What can be done to promote tolerance and stop bullying in schools?
Parents. Parents giving a shit about their kids and showing them that tolerance is the best way. That it is wrong to put religious doctrine or personal prejudices before the happiness and well being of another person, regardless of how that person my differ from you or what you believe in.
As far as the suicides that have happened particularly among gay or suspected-gay kids recently, the ONLY way that is ever going to end is if all the adults in these kids lives (the bullies, the victims, and everyone else) stop showing them that its not okay to be gay and it is okay to make life a living hell for anyone who is because 'god says so'.
As far as I can tell, the only way to end any of this is to teach your child tolerance. Fuck sheltering them, and bollocks to 'they're too young'. Obviously not, when middle schoolers are bullying each other to death. What can be done is to expose
kids to different kinds of people from birth, and rather than point to the differences, point to the similarities.
...I had a friend, back in middle school and the first little bit of high school, who was just discovering she was rather more interested in girls than boys. Her family was pretty religious, and I just happened to be the first girl this friend of mine was interested in. Her parents found out one way or another, and they had never liked me from the beginning. Said I was a bad influence, looked at me like I was somehow dirty
when I came into their house, discouraged their daughter from associating with me. After they found out, of course, it wasn't an awful lot better. I was in no way interested in their daughter, but somehow I think they still rested part of the blame for their daughters 'defection', so to speak, on me. I think they somehow saw me as their daughters bridge to the dark side. I was never overly subtle about not really buying into their whole conservative baptist crap, and they were well aware of that. Her mom, especially, had a problem with me, I think. Her and I weren't so much drifting apart as really just falling apart. I couldn't handle caring about her when she was so fucking timid around her parents. Her mother frequented a video rental store where my best (then and to this day) friend's mom worked. This girls mom, Tracey, her name was, literally would go into the video store and tell my best friends mother how I was a horrible influence and couldn't be trusted. She smeared my name and my character to my best friends mother, and I wasn't even really hanging out with her daughter anymore. She called me the anti-christ. I shit you not. She told my best friends mother that I was the goddamn spawn of satan because I somehow influenced her poor innocent daughter to stand up for herself, even though that plan didn't work and it took her years to finally stand up to her bitch of a mother. Thank god me and my best friend were on the same page as far as everything under the sun is concerned, and she didn't have a problem telling her mother just where Tracey could shove her bullshit.
Its parents like Tracey who cause this kind of thing. I was never bullied by kids in school, and I was never bullied for being mostly-not-definably-straight. I was bullied by parents, for having an open mind and being friends with their children, who they wanted nothing more than to keep closed-minded. Which I think really says a lot about this whole situation. Bigotry is learned, and instead of laying all the blame on the kids who do the bullying (who certainly deserve some of it, don't get me wrong), I think people really need to reassess what they are teaching their children. This is a problem with parents and media and religious leaders and politicians who are showing kids every day that its NOT okay to be different, its NOT okay to ask questions, its NOT okay to tolerate people who are different from yourself. Its far bigger than a middle school in the heartland. Its the toxic environment in this country that causes kids to be bullied to death. Its adults showing kids through their actions that people who are different (gay, muslim, black, athiest, transsexual, poor, etc, etc, etc) are more DIFFERENT than the same, and should be kept separate, treated differently, and allowed less or different things than anyone who is 'normal' (read: white, middle class, straight, christian).
In short, what can be done is this; promote tolerance. Look beyond the schools and into the world around you. Promote tolerance. Stop bullying. Take a close, realistic look at your views, the things you say, the things you tolerate being said around you, the people you vote for, and ask yourself if you are contributing to bullying and intolerance, or doing what you can to stop it.