The bottom line is that when it comes to sexual bullying, kids follow in our footsteps, doing exactly as we teach them. So long as society continues to promote messages of shame and sexual intolerance, our youth will use these same weapons to injure each other. So long as we continue to elevate this instinct in childhood, changing it from an extension of affection to an identity crushing “evil” and “sinful” behavior with fatalistic implications whenever it doesn’t conform to our unrealistic scripts, we will continue to have scores of kids whose identity is crushed under this drummed up negativity. So long as society continues to send the message that sexual “abnormalities” are grounds for persecution, we will always have extremely high rates of sexual abuse (of the emotional kind) in our schools. Paying lip service to this issue is not enough.

One child’s tragic story illustrates this point perfectly. Jamie was a caring teenage boy who happened to be gay, one among many who would eventually be bullied to death. Before his suicide he himself had posted motivational videos on the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign website. He seemed to take all the right attitudes. He was reaching out for support and trying to offer it up to others. Yet in illustration of how profoundly damaging this abuse can be, it wasn’t enough. He killed himself a few days later.

Such cases serve as a cautionary warning that even exposing a teen to all the proper messages and offering them support sometimes isn’t enough to make the social pain tolerable. One can intellectually grasp all the rational attitudes, but if it doesn’t correlate to the world they live in, it may not matter. That’s the nature of social pain. Exclusion, persecution or scorn needn’t be based on intelligent, rational ideas in order to cause devastation. Human beings are wired to care about what others think, and so social scorn hurts no matter how baseless it may be.

If we don’t want children enduring sexual abuse and torment at the hands of their peers – abuse that leads to millions of cases of psychiatric disorder, hundreds of thousands of acts of violence and hundreds of deaths each year – we need to start eroding the sexual prejudices that fuel this behavior. That doesn’t start with our children. It begins by fixing the bigotry inside ourselves.