We are all potential bullies.
"We know it in our hearts," said the Rev. Luke Grobe, associate minister of faith formation of First Congregational UCC in Longmont, Colo., during a National Youth Event workshop July 12 titled "LGBT Youth Safe From Bullying."
“But it’s tough to verbalize it,” added Grobe, an openly gay pastor.
Grobe asked the room filled with 35 people -- mostly high-school-aged youth -- to close their eyes, bow their heads and raise their hands if they had never bullied another person. "OK, you can open your eyes now," said Grobe. "I saw three hands go up."
He asked participants to repeat after him: "I am a possible bully." All complied. Grobe repeated the sentence. Again, his words were echoed.
Grobe lifted up gay-straight alliances (GSAs) that have become prevalent at many schools, intentionally bringing together LGBT members and their allies.
"Statistics of the past year show that one of the coolest things about gay-straight alliances is that even though they cater to LGBT youth, schools with GSAs have lower incidences of bullying all around," said Grobe, praising efforts to create favorable "climate change."
"We’ll never eliminate the possibility that we can bully, but we need to change the climate of the schools we attend and the church communities we are a part of."
Bullying is not always readily apparent, said Grobe. "That is what does the most damage with bullying -- it isolates. At least when you tease your friends, they know you are teasing."
How can bullying be stopped? asked Grobe. "We can stop it by being pushers of motivation, pushers of education. You can walk up to your pastor and say, 'I want to learn more about the LGBT community.'"
Grobe took time to individually poll everyone in the room: "Who would you report to if you were being bullied or witnessed bullying? Tattling is not always easy. It's not cool to be a tattletale, to go to your teacher or mediator and be the one that says, 'This is happening, and it's not right.'"
Added one youth, recalling the words of Albert Einstein, "What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular."
Naming the act of bullying is crucial -- for both the victim and the bully, said Grobe. "It helps the victim understand what’s happening and empowers them to respond. It also lets the bully know that the action has not gone unnoticed by others."
Grobe lifted up resources for bullying victims such as the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG); Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), as well as the suicide-prevention hotline, The Trevor Project (www.thetrevorproject.org).
For more information, visit www.ucc.org/children.