Oestreich was selected by the national Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to attend the Safe Schools Advocacy Summit next week. While there, summit participants will be lobbying for two federal bills: the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Both of those bills target bullying in schools.
According to GLSEN, the Safe Schools Improvement Act will “focus on effective prevention strategies and professional development designed to help school personnel meaningfully address bullying and harassment.” The group cites a study by the U.S. Department of Education showing that nearly one in three students in sixth through 10th grade will be affected by bullying or harassment.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act is designed to give students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender “the same protections against bullying and harassment as those that currently apply to students based on race and gender,” according to information from GLSEN.
Oestreich said she was the victim of bullying when she was a student.
“This long-standing acceptable behavior should be addressed and no longer seen as a youth’s rite of passage,” she said.
Oestreich said that she was not bullied because she had identified as LGBT. Instead, she was targeted because she was “different,” she said.
“When you are a student that goes against the norm of gender societal constructions (boy in drama club or girl athlete) it can become open season on you for anyone who feels ‘threatened’ by your way of being,” Oestreich said.
During a recent school assembly at Grand County High School, several students stood up and spoke about being harassed, Oestreich said. However, a student that she knows said that many of those students who spoke about being bullied were actually responsible for the harassment.
“I am confident that something must be done here at home to counter the teenage bullying and teasing epidemic nationally,” she said.
In 2010, Oestreich began researching resources to help with the high number of suicides that occur annually in the LGBT teen community.
“My hope is after this summit to have gained enough skills and knowledge to effect [sic] change not only in our community, but in the state of Utah,” she said in a written statement.
Oestreich has been working closely with several organizations in the Moab community to try and find solutions to the problem locally. She has worked with Moab Pride, the Moab Community Action Coalition, the Local Interagency Coalition, the Teen Center, and the Personal Responsibility Education Program, for which she currently serves as the program coordinator.
“It is our responsibility,” she said. “It is our obligation to change the messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting. We can’t let intolerance and ignorance take another kid’s life.”