Editorial: Allies needed to stand against bullying

It’s been almost four years since Bart Palosz committed suicide on his first day as a sophomore at Greenwich High School.

We still can’t say for sure that Bart’s act was a response to bullying he endured. We also can’t say with conviction that the intervening years brought social progress to thwart bullying in our towns, in our state and in our nation.

There are have been at least three recent teen suicides in Connecticut: in Glastonbury, Waterbury and another in Greenwich. In response, LGBT activists rose to encourage more public opposition to youths being targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bart’s death should have been more than a cautionary tale. It should have been a clarion call to elevate discourse in our schools, neighborhoods and workplaces about the consequences of acts of hate, not merely for the sake of victims, but for misguided perpetrators.

Instead, Bart’s legacy is a lawsuit filed by his parents charging that school officials were aware of the bullying he endured, but neglected to follow their own policies to protect him.

The case languishes as town of Greenwich lawyers delay it in hopes it will go away, standard operating procedure for lawyers paid to shield a municipality’s reputation and finances.

That doesn’t mean Greenwich and other towns should be paralyzed regarding hate speech. Nor should parents and educators, who must do the hard work to challenge children about appropriate social behavior, including — especially — across social media.

Children who suffer in silence need loud voices. Voices like those of the LGBT activists, who know that even mild bullying to anyone can leave deep bruises that don’t easily heal.

Robin P. McHaelen, who heads True Colors Inc., an advocacy group for the young LGBT community, contends that 10 percent of bullying complaints to school officials concern adults targeting children. McHaelen also made the charge that bullying has gotten worse since the election of President Donald Trump.

“This is a problem where so-called adults spend so much of their time making so many other people ‘other’: refugees, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, unarmed men and women and people who are transgender,” McHaelen said.

“The other.” It is becoming an ever-widening category at a time when it should be shrinking. That U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined the LGBT activists in making accusations against the Trump administration could be perceived as political. We see it as a willingness to challenge policies that fuel intolerance.

The state of Connecticut made an effort to address bullying in 2011 when legislators passed an anti-bullying law that required schools to track cases. Verified bullying cases dropped significantly in ensuing years, but these are hardly reliable statistics.

Has progress been made? Consider this: A generation ago it would have been hard to imagine a group of LGBT activists feeling emboldened enough to stand the tallest in shielding children from bullies.

We should all join their chorus until there are no “others.”

Hearst Connecticut Media Group