By Neal Broverman
Originally published on Advocate.com December 03 2012 6:00 AM ET
With antigay, anti-immigrant governor Jan Brewer, Arizona has one of the divisive female political figures in the nation. But right under Brewer’s nose, Nicole Stanton, the wife of Phoenix’s young Democratic mayor, is emerging as an antidote to her extremism — “Phoenix’s first lady,” as many endearingly call her, has made it her mission to curb bullying in Arizona’s schools.
Stanton’s husband, Greg, was inaugerated in January to lead the nation’s sixth-largest city. Nicole, sweet and soft-spoken, could have settled in for an easy life of ribbon cuttings and garden parties. But she embraced her higher-profile and decided to use it to change things for Arizona’s marginalized students, including bullied LGBT children — she calls it her "anti-bullying pulpit." The issue is close to Stanton's heart.
"My oldest brother, my only brother, was a victim of bullying back when he was in middle and high school," Stanton says. "He was chased home from school and had rocks thrown at him. They used to call him was Fairy France, which was our last name. I always wanted to do something to honor his memory and what he went through, so kids don't have to go through what my brother went through."
Stanton hosted an antibullying summit for educators in October at Arizona State University, with issues like Arizona law and technologies that track bullying incidents discussed. Stanton considers the event a success and says it revealed the need for serious funding increases.
"Schools are very well-intentioned, but they don't necessarily know what to do," she says. In times of budget crises, "[Anti-bullying] training programs are the first to go."
Stanton stresses the importance of involving parents — both that of the bullies and their victims. But she warns against forced mediation: "That's inappropriate, victims haven't done anything where they should have to compromise their position." She's also wary of schools with zero-tolerance policies against bullying, believing it dissuades kids from reporting incidents of harassment. "If you and I are friends and I see you do something to another kid, I don't necessarily want to see you thrown out of school."
Earlier this year, Stanton lobbied for a state safe-schools bill, joining forces with a supportive state senator. But Arizona's politically-active rightwing quashed it.
"The bill protected all kids," she says. "But it was identified as a gay bill by a conservative group, and it subsequently died a quick death in our legislature. I was told bullying is gay propaganda." The senator who sponsored the bill is no longer in office, but Stanton is determined to find another sponsor for the legislation.
Even though she acknowledges LGBT kids are disproportionately affected by bullying, she says the problem is one that affects all kinds of children; there's absolutely no excuse to back away from using all resources available to stop it.
"There is no good reason for bullying a child," she says. "Fixing this problem requires adults to intervene. You can't hide your head in the sand and hope these problems go away."
(Pictured: Stanton and her brother, Dion)