Combating Bullying of Gay Youth in Iowa

Dec 16, 2012

Newton High School Senior Ella Daft stands outside Newton High School.
Credit Clay Masters / IPR

Same sex marriage is legal in Iowa and it appears to be gaining acceptance. A Supreme Court justice who was part of the ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriage was retained in a heated campaign this year. But advocates for gay teens say bullying is still a problem in schools. 

Being gay at school has never been easy for Newton High School Senior Ella Daft, she not only has been bullied by other kids for her sexual orientation…she was kicked out of a private Christian School for being a lesbian. After transferring to Newton, the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance sponsor encouraged her to sign up for the club.

“I remember I told her I had to go to the bathroom and I was grabbing the sink crying in joy that that kind of environment was at this new school," Daft said. 

Daft is now the president of the Newton Gay Straight Alliance. But things aren’t perfect at the school; Daft says she’s still bullied by other students, though she’s glad some schools are making effort to teach acceptance. But not everyone thinks schools are the right forum to teach those values.

“Let’s narrow the focus of the schools back to teaching and learning,”said Bob Vander Plaats of the Christian non-profit group The Family Leader it’s been a leading opponent of the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage…but he said he doesn't think it’s OK to bully gay kids.

“It goes back to the parenting though, my kids aren’t going to pick on another kid. I guarantee it. They’re not going to pick on a homosexual kid or a redhead kid.” Vander Plaats said. "Schools were never designed to raise our children."

But Donna Red Wing, the president of gay-rights group One Iowa, says gay and lesbian kids are still being bullied in school and adults need to address that.

“We need to model civility and respect for our children," Red Wing said. We need to understand that every action, everything we say, every derisive remark we say, our kids hear that and they’re going to parrot that.”

In Sioux City, Elementary School Counselor Bernie Hess says it’s her job to make school a safe place for all kids to learn. She says children who come from families with gay parents have also been targeted in the Sioux City district.

“Our children are the first piece and they’re the ones that are going to teach us it doesn’t matter," Hess said. "I have two parents who love each other and I have a family that loves me.”

Hess says part of Sioux City’s curriculum is teaching kids think about how their actions make other people feel. Newton High School Senior Ella Daft says she’s doing her part by sharing her story. One of her classmates had bullied Daft for being gay. After she and her girlfriend were featured in a TV news story about bullying, the kid came up to her and said he was sorry.

“People’s opinions are often times the hardest thing to change," Daft said. "That’s why when that boy came up to me and tried to apologize after he saw us on the news, I was taken aback because that’s never happened to me before… and I never thought it would.”

While Daft said she can’t change opinions, she said she can help change the atmosphere.