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Power and Bullies: Why Gay Kids Need School Choice

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Jamey Rodemeyer, a handsome 14-year-old from New York, took his own life. He was yet another in what is an all-too-familiar pattern of a boy who is gay, or perceived to be gay, being harassed and bullied constantly until he snaps and kills himself.

Days ago he posted on his blog, "I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. What do I have to do so people will listen to me?" The thoughts that were going through his head were apparent in another post: "No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you're the ones calling me faggot and tearing me down." The response from other students was vicious:

"JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT, ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!"

"I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it. : ) It would make everyone WAY more happier!"

Jamey recorded a YouTube video about the abuse he suffered at school. He tried to muster the courage to go on. He said, "We were born this way... all you have to do, just love yourself and you're set." But "we were born this way" just doesn't sink in to the thugs at his school who harassed him. Jamey will go to his grave with a t-shirt saying, "Born this way."

Jamey's father, Tim Rodemeyer, said that schools "have to somehow get the power away from the bully, and I don't know how you do that. And that's the biggest question in my mind, because if the bully has no power, he's nobody."

Jamey lamented that no one would listen to him about how badly he was being bullied. He was not alone. In case after case of gay kids killing themselves, I've read the press accounts, and the same theme kept reappearing. The parents and the kids were powerless. They would go to the school to complain and then feel ignored. Here and there, feeble attempts would be made to address the problem, often through "education" programs. Well, considering how abstinence education has no impact on pregnancy or VD rates, why should we assume that "feel-good programs" at the school will end bullying?

But there is another form of powerlessness that is happening here. Just as kids feel powerless against the gangs of bullies, parents are powerless, as well. Let us be honest about one feature of government education. It is a massive program where neither funding nor attendance is voluntary. Parents pay taxes for schools whether or not they use them, whether or not the schools are actually giving them value for their money. And clearly some of these schools have environments so toxic that kids are choosing to kill themselves rather than go back.

If you found yourself being harassed at the local grocery store, you'd tell the staff and expect them to do something about it. If they refused, you'd shop elsewhere. But public education is built on compulsion, not choice. Parents are free to remove their children and educate them someplace else, but that means they pay twice: once through taxes, and then again for the substitute they find. Many parents simply can't do this -- once they finish paying for the school they hate, they can't afford the school they want.

The sad truth is that schools can afford to ignore complaining parents because those parents are not customers. If the parent finally gets fed up and remove the kid, it's not as though the school is any worse off. There is little need to satisfy customers, because there are no customers. The education establishment likes to pretend that the customers get their say at the ballot box. At best, the ballot box is a crude measure, and elections are easily influenced by the big money that pours in from unions. Politicians who run schools are far more interested in pleasing unions that donate millions to campaigns. An angry parent might storm off and they lose one vote. Compared to the big money, that's of little concern.

So, the process goes on. Parents complain and are ignored. If they can afford to remove their son and enroll him somewhere else, they do so. The former school loses nothing. The parents end up paying twice. But, most can't afford to pay twice, so the child stays there, and they keep begging. Most of the victims survive; some don't. It's a terribly high price to pay.

Just as kids are powerless, so are parents. Perhaps we need to seriously consider giving power over schools to the parents. I don't mean give it to them collectively; that is just the same, failed political control all over again. It is ripe for corruption and manipulation. Give each parent the power over their own child.

Instead of funding schools, why not fund students? Allow parents the choice of whichever school they wish to use, and have the funding follow the student. Include private, non-governmental schools, as well. Schools that fail to respond to the concerns of parents over bullying will find that losing a student also means losing income. It gives them an incentive to pay attention. Sadly, we would think that kids killing themselves would be sufficient motive to deal with the issue, but apparently it isn't; otherwise it wouldn't keep happening.

Schools that fail to protect kids and create a safe learning environment would lose students to schools that did. We might, hopefully, even see some of the worst schools close down entirely while decent schools thrive.

It's time to take power away from bullies. The best way to make sure that happens is to give it to the parents instead.

Here are some of the names of the victims who couldn't live with the bullying anymore:

Billy Lucas, 15, Greenburg, Ind.
Asher Brown, 13, Houston, Tex.
Seth Walsh, 13, Tehachapi, Calif.
Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minn.
Brandon Bitner, 14, Mount Pleasant Mills, Pa.
Nick Kelo, 13, Akron, Ohio
Lance Lundsten, 18, Miltona, Minn.
Tiffani Maxwell, 16, Slippery Rock, Pa.
Phoebe Prince, 15, South Hadley, Mass.
Jaheem Herrera, 11, DeKalb, Ga.
Elijah Mendez, 12, New York City, N.Y.
Carl Walker-Hoover, 11, Springfield, Mass.
Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, Williamsville, N.Y.

If you are a gay kid, remember this: you are not alone. If you are thinking life isn't worth living, call the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.