Tadelesh is a Grade 7 student who is shy and a little small for his age. Gym classes have become a torture for him this year, as he has increasingly experienced bullying by the other boys. Tadelesh enjoys being physically active and has a lot of energy, but he is not a natural athlete. When he runs, some of the stronger more popular boys make fun of him. They yell out to him, calling him “Trish” and tell him he runs like a girl. They refer to him as “she” when they know he is listening.
Tadelesh finds this situation unbearable. He wonders if he will ever gain some height and develop muscles. Although he is only twelve, and he and his classmates have not yet started to go out with girls, he is terrified he will never look “masculine” and that he will never have a girlfriend because of it. Since the bullying began, his self-esteem has plummeted and he has become much quieter in class.
Tadelesh’s school has a firm anti-bullying policy. At the beginning of the year, students had received workshops and information, underscoring the importance of respecting differences. This approach had also been the norm in the elementary school the students had attended the previous year, so a consistent message had been communicated.
Although not all students acted upon it, they clearly understood that everyone can play a role to stop bullying. Unbeknownst to him, some of Tadelesh’s classmates had witnessed the bullying that had been going on and felt uncomfortable and unhappy about it.
Tadelesh’s gym teacher had also witnessed the bullying and had spoken to the principal. The teacher realized that the attitude expressed by the boys doing the bullying was endemic in the school. They decided they needed to raise it as a problem at a staff meeting. During the staff discussion, many teachers confirmed they had also seen evidence of this kind of attitude and the team decided they needed to act in order to put a stop to it. They contacted the social worker, who discussed the issue with some resource people within the school board. They requested and received a practical workshop with information about gender discrimination and homophobia in schools.
With this information, combined with the bullying intervention strategies they had already developed, they felt better equipped to address the problem of gender discrimination and homophobia. They decided as a group that they would intervene consistently and gently every time they heard any kind of comment, however minor, with these kinds of overtones.
Gradually, the environment in the school and in Tadelesh’s gym class changed. The other boys who had witnessed the bullying incident spoke up and let Tadelesh know they did not agree. The gym teacher supported them and took aside the boys who had done the bullying to let them know their attitude and behaviour was not acceptable. Tadelesh was able to enjoy gym class again, knowing there were lots of allies he could turn to if needed.