Last week, I learned a new term from my wife and her colleague (both researchers in Psychology at the University of Oxford) which has fundamentally altered my thinking: “rejection sensitivity.” I’ll break it down in non-academic terms. Rejection sensitivity is what happens to a person after an accumulation of events constituting rejection. (If prejudiced treatment is the illness, then I can analogize rejection sensitivity as the symptom.) This rejection can be based on race, sexual orientation, religion, height, hair color – you name it. But what it specifically connotes is that rejection sensitivity catalyzes people to overshoot, overreact and be hypersensitive to actions or words perceived as rejection. As unpleasant as experiencing this symptom can be, it is the seed from which activism, revolutions and change have been born. Because, let’s face it, what’s a better stimulus to enact change than being uncomfortable, unsatisfied, and more than a little pissed off?
So here’s my question to the LGBTQ community, our straight allies, and those who seek to spread love and compassion in this world: at what point do we reach rejection sensitivity? Is 9 teen suicides enough? 9,000? 9 million?
Today I read an article on the Anoka-Hennepin school district (the former stomping grounds of that brilliant bonfire of light, Michele Bachmann) in Minnesota that witnessed 9 teen suicides in just two years following the introduction of a policy that called for “neutrality” in regards to all things gay. If a student got urinated on for being gay, it was probably just water. If a student got called a faggot, a gentle reminder was issued that such naughty words were not appropriate.
Excuse my apparent propensity for rejection sensitivity, but 9 teen suicides are enough for me, thanks. And if the Anoka-Hennepin School District Board needs a reminder that their mandate is to create a safe learning environment (versus pandering to hateful constituents), then I think it is high time we remind them.
Go forth and get your rejection sensitivity on, folks.
(Here is my letter to the School Board, and below is a link for you to either copy and paste this one or to write your own.)
To the Board of the Anoka-Hennepin School District,
I am shocked, saddened and speechless at the cowardice underlying the policies you enacted that have directly affected the lives of children and teens in your district. Furthermore, the opacity of your communications to parents when sanctioning these harmful policies is unprofessional, at best.
Under your leadership, your school district has become an international beacon of shame. Well done in maintaining the cowardly stance of neutrality as 9 students took their own lives while you bowed to those who ridiculously espouse the belief that intolerance can effect change in sexual orientation.
As you make future decisions regarding how you will (or will not) protect the students who have been entrusted to your care, ask yourself what takes priority in your decision-making: appeasing constituents (irrespective of the potentially damaging effects on your students), or creating a safe atmosphere for the students of the Anoka-Hennepin district?