Legislators in the state of Arizona may have created a new threat to the safety of school children across the country when they passed a controversial "religious freedoms" bill during sessions on February 21. This type of action may constitute a new threat to the health and safety of our youth that seems to be rising; poor modeling of tolerance and acceptance by the adults in their lives. When adults, especially leaders, fail to be role models of positive life skills it places all youth at greater risk for bullying. In recent months the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual youth have been placed at greater risk of bullying and persecution in the schools by the amount of media given to the Sochi issues and new "anti-gay" legislation being debated.
It is hard to miss the reports of anti-gay laws and actions in Sochi and other parts of Russia as the Winter Olympics are taking place. This is a dangerous precedent in reporting, making this aspect of the Winter Games such a “front page” story can encourage some youth to act out in a similar manner in school. When they see the leaders of other countries openly and proudly discriminating and persecuting those of a different sexual orientation they feel that it is permissible for them to do the same. Children naturally look to adults and leaders for models of how they can and should behave and believe.
In our own country there has also been a recent explosion of “Anti-Gay” and “Religious Freedoms” legislation being pushed in many states. These new laws, such as that just reported by CNN as passed in Arizona, are written to “protect the free exercise of religion”. The danger is that they also can be used to support discrimination according some legal experts. They also set a precedence and model, much closer to home, for our youth. If our leaders allow for the adult discrimination against one group or another based on gender, religion, or sexual orientation, how can we expect our children to be “tolerant and accepting” in school? When our children see us arguing, protesting and calling each other names because of sexual orientations and preferences what is to keep them from doing the same in school? Worse yet, when the children follow our lead they often exaggerate and incorrectly mimic what we say and do. While adults have the mental and emotional capacity to handle verbal harassment, which is actually unlawful in most cases, children are not so well equipped.
The bullying that may grow out of the recent coverage of the Russian intolerance of the LGBT community and various state laws being proposed will cause great damage to our youth. Bullying of the LGBT youth of our communities is already a significant issue according to experts such as the Pacer Organization. If we do not exercise better judgment soon, as the adult leadership of our world, it will likely become more prevalent and even more damaging. Talk to your kids, set the example and help ensure the schools are safe for all of our youth.