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Stand Up to Bullying. What I Did When I Saw It in My High School

When an exchange on a group text turned nasty, one student saw an opportunity to stand up to bullying for his classmate. Here are two student perspectives on this incident, one from the student who intervened and one the student who was bullied. Some powerful ideas about being an upstander and feeling supported emerge.

Student #1: Andrew 

Something happened at my school that turned into an opportunity to stand up to bullying. I didn’t intend it that way, but that’s what happened.

Recently, a student at my school created a group text for people who want to follow sports and our school’s teams. It was completely voluntary, and if you didn’t want to do it, you could opt out and leave the group.

There is a student named Ethan at our school. I’ve known him for a while, but we’ve never been good friends. He’s gay; he came out in middle school, and it’s never been a big deal. Everybody knows. Sports aren’t really his thing, so he opted out of the group text the first day. Not in a mean way or anything, it just wasn’t his thing.

After Ethan opted out, another student wrote something like: “No problem. We don’t want fags on here anyway.” A few more students piled on with similar comments.

I was appalled: How could anybody would say something like that, especially on such a public forum?

I knew it would get back to him, and I felt terrible. I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I got his number from a friend and texted him, just to let him know I thought that what those people had said was crappy, and that I was on his side and supported him. I think it bothered me more than it did him. He was almost nonchalant about it, like, “Thanks and everything, but I don’t really care. It’s not that big a deal.”

I think Ethan was surprised to hear from me. We don’t have a lot of the same friends and interests, but I wanted him to know that not everybody was like those students. I wasn’t the only one, either. I was really happy to see that a lot of other kids felt the same way that I did and also decided to stand up to bullying against Ethan. Even after my conversations with Ethan and other students, I still felt like there was some “unfinished business.”

So I had the idea to ask my uncle, Bill Walker, to speak at our school. Bill is gay, and I thought he would have some unique insights that he could share with my fellow students. Bill lives in California and was coming to South Carolina for a family visit. The timing couldn’t have been better, and Bill was eager to meet Ethan and speak at our school. His presentation was very well-received because it impacted the hearts of many of my classmates. I’m thankful that they were open-minded and willing to respect a different perspective.

I feel that it’s important to stand for what you believe in, and to stand up for what is right, despite any differences between individuals.

I did not stand up to bullying because Ethan is gay, but rather because he was being harassed for being different.

It could have been that he was of a different race, of a different ethnicity, or spoke a different language than his bullies.

I never thought when I texted Ethan that night that so much would end up coming out of it, but I am so glad that it has. I think both Ethan’s and my eyes have been opened to the world around us, and we now realize how much we can influence our peers simply by being kind to people.

Student #2: Ethan

I was in fifth grade when I first heard the word “gay.” Hearing the word for the first time felt like a moment of clarity, like the light being turned on in a dark room and, finally, for the first time, being able to make sense of everything around you. Up until that point I had never thought about homosexuality as a concept. I knew my cousin was in love with the girl she brought to family events and that they weren’t “just really close friends who happen to be raising a child together” like my mother had told me.

I also knew I was attracted to boys, so much so that one time in kindergarten, I pretended to faint on the playground to catch the attention of one boy in particular.

It felt amazing to be able to finally describe what I was feeling; however, when I heard someone call me that same word with a hateful tone, the light was turned back off, and the room went dark again.

I was bullied. In elementary school, students would pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, tie it tight, and throw me on the ground and stomp on me. It happened so often that my mother removed the strings from all of my hoodies. On a particularly memorable occasion, I was in a crowded hallway and felt a sudden thud against my head. When I looked down, I saw it was a book with the words “Holy Bible” emblazoned on it.

I felt so distant and alienated from my peers. I was depressed, and my grades really suffered.

By middle school, I had had enough. I embraced my sexuality, coming out to everyone. It didn’t change much at the time. Late in tenth grade, however, I finally found friends who accepted me. Not just my sexuality but everything about me. My grades improved, and I found a renewed interest in academics.

These past couple of weeks have been an incredibly touching and meaningful time.

The outpouring of support from my peers after the texting incident, especially from Andrew, has been so surprising and comforting.

I’m grateful that they chose to stand up to bullying—for me.

A few years ago, I never would have imagined something like this could happen, except maybe in a teen movie most likely set in Canada. This has given me a renewed faith in others, and I have Andrew to thank for that. He has done so much more than I expected. When seeing how incensed he was (in contrast to my generally unaffected nature), I realized how horribly desensitized I had become, and that I shouldn’t allow these sorts of homophobic comments to be acceptable.

Andrew Walker is a high school senior in Columbia, South Carolina.

Ethan Cash is a high school senior in Columbia, South Carolina 

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