Free State High School sophomore Mel Maddox spent part of her Saturday educating members of the Lawrence community about the atmosphere in local schools for gay and lesbian students.
Maddox, 16, is president of her school’s Gay Straight Alliance, a school-based group that seeks to improve conditions in schools for those bullied for their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
Lawrence schools, she said, are ahead of the curve when it comes to preventing bullying, but students such as herself still face frequent harassment because of their sexual orientation.
“Compared to other schools I’ve been to, it’s a lot safer,” she said. “But there’s still some work do.”
Maddox, along with other several other advocates and educators served on a panel Saturday at the Lawrence Public Library during a workshop titled “Bullied: We can make a difference.”
After a showing of the documentary “Bullied,” about a high school student who was beaten for being gay, community members asked questions of the panel and brainstormed solutions to bullying.
Event coordinator and director of Headquarters Counseling Center, Marcia Epstein, said the workshop was organized in response to some recent national incidents in which bullying based on sexual orientation has led to suicide.
“This hasn’t happened in Lawrence, but we don’t want it to happen,” she said. “We can start a community conversation.”
About 80 people attended the hour-and-a-half workshop.
The entire community has a responsibility to stop bullying and promote acceptance, Epstein said.
“There are so many things we can do” to prevent bullying, Epstein said.
One option is to hold schools accountable, said Kansas University professor of education Bob Harrington, who was on the panel. Harrington urged parents who suspect their children are being bullied to stand up for their rights.
That includes notifying schools when bullying occurs, following up on reports to make sure action was taken and documenting those efforts.
“Some parents don’t realize they have rights,” he said. “It’s the school district’s job to make sure the student is safe.”
For more information about available community resources, visit hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.