White House officials participating in a conference on school violence next week must address bullying and name-calling, a gay rights organisation has warned.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) applauded the White House yesterday for recognising that a summit is needed to address the recent rash of school attacks and says it hopes next week’s conference will place an emphasis on preventing school violence through programmes that reduce bullying and harassment, which statistics show are a serious problem in schools.

Bullying reportedly contributed to at least one of the recent school attacks and has played a part in many of the nation’s most tragic episodes of school violence.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and communities affected by the recent school attacks,” GLSEN founder and executive director Kevin Jennings said.

“For the sake of our youth and our education system, we need to focus on prevention as well as policing and do all we can to make sure students are safe from bullying, harassment and violence in schools.

“While this conference has been a long time coming, we are cautiously optimistic that the President will convene a group that understands the scope of the problem in schools today and is not being organized simply to look good in an election year.”

Reports of last Friday’s school shooting at Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, in which a 15-year-old student killed his principal, indicate that the attacker was upset about having been bullied and called “faggot,” a slur that is ubiquitous in schools.

In “From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America”, a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GLSEN in 2005, 65 percent of teens reported having been verbally or physically harassed or assaulted during the past year because of their perceived or actual appearance, gender, sexual orientation, gender expressions, race/ethnicity, disability or religion.

According to the more than 3,000 students surveyed, the three most common reasons students bullied other students were physical appearance (39 percent), actual or perceived sexual orientation (33 percent) and gender expression (28 percent).

“Far too often, adults and students alike dismiss bullying and name-calling, especially words like faggot, as ‘boys will be boys,'” Mr Jennings said. “The truth is these are powerful words with destructive and sometimes unthinkable repercussions.”

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