The Director of Was Bullied Too

For Lee Hirsch, the camera was his way of fighting back for the kids in the film and for those all over the country who are experiencing the same thing.

BY Lucas Grindley

April 14 2012 1:38 AM ET

You tell the story of this transgender boy named Kelby who was identifying then as lesbian and was ostracized and attacked. For a lot of kids like Kelby in the movie, they are attacked for being gay or just for being perceived as being gay. For Alex, the kids said he was creepy or whatever. What was it for you? 
There's a part of me that almost wants to outright reject that question. That's one of the things that gets said to kids a lot when you are bullied: What are you doing to bring this on, what are you doing to make this happen? And I remember that so, so well. I couldn't find an answer. I couldn't come to that understanding. Now as I look back, I think it had a lot to do with my parents who were three generations older than any of the other kids’ parents. My dad is going to be 93, and so I didn't have, I wasn't dressed like the other kids and my hair was different. I don't know that I had the same kind of socialization skills at that point. I was sort of smart, sort of off, didn't have the skills to deflect it and that was something that people honed in on.

Since the movie, Alex and Kelby have both left their schools. And I guess you changed schools too when you were a kid. Did anything change? Is that a solution for kids? 
Things did change for me, by the end of my sophomore year in high school. It wasn't an immediate solution for the problem. Problems in some ways followed.  For some kids, changing schools is an option and can be helpful. I'm learning so much now about the numbers of kids who are being home schooled because of bullying. Parents are frustrated and they think it's the right or the best and only choice in some cases. The thing is that not all families can switch their kids’ schools. It's an economics issue. It's a geographical issue. If you are in an urban environment it's much easier, if you’re in a smaller town it's much harder. Your livelihood can be pegged to that community. It's really tough stuff. Parents are engaging now in a very powerful conversation through this film about how they support and fight for their kids when they are being bullied, and they should understand the full arsenal. That includes escalating really powerfully within the school system, documenting, making things formal, going up the chain of command, all the way to the superintendent. Use local media if you have to. There are lots of things in the arsenal, and parents need to get very creative, and their kids need to know that they are fighting for them.

There is one disturbing scene where Alex tells the administrator. And the administrator says, If you had only been telling me about this before I could have done something. Alex says, Well I have told you. Was that your experience too? Did you try to tell administrators and nothing was done? 
There were many parallels between Alex's world and what I remember. There is this thing that happens in the film where you really see this mistrust. It brings home the conversation with educators that when you say to someone that you are going to take care of something, they remember if you did or you didn't. And that affects whether they are going to feel like they can go to you again in a situation where they are experiencing bullying or harassment. But, yeah, I absolutely remember administrators not helping, or being unwilling or unable to. I think it's very common.

Bullying obviously goes way back. It's not a new thing. So why is it getting attention now, how do you explain it? 
It feels like we've talked about it as a nation a lot because of the tragedies. We are also hearing more about when there is a suicide. When we were kids, this never made it into the media or the suicide itself was never revealed as a suicide. So the national conversation raised the alarm. I’d like to think that we are moving toward a tipping point. The conversation is now, for me, if when people mention bullying and they in the same sentence mention I'm going to stand up to it, I'm going to step up, and if we play any role in advancing that piece of the national discourse, then I'll be really proud and pleased.

The issue of suicides has been especially important to Advocate readers because it has so affected LGBT youth. I know you've said bullying affects everybody. But is this whole suicide problem more acute in the LGBT community, and if so does it deserve a different sort of callout? 
I 'd rather not speak of it from a perspective of suicide. I think that there are kids who are at risk. I think special needs kids are at really high risk for bullying. I think GLBT kids are at high risk for bullying, and the organizations like PFLAG and GLSEN and HRC have done such an incredible job raising awareness and really owning the impact that bullying has on their kids and their community. I have spent a lot of my time advocating for that within the special needs community. What I really felt like was that everyone needed to take a cue from the awareness-raising, and being really ahead of the curve, and being so active and profoundly impactful, that the gay community has been in the last few years — and probably longer. I do think it's important that we speak about this broadly because you don't want a situation where you feel like you can only get support if you’re gay because other kids get bulled too. So I think it's important to frame the conversation as being about empathy and kindness and stepping up and getting all sorts of people engaged and involved and caring about the issue. Doing so uplifts absolutely everybody.

And that's how you get people like Mike Huckabee supporting you? 
And then you have people like Mike Huckabee supporting the film, and you have conservatives going out to see the film that probably, on analysis, will make them rethink how they've felt about homosexuality after they spend the time and get to know this incredible family — Kelby’s parents, Kelby. It's really amazing, and that's important, and that's going to help to change the conversation and make an impact for LGBT kids, for sure, I'm convinced of it.

 

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