Church Programs Against Bullying Fall 2012



by Terry Diggory

This fall, schools throughout the region of Albany Presbytery are taking the first steps to implement New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act, which took effect in July 2012. The law is a major effort to expand education in tolerance and to make schools a safe environment free of bullying behavior, the kind of environment we would all like to see in society as a whole. As followers of the Prince of Peace, members of Albany Presbytery have a mission opportunity in working with young people, the future of church as well as society, on this issue.

Recently, two congregations in Albany Presbytery have helped to sponsor community dialogue about bullying, making use of documentary films:

St. Peter's Presbyterian Church, Spencertown, organized a showing of “Bullied,” a 40 minute documentary film by the Teaching Tolerance Project of the Southern Policy Law Center, on September 29, 2012. According to the producers, the film “chronicles one student’s ordeal at the hands of anti-gay bullies and offers an inspiring message of hope to those fighting harassment today.” St. Peter’s offered the program in conjunction with The Chatham Synagogue. They reached out to Chatham High School Assistant Principal Amy Potter, who chairs the school’s anti-bullying committee, and invited her to attend with other committee members. Wayne Bowmanchester, board co-chair of the New York Capital Region Chapter of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), moderated discussion, which proved to be lively. About 40 people attended. A donation of $5.00 was suggested.

The Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church of Saratoga Springs sponsored a showing of the feature-length documentary “Bully” (dir. Lee Hirsch) at the Saratoga Film Forum on October 14. The film offers an in-depth look into the experience of three bullied youths and two families who have lost a child through suicide due to bullying. Discussion following the film was led by a panel including Terry Diggory from the church; James Shultis, youth coordinator at the Pride Center of the Capital District; and Laura Lewis, social studies teacher at Schuylerville High School and advisor of the newly formed Gay Straight Alliance at that school. Twenty-five seats were reserved for the church senior high youth group, and they were all filled! The total audience amounted to about 100. Film Forum tickets cost $7.00 (general admission) or $5.00 (for Film Forum members or students with valid ID).

Although bullying does not target only lesbian or gay youths, both churches chose to focus on anti-gay bullying because of the disproportionate effect it has on the lives of young people. An extensive survey conducted by GLSEN in 2005 found “that LGBT students are three times as likely as non-LGBT students to say that they do not feel safe at school (22% vs. 7%) and 90% of LGBT students (vs. 62% of non-LGBT teens) have been harassed or assaulted during the past year.”

What can your church do to help stop bullying in your community?