gretchen, are you there? I guess she's not. Let's go to Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Denise.

DENISE

10:43:17
Good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:43:20
Surely.

DENISE

10:43:21
I have a daughter who, in the sixth grade, shared a story about how her father had died of AIDS with her best friend. And as time went along in the next year or so, the girl told other children in the school, and my daughter begun to be bullied and made fun of and ostracized. It got to the point that when she walked into the classroom, the kids would say, don't let her sit here. She's nasty. She has AIDS. She has diseases.

DENISE

10:43:56
I was called to the school several times with my daughter in hysterics in the principal's office over these incidents, and the children that had perpetrated these things on her were called into the office. They were punished, counseled, all sorts of reprimands carried on, but it just never would stop. And, finally, as the end of the ninth grade was coming and they were in the cafeteria one day, she walked in, and it started. No one would let her sit down at the table.

DENISE

10:44:29
And she just flung her tray of food into the floor and got up on one of the tables and started screaming and basically had a breakdown. The principal was in the cafeteria. And he went to her and took her to his office, and they called me. And he dismissed her from the school at that point and told her not to even come back for her final exams.

REHM

10:44:53
Gosh.

DENISE

10:44:54
And she left school at the end of the ninth grade. I let her withdraw the -- and she -- we home schooled her. And she is now taking her GED exams to try to get an education.

REHM

10:45:11
Yes.

DENISE

10:45:11
But it was such a horrible thing because...

REHM

10:45:14
Oh, Denise, I am so sorry to hear that story about your daughter. Kelby, somehow that story rang true with you.

JOHNSON

10:45:27
Definitely. I can very much relate to the story. I had kids who did not want me within two feet of them. If I had to say anything to your daughter, I would tell her that, one, it took a great amount of courage to get up on that table and to say something. To be pushed to that point and still be here, I admire her. And I would tell her that it does get better and get her GED and to just keep going and that I don't know her, but I love her. And I have her back.

REHM

10:46:14
Go ahead, Duane.

THOMAS

10:46:16
Yeah, I would echo those sentiments, and I would also applaud her, congratulate her for standing up and resisting those relentless onslaughts. But my question would be: Where were the teachers in all of this? And I'm sitting here, and I'm processing one of the questions that was raised about individual resilience and all of that. And, I, too, agree with that. However, we also have to understand that parents and teachers are very important socialization agents.

THOMAS

10:46:46
And everyone has a responsibility of speaking up and doing something to break this cycle of bullying. And it starts with me. And I think that's a principle that everyone needs to internalize.

REHM

10:47:02
Let's here another clip from the film "Bully" as Alex talks about himself.

REHM

10:47:46
I want to become the bully myself. Did you feel that way, Kelby?

JOHNSON

10:47:55
Of course. I think that's part of the stages you go through dealing with this, is the anger, the anger you feel that nothing is getting done, the anger you feel why me, why am I going through this, and, mainly -- we were just talking earlier -- is when you have no help, you have two choices. And at the end, if you have no one, it's either to hurt yourself or to hurt other people, as you see -- as Ja'Meya went through. She had to turn to that. And I believe that's kind of a subject that Alex was toughing on at that point.

REHM

10:48:35
And Ja'Meya, we should point out, is another young woman in the film. Lee, what did she do, and what happens to her?

HIRSCH

10:48:47
Ja'Meya is a freshman from Mississippi, and she is so -- she is bullied on her bus each way, forward and back. She's on the bus for an hour each direction, and she's just being relentlessly bullied. She asks for help from the bus driver, from the school. It doesn't come. And she makes a choice to find a gun. And she brings it on the bus, and she points it at her bullies. And she really tells them to get back. No one was hurt. It was a terrifying incident.

HIRSCH

10:49:28
It was on camera, and we tell her story. You know, it was a national story, this moment, but it was totally from the perspective of the young man that tackled her who wasn't -- who was -- it was a hero story. It was a national story of heroics. And I'm not minimizing the heroism of the young man that tackled her. But nobody asked the question, why did this 14-year-old girl take a gun on a bus? What was going on? What was happening? What was driving that?

HIRSCH

10:50:03
And so, in "Bully," we spend really intimate time with her and her mother and throughout her incarceration until she is released, and it's a very powerful part of the film.

REHM

10:50:21
And that is the difference between what one of our emailers asks, namely, what's the difference in bullying 60 years ago as opposed to today? Not only is it cyber bullying, but it's the possession of weapons.

WRIGHT

10:50:43
Yes, absolutely. The reality is that retaliation and access to weapons is a very dangerous combination. And the -- this has been documented over and over again. If we go back, even to the Columbine incident in Littleton, Colo., those two young men were clearly victims of bullying and persecuted individuals. And their actions -- access to weapons resulted in a tragedy that cannot be ignored.

HIRSCH

10:51:20
Shook our nation to the core...

REHM

10:51:21
Absolutely.

WRIGHT

10:51:23
Absolutely.

REHM

10:51:24
All right. A caller here in Washington, D.C. Brian, you're on the air.

BRIAN

10:51:31
Thanks for taking my call. I'm actually (unintelligible) one of your panelists used the world gauntlet. All through high school, actually, all through elementary school, I -- well, I know exactly why I was targeted. I was poor, and I stuttered. And I was socially awkward, so this and that. I've been an educator for about 11 years now. One of the things I did early on was I started watching the programs that my students were watching.

BRIAN

10:51:57
And a lot of what I see on Nickelodeon, typically the Disney programs, is the stereotypes, the social stereotypes, starting back as -- with "Saved by the Bell." If you don't fit the popular model, it is you instantly will become the target. And the other comment, and then I'll take it (unintelligible) as an educator, administrators are hesitant in this day of mitigations (unintelligible) society. Usually, the parents of these -- are the bullies, are the ones that are probably bullying their children. All right. I'm going to hang up.

REHM

10:52:32
All right. Thanks for calling. Do you agree with that, Duane?

THOMAS

10:52:36
Well, I would agree with that, typically, the victims of bullying tend to be kids with any type of characteristics that are deemed to be outside of some type of norm. OK, they tend to be different. They tend to project something about them, whereby the bully feels as if they would not be able to defend themselves. So, whether that's stature, it could be a physical disability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or what have you.

REHM

10:53:04
Are more gays being bullied today than ever before? Do we know?

THOMAS

10:53:12
Well, I don't have any statistics about that per se, but what I will say is that as society is becoming, you know, more increasingly aware and accepting of sexual orientation, more kids are coming out. And as a result of that, there may be other individuals who harbor negative attitudes against kids who are gay, lesbian, transgendered and so forth that may, you know, find ways to victimize kids who are coming out more.

REHM

10:53:40
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There is one more clip I'd like our listeners to hear, and this takes place in a school administrator's office.

REHM

10:55:23
Lee Hirsch, you must have been astonished at that moment.

HIRSCH

10:55:31
Yeah, I'd say that's a fair choice. I had already seen a lot of indifference at that point. I had spent a lot of time with the families, the Long family who'd lost their son Tyler, with the Smalley's who'd lost their son Ty, with three other families. I was, at that point, no longer shocked by administrators that don't want to deal with it. But I can tell you that the courage that it took Alex's family to come into that office and to be met and to be so dismissed was absolutely shocking and, at the same time, validates, again, what millions of families deal with year in and year out in our systems.

REHM

10:56:27
And what do you hope that this film will accomplish?

HIRSCH

10:56:34
I have big, big, big hopes and dreams for this film. You know, I believe we're at a tipping point moment around bullying. And we've talked a lot about the negative, the overwhelming, the really sad, but I think we are at the cusp of national change led by youth. From Katy and her 300,000 signatures, to Cartoon Network's "Speak Up," which just aired, to our film, which is coming out, to Lady Gaga's foundation, there is a movement, a youth movement, and we are providing tools for kids to stand up and stop bullying. And I have a lot of faith in that.

REHM

10:57:13
Lee Hirsch, award-winning film director. He directed the documentary "Bully." Kelby Johnson, a gay teenager from Oklahoma who's featured in that film, Dr. Joseph Wright of Children's Hospital National Medical Center, and Duane Thomas, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, thanks to all of you for being here. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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