Very happy to hear that Lady Gaga is launching an anti-bullying foundation, Born This Way. (I should also mention the tremendous efforts of the It Gets Better Project.) All of this is very necessary and long overdue. In the past few years, bullying has received more attention. Schools are responding. Admittedly, they aren't always addressing the issue of LGBT bullying directly--but rest assured in every school there are teachers and administrators who make an issue of it. I was a nerd, and I was bullied in school. However, the kind of bullying I endured was nothing compared to the kind of bullying LGBT kids experienced at my school. On the bullying food chain, being a kid who played D&D during lunch was still "better" than being effeminate or, if you were so brave in the '90s, completely out of the closet. Only once did I get a glimpse at what LGBT kids experienced on a daily basis. One day in high school, I decided to show up wearing a long skirt. It was a nice skirt and it went well with my Doc Martens. I was going for a Kurt Cobain grunge thing. That day, I had two rednecks threaten to kick my ass. I remember thinking, "Why are you so concerned about what I'm wearing? Why is this a big deal?" My playful dabbling with women's clothing (once again, it was a nice skirt) immediately lead to a threat of physical violence. So, when I talk about bullying, understand that my experiences were pretty light compared to others.
Nowadays, "being a nerd" is supposed to be cool. Although, I will attest that people claiming nerd-status like they would choose a t-shirt at Hot Topic is completely different from being an actual nerd. The awkward outsiders still get picked on.
I'm not an expert and all my insight is anecdotal, but I would categorize bullying into three levels: light, heavy, and thermal nuclear warfare. Light bullying happens to almost everyone. You have an odd last name. You're too tall or too short. You have crazy hair or some medical condition. You have zits. You're overweight. You're underweight. Your breasts grew too soon or not soon enough. You speak with a strange midwestern accent. Pretty much everyone gets teased for some stupid thing. Even the popular kids will get the occasional harassment. There's not a lot you can do about this. Kids are mean. It sucks, and you try your best to cope. Heavy bullying happens exclusively to the weirdos. Usually, it's one tormentor who targets one victim. He or she tries to make the other person's life absolute hell. I had a few tormentors in elementary school, a few more in junior high, and then they mostly disappeared in high school. I was lucky. Heavy bullying can send a kid to private school. In junior high, my parents wanted to move me to another school to avoid one particular kid. (I wonder now why we never talked to the principal. It seems like a cheaper alternative.) This kid shoved me into lockers, punched me, and threatened me. I was scared of him, and I hated him. I had to re-route my path to particular classes in order to avoid him. Thermal nuclear warfare bullying is when these bullies form into packs and target one poor, poor kid. Remember that short story The Lottery? It's like that. Every school has that one student, or maybe a few, who got incredibly unlucky. Sadly, even the weirdos might pick on this kid. Weirdos are not morally superior. If they had the opportunity, some of them would be bullies too. Unfortunately, in this lottery, the LGBT kids have their names at the top of the ballot. Teenagers are some of the world's worst homophobes.
Here's the good news and the bad news. The TNW bullying is the easiest bullying to prevent. You simply identify the bullied kid, which is not hard to do, then the teachers and administrators form a protective shield around this kid. If anyone does anything to him or her, you lay down the swift hammer of judgment and make the bully regret the day they ever tried anything against this kid. Soon, the whole school will know: you do not mess with this kid. Schools need to be vigilante. As one kid is shielded, another is targeted. Heavy bullying is moderately easy to prevent too. Same tactics apply. If you simply adhere to school policy, these things should resolve themselves like instant karma. A kid gets shoved into a school locker; the shover gets detention. The problem is these bullies don't all look like Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons. Some of them are very likable, charismatic kids, and they know how to talk to adults. Parents take note. Your precious little angel might be a bully. With light bullying, like I said before, there's not much you can do (as an adult or foundation) to prevent it. This one falls to the students. If the school promotes a culture where everyone sticks up for each other, the students can do more to stop the light bullying than the teachers can. So that's the good news.
The bad news is I think many anti-bullying programs spend 70% of their energy worrying about light bullying, 25% on heavy bullying, and 5% on the thermal nuclear warfare. Their priorities are inverted.
LGBT kids are the ones who are potentially most vulnerable. They are the ones who need the most support.
I'm open to anyone else's perspective on bullying. Please post comments. These are my thoughts. If you disagree or have your own take, I'd love to know about it.