GLSEN of Middle Tennessee has released a statement in regards to the death of Gordonsville teen Phillip Parker, who took his life last week after years of bullying about his sexuality.


Bullying is an endemic problem in Tennessee schools. The recent suicide of Phillip Parker in Gordonsville, Tenn. highlights this very problem. His is a horrific story that reflects on the school bullying culture and how it can lead to tragedy. Such cases are not new, but do reveal an important trend: the public is becoming more informed and in tune to the realities that adversely affect our youth. However, it is now up to the public to not just be aware, but to be active in changing this reality. 


Anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) bullying is one of the most pervasive forms of bullying and often the weapon of choice for bullies, regardless of the bullied student's sexual orientation. Yet many schools have not effectively addressed anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment even though there are tools provided to them right here in Middle Tennessee.


“There are professional development opportunities and Safe Space Kits offered to educators and administrators on how to effectively address anti-LGBT bullying and create safer spaces for these youth,” remarked Brad Palmertree, Co-Chair of the Middle Tennessee chapter of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network), the leading education organization in Middle Tennessee focused solely on ensuring safe schools for all students. “This shouldn’t be happening. Each school in Tennessee should be a safe environment in which to learn and grow. We have the resources, and we’re more than willing to help. But the school has to invite us in because, unfortunately, this kind of diversity training is not required.” 


Studies show that when an LGBT youth knows there is an affirming teacher, school nurse, clergy member, or parent they can trust, they are much more likely to turn to them for help when they are bullied or depressed. Similarly, when a school or community has a Gay-Straight Alliance or other affirming  and accepting group, young people are less likely to feel isolated and can turn to peers and faculty advisors when they need help. 


But this cannot happen if the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (SB49/HB229) or the “License to Bully” bill(SB760/HB1123) become law. Both of these bills promote the isolation and denigration of LGBT youth and even those who may be perceived to be LGBT. “Arkansas recently enacted a strong anti-bullying law that explicitly protects all students,” says Palmertree. “But Tennessee lawmakers insist on introducing, debating, and passing bills that don’t just ignore the problem of bullying, they encourage it.”


“Without a paradigm shift in our school culture, schools will not be a safe learning environment for anyone. We need inclusive policies that help - not hurt - students. And we can’t do that without support from the community and that includes our elected officials.”

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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