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Bullying takes on many different shapes in our world. It is unfortunate that most people think of bullying as occurring in a school setting where one kid takes lunch money from another. We do not live in a society where bullying and tormenting are present just in kids. Bullying is present in the workplace, the supermarket, applying for a loan, social media, the political system, and any other complex situation. Bullying is discrimination, demonstrations of hatred, taunting, and violence. Bullying is any action where one individual or group attempts to maintain a majority of over a minority group by using any method available. Bullying is invading someone’s privacy or distributing private information about an individual. Bullying surrounds us every day.
What does respect mean to you?
It sounds cliché to say respect is treating someone the way you want to be treated in return. Respect is accepting how beautiful it is that each and every one of us is different. By encouraging uniqueness in the world and expressing yourself in a confident, polite, and respectful manner, you lay the groundwork for a brighter society. When we stop worrying about how people are different from us and we welcome those diversities, we are acting selflessly. Being respectful is enjoying the differences. If everyone were the same, that would be beyond boring.
As a parent, how do you teach empathy and respect to your daughter?
Our daughter Harper is almost four and one of the most compassionate young ladies I have ever met. She is affectionate towards the two of us as her dads, her birth family, our parents, her classmates, and teachers. She knows no stranger. She is jubilant and blurts out random statements filled with cheerfulness to the people that she encounters.
I wish I were able to say that we followed a book or had massive experience with children. In reality, we lead by example. We immediately correct her if she acts in a way that is disrespectful to someone or something. It is our responsibility to nurture her as she grows into a teenager and a young woman. Those qualities are there for every child, it is our responsibility as parents to help those characteristics emerge and remain pure. If we choose to be respectful and non-discriminatory, the hope is she will retain those traits throughout her life. Bullying, discrimination, and hatred are acquired qualities in a person and are not acceptable in our family unit.
How do you teach your daughter to advocate for herself in a given situation?
We show Harper by being examples to her and by having true age relevant conversations. It is funny though, she never stops talking and telling you what she needs or wants. Harper has spoken out about a classmate that is aggressive with her and other students. We encouraged Harper to always be polite and provided her with positive phrases that she could use in a situation when she felt upset, scared, or sad.
It is funny to my husband Matthew and me that Harper knows several of RuPaul’s catchphrases. We jokingly taught her to say the child’s name and follow it up with, “You are an amazing queen, now sashay away.” We aren’t sure if she would remember the phrase in a particular situation, but we wanted to focus on complimenting her classmate and asking her to step away from the current situation.
What do you do to help your daughter speak up if there’s something she needs to tell you?
My husband Matthew and I have honest conversations with Harper. Being frank with her has led to building a level of trust between the three of us. We are consistent in having in-depth conversations as a family or one-on-one chats with her. While most of them are silly or childish in nature, there is definitely a level of trust that Harper has in opening up about her day at pre-school as well as when she spends time with our friends and parents.
Harper is also very aware of her being part of an open adoption. She has a relationship with her biological family as we take part in yearly visits. I feel that we do not keep secrets from her unless it is a happy surprise and at almost four, she does not keep secrets from us.
While we are at a stage where kids pretend and play using different identifying terms like mommy and daddy. Matthew and I are known as Dada and Daddy unless Harper just wants one of us to pay attention to her and just repeats Dad until one of us responds. There have been a few instances where there are discussions about why she has two dads. I usually drop Harper off at school, but on a day I was unavailable, Matthew took over the responsibility. There was confusion among the class when Harper said that was her Dada and some of her classmates disagreed with her. The teachers were quick to sit everyone down and use that particular scenario as a teaching moment.
It is important to both of us that we are present in Harper’s school environment. We have chosen, to this point, to not use the carpool line. It is important for us to be role models for other parents and the school itself as gay parents. While we live in a society that is split on the validity of our relationship and our ability to be parents, we are present and advocate by example and visibility for our community.
How would you say you stand up to bullying?
My coping methods towards bullying have evolved over time. Living in the South, it is easy to lash out or respond negatively when on the receiving end of bullying. In a way, that is the motive of the individual. As I have matured the world around me has evolved. Tormentors need to be educated that their statements and actions are harmful and contrary to society as a whole. While we are swarmed in a world where the phrases “Freedom of Speech” and “First Amendment Rights” are thrown around as a warning that we are in a place where anything goes. Well, the truth is, you have the ability to say whatever you desire, but you need to understand those statements have consequences whether positive or negative.
It probably sounds callous, but I meet bullying with the feeling of that individual or group lacks the knowledge or understanding of their actions. I take responsibility, as we all should, in educating and deterring that type of behavior. I have found that some individuals are unwilling to grow as a person and it is easier to leave the situation alone and prevent escalation. The opportunity to again attempt to cultivate relationships and respect will show itself repeatedly.
Can you tell us about a time when a friend helped support you when others were being unkind?
This should be an easy question to answer. Being gay there have to be tens of hundreds of times when I experienced a tormentor or harmful actions of another. The many instances are just flooding my memory. In college, I pledged and became a brother of a national fraternity. There were a couple of members that I would describe as verbally homophobic. While I was not out at the time, I am sure some members knew or were suspicious. One of my fraternity brothers was quick to stop homophobic comments and educate that we were a group of men that were supportive and welcoming of all men.
How do you deal with someone who you might not get along with?
By being gay, I have acquired the attitude that people are different and that is outstanding. With the political environment of 2017, it is okay that we have different opinions and we need to accept that we are not going to change all viewpoints. If an interaction is required for someone that is disrespectful to me or there is obvious tension, I must be respectful and speak up in situations that are discriminatory based. I might be snooty by saying I have one chance at the life I was given, and if we are not compatible when it comes to communication or any other attribute, I will limit contact to what is appropriate and comfortable.
What would you say to someone who has experienced bullying?
Keep moving forward. Surround yourself with people that are supportive and loving. Speak up to bullying and walk away if a situation might turn into violence. Never stop being a role model for those around you.
How do you think families can play a role in stopping bullying?
Bullying is a trait that is learned. Families are the frontline defense in preventing and educating about bullying. Families and communities cannot rely on the school systems to eliminate or prevent bullying. Each individual and family should be tasked with a responsibility to speak out against bullying and its effects. This is the same for families with children and families without children.
Trey Darnell is a father to four-year-old Harper and husband to Matthew.
The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.