Letter to Students

from Robbie's sister Claudia.

Dear Students,

On January 2, 1997, my younger brother Robbie Kirkland committed suicide after a four year struggle to accept and find peace with his homosexuality. My family loved, accepted, and supported my brother but could not protect him from the teasing, harassment, and bullying that he endured on a daily basis at school.

This harassment was something that I personally witnessed and tried to shield my brother from. I remember when I was 12-years-old riding the school bus home with 9-year-old Robbie and hearing other kids make fun of his lisp and how he talked. Usually shy, I stood up and firmly told the younger kids to leave my little brother alone. They listened but I think of all of the other times when I was not there to stand up for him and of all his other classmates who said cruel things or silently stood by. After Robbie's death, I heard how the harassment escalated in high school to students pushing his books off his desk, pushing Robbie down stairs, and a student behind him repeatedly whispering "faggot" in his ear throughout class while flicking his finger against the back of my brother's head. I may not have witnessed these actions but the pain it caused Robbie was all too visible. I watched my funny and sweet brother withdraw inside of himself and this bullying erode his self-esteem and hope that his life would be better.

Cruel comments have become too common place in our schools and amongst friends. Homophobic slurs are used as jokes and often we all stand by as someone we know, we like, we are friends with is put down and belittled. We have all been on both sides of the bullying; humiliation and hurt coursing through us as we try to ignore insults and name calling and using our own insults and name calling to ease our anger or insecurities or gain status. It is time to stop this cycle of pain. It is time to stand up for your friends and your classmates when you hear others using words that are hurtful or using physical aggression to intimidate. It is time to think twice before unkind or hateful words leave your mouth, words you can't take back and words that you will never know the depth of pain they might cause someone else. It is time to stop physical aggression towards other students because they are different or because you don't like them or because you know they won't fight back. I know that what I am asking is difficult and might even feel impossible, but I know it can make a difference. It can be the difference between someone feeling accepted and included in your class or someone feeling rejected and alone. It can be what helps someone believe that people care and there is kindness for everyone no matter their differences. It can be the hope or support that saves someone's life.

When you hear bullying or derogatory language used, speak up. Say you don't like it or don't agree with it and do not want your friends to use it or put down other people. When you feel the urge to use this kind of language or insults yourself, stop and think how it would feel to have those words said to you. Think of the kind of environment you want to create for yourself, for your friends, for your family. If speaking up to bullies seems too difficult or overwhelming, find an adult who can intervene and report the harassment and intimidation you have witnessed and let them know you need their help addressing it. If the first adult does not do enough, tell someone else. Offer your support and comfort to those students you see being bullied. Let them know someone cares and does not agree with how others have treated them. Work to create a supportive, inclusive environment for your school for all students through the creation of anti-bullying programs and gay-straight student alliances to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning youth, and their allies. Cultivate an atmosphere of tolerance and even celebration of differences and supports all students. Do your part to improve your school for yourself and for other students. Show students like my brother that others care and that kindness and compassion can overcome bullying and hatred.

Sincerely,

Claudia Kirkland