It’s an uncomfortable subject and a conflict many of us have faced: bullying. It happens in classrooms, lunchrooms, dorm rooms, and boardrooms. The instigators look for anything that makes you different, being tall, small, fat, skinny, nerdy, ugly, gorgeous, or brainy. You can’t change these things and you wonder why you have to suffer for being who you are. Life is tough enough.
Now imagine that you are a kid, just 11 years old, and you have gathered the nerve to tell your family that you are gay. Their understanding—and your subsequent relief—should be the biggest battle, maybe yes, but then again, maybe no.
Jamie Nabozny, author, lecturer, and advocate for the bullied, has way too much experience with this subject. He was the young bullied boy, the preteen that came out to his parents, a kid who just wanted to fit in and be the person he believed himself to be. On April 3, in the Nest, Nabozny presented his film “Bullied” to a standing-room-only crowd. The film recounts Nabozny’s boyhood struggle with his sexuality, the anxiety of telling those he loved his actual feelings, and the consequences of voicing child-like thoughts to an often judgmental and condemning society.
The film is honest and telling. It demonstrates the initial teasing, something perhaps many of us have unfortunately experienced in our own lives, escalating to full-fledged emotional, verbal, and ultimately physical abuse, landing Nabozny in the hospital after a particularly vicious beating. The abuse continued despite the intervention of Nabozny’s parents, their pleas to the school administration, and their numerous meetings with the bullies’ parents and the bullies themselves.
After attempting suicide, and several times running away from home (to save himself from the constant abuse and beatings by classmates), Nabozny was told by a legal advocate that what had happened to him was illegal. In a landmark federal lawsuit, the jury took just one hour to come up with a verdict in favor of Nabozny; the administration had failed to protect him, failed to do its job, and was finally held accountable for its negligence.
So what does Nabozny believe it takes to combat bullying? “Three things: Prevention, a comprehensive, holistic approach, and a look at the environment, which is a direct result of the society we live in. We need to teach kids the skill of empathy. A five-year study in Canada saw a 70% reduction in bullying with the severity greatly diminished. This skill needs to be taught. We also need to teach kids at a young age about diversity. We don’t live in a world without prejudice. Kids are not prepared for the world they are growing up in.”
Nabozny continues to travel to schools, places of worship, and businesses to share his story and make progress not only on the issue of bullying, but of tolerance for anyone whose lifestyle, skin color, ethnicity, or religious preference differs from one’s own; no one should be abused, especially in the hallways of our schools.
“Someone has to say enough is enough,” says Nabozny. He already has, which is why his story must become our story as well.