Fairness group produces video, training to promote anti-bullying effort

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comAugust 11, 2012 

  • More information

    To contact Lexington Fairness about Project Speak Out, see the video, donate to the project or get information on training, call (859) 951-8565 , send email to info@lexfair.org or go to LexingtonFairness.org

    For information about the statewide non-profit JustFundKy, go to JustFundKy.org.

    For information and resources from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, go to GLSEN.org.

At school, Sam Denham was called a dork, a nerd, a fag. Friends say he was pushed into his locker, harassed at lunch.

His parents tried to help him sort it all out. They talked to school officials, even got him boxing lessons and gave him permission to fight back.

And Sam, being a usually easygoing kid, seemed to let it all slide.

But on Oct. 14, 2011, Sam apparently had taken all that he could.

He shot himself.

He was 13.

For his parents, that day is the ending and the beginning.

"We've basically been in a ... ," says his dad, Darryl pausing, searching for the right word.

"Nightmare," says his mom Carol, her face a mask of sorrow and loss.

"Nightmare," Sam's dad repeats, as his wife breathes the last syllable.

Just months after the Northern Kentucky middle school student's death, that exchange became part of a wrenching, five-minute video that is the first piece of a campaign to address bullying in Lexington and across Central Kentucky called Project Speak Out.

Sponsored by Lexington Fairness, a non-profit devoted to providing education about gay rights and welfare issues, Project Speak Out has been years in the making.

It was meant to be a collection of stories from the community, said Fairness chairman Craig Cammack. That was in 2008. Over the years, the project grew to include the video and the certification and training of 28 people to carry the message into the community with the hopes of training school staffs, civic leaders, church groups — basically anyone who asks — how to best handle bullying.

As with all non-profit efforts, raising money has been the most difficult task.

The group has raised $19,000, including a $5,000 grant from JustFundKy, a non-profit dedicated to ending discrimination of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people in Kentucky.

The goals of Project Speak Out and JustFundKy merged perfectly, said Ernesto Scorsone, a Fayette County circuit judge and president of JustFundKy.

It's important the people in Kentucky take a stand against violence and discrimination in their communities, he said.

"This is our struggle, and only we can solve it," said Scorsone, who was the first openly gay elected official in Kentucky. Working together, he said, is the only way.

Scorsone is featured in a preview video clip, and he knows the message of tolerance will resonate.

"Every parent's nightmare is that they are putting their kids in an environment that is not safe," he said, adding that every child should feel safe in his or her school and community.

To complete the video — and pay for a professional production company to produce a full-length story — Fairness needs to raise about $11,000, Cammack said. When finished, the video will be distributed throughout the community and shared by trainers who are the second point of attack against bullying in Lexington.

Earlier this month, 28 people spent three days at the Hilton Lexington/Downtown as part of an intensive training session. The group included people from the gay and straight communities, teachers, health educators and advocates of all types and interests from around Central Kentucky, said Cammack, who participated in the training.

The goal is to prepare people to spread the word about the harm of bullying and teach them the best ways to help kids, said Jenny Betz, part of the team of trainers from the National Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network brought in by Fairness.

According to research conducted by the network, four out of five gay students experience verbal, physical and sexual harassment frequently, often at schools. A 2005 national report from the network and Harris Interactive found that a majority of teachers and students across America identify bullying as a "serious problem" in their schools. Most often, the research shows, kids are teased for their physical appearance or real or perceived sexual orientation.

The Lexington training was a combination history lesson, consciousness raising, terminology class and counseling session as the participants learned how to present an anti-bullying message and train others to present the message.

While much of the training focuses specifically on gay issues, the anti-bullying information can be used to help all kids.

Paulette Logsdon, a disabilities advocate from Louisville who attended the recent training, said it helped give her the tools for her work.

"I just want to make sure that I am helping them in the right way. I don't want to let a child down," she said.

Next, the training will be taken to schools and other groups working with teens, said Betz. During her 10 years training people all over the country, Betz said she's seen that educators are eager to have the information because their life is focused on helping kids.

"These folks, they are the experts at teaching young people," she said. "We respect their ability to do their job."

When several people at one school are trained, the benefits are amplified because they can work together to brainstorm solutions to specific problems, Betz said.

Tom Shelton, superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools, is appreciative of Project Speak Out's efforts to help end bullying, and the district has told school staffs that Project Speak Out is available as a resource, he said.

The Denhams hope people will embrace the anti-bullying campaign. They were eager to help Lexington Fairness get out the message, they said, even though their son wasn't gay. In fact, Darryl Denham said, he hopes their involvement makes a bigger point — not caring about bullying because you think it affects someone else's kids or some other type of family just helps the problem fester.

Every kid who is bullied, "they're somebody's daughter, they're somebody's son," Darryl Denham said. "We all need to work together."

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261.Twitter: @bgmoms.Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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