Zero Tolerance Doesn’t Work

I’ve known this for a long time: Zero Tolerance is no deterrent to anything – but perhaps especially bullying. Zero Tolerance is just code for intolerance with a ‘z’. And as we all know, the intolerance is too often directed at the person being bullied, rather than the bully.

In the following article, Carolyn Laub, founder of Gay-Straight Alliance Network, tells you exactly why it doesn’t work, and more importantly, offers another, and perhaps better, way to deal with school bullying. It takes so long for this kind of thing to filter into the schools, I hope her words will reach the eyes of educators far and wide.

Why Zero Tolerance is Not the Solution to School Bullying

Ho Mo Faux Be Uh

From the World English Dictionary:
homophobia, n. intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality.

Today, May 17, 2012 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and to start the conversation I’m going to share a segment from the first chapter of my new novel,  The Boxer Rebellion on the subject.

Summary:  Nick is a new junior at Tranquility High. His family moved over fifty miles to give him a fresh start, away from the bullying at his old school where he’d been labeled gay. He’s feeling awkward, but determined to fit in. Penny Papadopoulos is assigned by the Homeroom teacher to show Nick to his next class:

Standing in the hallway, they compared class lists. Although Nick was in math during first period, and Penny was in English, the room numbers were only three apart: 306 and 309. Together they headed for the stairs. He looked at her shyly out of the side of his eye, and found her doing the same to him. They both laughed and he knew he liked her already.
Jostling kids going up and down the echoing staircase made conversation difficult with so many different voices speaking at once. “Did you see the new boy yet?” he heard Angela O’Shea ask someone while walking ahead of them.
“What a good looking stud he is, huh?” answered Margaret, tossing her braids and pushing up her glasses. The two girls were a few steps above him, completely unaware he was following. Nick blushed deeply, having never received a compliment like that in his life; he owed it all to the clothes. He ran a hand through his hair, tousling it a little.
Nick was trying to think of something to say to Penny when she beat him to it. “Want to have lunch together? All juniors have fifth period lunch. We both have fourth period world history with Mr. K. again, so we could walk to the cafeteria together from there.”
“Sure!” said Nick, grateful and pleased. He smiled and relaxed slightly. Things were going better than he’d hoped. Three girls were all paying attention to him before he’d even gotten to first period; it was a new world and a new day. A real smile claimed his face, his first in months.
I can do this. I can make friends and fit in. Maybe even have a girlfriend.
He and Penny started down the hall checking room numbers until she found 306. The two stood together talking before she went in.
“What other classes do we have in common?” Nick was asking, looking down at his class list when he was suddenly pushed from behind, throwing him upon a very startled Penny. She shoved him back, away from her.
Time slowed down to a crawl. Nick watched Penny’s dark hair swing as she moved to the side, her eyes growing wide at what she saw behind him. Moving as if underwater, he turned to see who had pushed him. He came face to face with Julian Cain whose arm was pulled back, fist closed, grinning horribly and prepared to punch his lights out.
Impossible! He had left Julian and all his barbaric pals behind in Styxwater. This wasn’t happening. He must be hallucinating. It just could not happen!
But it did. Julian’s fist connected with Nick’s gut, knocking all the air out of him in a rush and leaving him gasping for breath. Julian laughed and sent a swiping kick to Nick’s knee, knocking him to the ground. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here, faggot?” he shouted as students gathered quickly, gesturing at Nick clutching his knee on the floor. “He’s a God damned cocksucker.”
This isn’t happening to me. He couldn’t have found me, why would he want to? This must be a nightmare, it just can’t be real. I’ll wake up any minute.
Nick tasted vomit rising. He felt faint and worried he’d just wet himself. He wished a big hole would open in the floor and swallow him up, but he knew from past experience it wouldn’t. He rose quickly to his good knee, watching for another kick.
Brent Howard heard a familiar voice right behind him shout “faggot” and “cocksucker”. He cringed, afraid to turn around.
It’s finally happened, someone’s figured it out.
It was his deepest, darkest fear coming true. Every muscle in his body locked rigidly in place and his thoughts slowed to a crawl. Only his breathing sped up.
As the laughter began he stared at the locker in front of him, paralyzed. Sweat beaded his brow while he listened to jeers growing louder and louder. He wanted to cover his ears to block out the sound, but he didn’t dare. The laughter grew even stronger, and now he felt the jostling of other students as they jockeyed to get a glimpse of the faggot cocksucker.
They aren’t looking at me. No one’s staring at me. They’re looking at someone else, laughing at someone else. A half second later his frozen muscles melted and he finally turned around. Relief flooded him as he saw over the heads and shoulders of the gathering crowd a skinny little guy, the ‘faggot cocksucker’, rising from the floor, brushing at new jeans.
He didn’t recognize him, but Brent knew his attacker; it was his younger cousin, Julian, who had moved in with his family to play hockey at Tranquility High. He’d been sharing Brent’s bedroom all summer, getting in early practices with Coach Morgensen’s yearly hockey camp. One day Julian was going to play for the U of M, and later with the Wild. It was all but a done deal.
Brent laughed uproariously along with everyone else at the homo his cousin had chosen to pick on. Look at him kneeling there, his face all red and trying desperately not to cry, the little wimp. Stupid pervert had it coming, they all did, those damned queers.
He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t gay. Brent felt his heartbeat slow and his breathing ease. He had to get control of himself; there was nothing for anyone to find out because he simply was not, once and for all, never had been and never would be, gay. He might think about good looking guys once in awhile and imagine what it might be like, but he’d certainly never done it. Thinking about doing something isn’t the same as actually doing it, right?
What a relief. What a close call.
Still on one knee, Nick’s vision swam as he gulped in air. This is not happening. I’m in a new town, a new school, on my way to my first class. Julian Cain cannot be here. He glanced over his shoulder at Penny and saw her shocked face staring back at him. He stood up and found his own fists clenched, never a good sign.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded of Julian. “You’re not supposed to be here!”
“Oh and why’s that?” Julian Cain sneered at Nick. “Did you think this was a school just for fags and dykes? Who is that girl you’re talking to, anyway? Couldn’t be your girlfriend, ‘cause you only go for guys.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” screamed Nick quickly losing control, his fists clenching in rhythm with his shouts. Then without warning, he launched himself at the bully.
Julian grinned triumphantly and held him at arm’s length as Nick started flailing in rage, his reach two inches shorter. “What’s the matter, queer boy? Thought you could hide the truth here, start over with your secret still intact? Not going to happen, fag. You’re a perv and these good people deserve to know about you.”
“You can’t be here. This isn’t happening. Go back to Styxwater, go home.” Tears washed down his cheeks. “You won, God damn it!” shouted Nick. “Leave me alone!” His fists struck only air, or glancing blows on the arm holding him at bay.
“Fuck you,” answered Julian. “Tranquility has a ranked hockey team, and they want me to play. I need a scholarship to U of M so here I am and there’s nothing you can do about it, fag.” He laughed as Nick’s swinging fists missed time after time. “You should have known you’ll never get away from me.”


To me, homophobia can be blatant, or on the down low, an insidious or in-your-face attitude, a whispered word, or a huge sign paraded in public. It’s ugly, it’s extremist, and it’s cruel.

And it ALWAYS leads to bullying.

What do you think?

Do we share responsibility for each other?

That used to be a question nobody ever had to ask. What a sad statement of the times that I not only ask it, but I’m unsure of your answer.

When I re-read this poem again recently, it made me think about all the sheeple who watch bullying and do nothing. I’ve never understood it, being the kind of person who gets involved the moment I see bullying. But after writing The Boxer Rebellion and exploring the fear and guilt experienced by these watchers through the characters of Angela and Margaret, I don’t think they’re bad people, just people who get lost in moral ambiguity about responsibility.

By Charles Osgood

There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task.

Anybody could have told you that everybody knew
That this was something somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling. Anybody had the ability.
But nobody believed that it was his responsibility.

It seemed to be a job that anybody could have done.
If anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since everybody recognized that anybody could
Everybody took for granted that somebody would.

But nobody told anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And nobody took it on himself to follow through,
And do what everybody thought that somebody would do.

When what everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And everybody looked around for somebody to blame.

Somebody should have done the job
And everybody should have,
But in the end nobody did
What anybody could have.

Student Non-Discrimination Act

After I met my Beloved I moved from California out to Minnesota. It was not a place I’d ever thought I’d live, but once I got here I found great neighbors, great culture, great sports and something much rarer:

Politicians I can respect.

Paul Wellstone was my Senator when I first moved here, and through him I found the integrity, hope, and sense of dedication to the people I’d only dreamed of until then. He was unafraid to stand up and be counted, and he had a way of leading people into standing up beside him. When he died, the people of Minnesota lost far more than a representative to the Senate – they lost one of their best friends.

 Apparently he inspired others just as much as he did me, and one of his former constituents, a comedian making a name for himself in television and print, decided to step up and fill the void left by Paul Wellstone. That man was Al Franken.

 I’d read his books, so I knew how smart he was, and I’d watched his work on Saturday Night Live and knew how funny he was. He was a native son of Saint Paul, and when he was sounding out the public to see if he should run for Senate, I attended a function at a local park so I could meet him. Well, that wasn’t going to happen as I didn’t come with a fat wallet full of promises of future support, but I did grab exactly sixty seconds of his time when he foolishly wandered in my direction. “Please,” I begged him, “don’t forget your LGBT constituents if you’re elected. You’re progressive, so many of us will support you, but that’s no reason to take us for granted.” Then I smiled at him and begged, “And may I take a picture with you?” Which he graciously allowed me to do.

You hope your words sink in when you gather the nerve to speak truth to power. You trust in the humanity of your fellow man because you have no other option, but in truth, I held out little hope that any politician elected at that time would stand up for gay rights.

People have asked why I write about gay bashing and bullying. Sadly, in recent years Minnesota has seen a terrifying increase in student suicides, and most of them have been associated with bullying at school. A large school district was eventually labeled a ‘suicide contagion zone’ because of the sheer number of attempted and successful suicides.

Local school policies have allowed bullying to grow far out of hand and disproportionately born by LGBT students. When a shocking fourteen students successfully committed suicide (remember, almost ten times as many try, unsuccessfully) in less than two years, I knew it was time to do something. I did the only thing I knew to do, I wrote about it. The Boxer Rebellion is my way of telling their story, and enlisting your help to make the bullying stop.

And Senator Franken did what he was able to do; he sponsored and championed Senate Bill 555: The Student Non-Discrimination Act. In the following YouTube video released by his office in October, 2011, you’ll see his passion, and his need for our help to get this legislation finally passed. Watch the video, then contact the office of your local state senator and simply tell them you hope Senator Fill-In-The-Blank will co-sponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act bill, and support it.

It’s happening, again.

Suicides of teens due at least in part to bullying. In Utah and Minnesota, students are killing themselves because they’ve been bullied. The sad fact is, that for every one suicide reported there are at least another fifty attempts.

Parents, students, and administrations must work together to make sure each and every public school in America is a safe place to study, no matter WHO their students are.
I stumbled across this video today. I believe we all have to help stop this madness in whatever way we can, so I’m sharing it.

I’m proud to announce the publication of THE BOXER REBELLION on as an e-book!

THE BOXER REBELLION is my latest work. Here’s the description:

Rumor has it that the new kid, sixteen year old Nick Clements, is gay.

The news couldn’t be better for senior quarterback Brent Greene because he needs to distract his fellow students to keep them from wondering about his own orientation; and it dismays Penny Papadopoulos, whose heart first breaks for Nick, and then becomes forever entangled, and scarred, with him.

Tranquility High is a school full of sheeple led by a few bullies. Acts of humiliation, physical assaults, and cyber terrorism, unchecked by teachers forbidden to interfere, is resulting in multiple suicides. When the violence turns to murder Nick and Penny start THE BOXER REBELLION, a desperate attempt to save their own lives and the lives of others.

Teenage cruelty rips away the mask of Minnesota Nice in this coming of age novel set in suburban Minneapolis. THE BOXER REBELLION is a penetratingly frank account of teen suicide and murder. The unique perspectives of those involved give a voice to some of those affected by the thousands of students bullied to death in America every year.


People who have experienced teenage bullying first hand may be triggered by this book. For that, the author is truly sorry.
Those that have only seen gay bashing or bullying amusingly portrayed in sit-coms on TV may be shocked and upset by the all too real life examples in THE BOXER REBELLION. Not everyone has it as easy as Kurt.
Although THE BOXER REBELLION is about teenagers, the subject matter is mature and intended for legally adult readers. If those aged seventeen and younger wish to read this book, they should get their parents’ permission first.

You can purchase THE BOXER REBELLION from by following this link:

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