One of the hardest parts of being a teacher is dealing with bullying. Bullying is an issue at every age. Little kids bully, middle school kids bully, high school kids bully. Even adults can be bullies. There really are kids that don't listen to the bullying and let it roll off their back. You can't count on that and it's not worth the consequences to just assume they'll be okay without your help.
Bullying because of homosexuality is still one of the "accepted" forms of harassment. Why? A whole host of reasons. Students dislike what is different and what they don't know. Students also parrot the beliefs of their parents. Sadly, a surprising amount of adults still think that homosexuality is something to be ridiculed. Students then take these ideas back to school and use them against their classmates. It's difficult to explain to these parents that their child is being disciplined for calling someone a "faggot" when their response is "Well, is he?"
Thankfully, we are a zero tolerance school. One of my students has already been removed to another school after repeatedly harassing one of my out students. Sometimes I get a little ray of hope. Today we had group work. I let them choose their groups and just quickly counted down from ten to make them choose quickly. That's when I turned around and one of my normally abrasive students who has used the phrase "that's gay" was left to pair with one of my out students, J. They both shrugged and started to work. I silently prayed this wouldn't blow up. See, in the past, I've had boys flat out refuse to have anything to do with J. Despite my fears, they worked well together. In fact, they ended up finishing before any other group. While circulating the room, I started to eavesdrop on their conversation.
J: I thought you wouldn't want to work with me.
Other student: Nah, I don't have any problems with you.
Other student: I just don't want you hitting on me or anything.
J: Don't worry. You're not my type.
They both cracked a smile and then laughed before shaking hands and moving their desks back. I don't know if the other student will stop and think more about saying things are gay when he means bad. I hope he will. J often gets put in the unfair position of being the Gay Ambassador to the Straight Kids. He really is one of the strongest students I've ever met. That's why it was so shocking when I read his personal narrative and learned he'd been suicidal. He's fourteen. He shows such a brave face to everyone and portrays such confidence that it'd be easy to think he's one of those kids that bullying doesn't affect. He's not. He hurts as much as the quiet kids who keep to themselves.
J was saved by a teacher who went out of her way to help protect him. It wasn't me. It was before I ever met him, but it was a teacher who kept that young man alive. I know because his personal narrative was about how she changed his life.