As a member of the Human Rights Campaign, I receive weekly partner emails from HRC's President, Joe Solmonese. This was his letter this week:
This was a tragic week for our community. In a chilling reminder of how difficult life can be for LGBT teenagers, we learned of a number of bullying and harassment-related suicides across the country. Over the course of just the past few weeks, four teenagers have taken their own lives because of ruthless tormenting based on their real or perceived sexual orientation. Among them are: 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University who took his own life after his roommate and a friend secretly recorded him in his dorm room with another man and broadcast it on the internet. Friends and family remember him as a talented violin player who they thought would have a full and rewarding life. We also recently heard about Seth Walsh, 13, who liked fashion and talking with his friends on the phone; Asher Brown of Texas, also 13, who was only in 8th grade; and Billy Lucas of Indiana, 15, who was not out as being gay, but was perceived as gay by many of his classmates. And these are just four of the many kids taking their own lives. In just the past year, seven students in one Minnesota school district took their own lives, including 3 gay teens.
Studies consistently show that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are more likely to attempt suicide and face violence at school than are their heterosexual peers. In fact, in 2009, The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network surveyed 7,261 middle and high school students and found that at school nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Studies also show that young people having just one supportive adult in their life are more likely to thrive. It is our responsibility to make sure that the most vulnerable among our youth know that they have someone to talk to and someone who respects them for who they are. The deaths of these students are tragic because they did not have to be. Each of these young people was full of potential.
My friends, we have a crisis on our hands. We don't have the luxury of time to act. We must do something before another child takes his or her life. This week we called on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to speak out immediately and to push every school in the nation to implement anti-bullying policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. We also call on Congress to pass key legislation that would work to address this issue including the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA, H.R. 4530, S. 3390) introduced by Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado and Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 2262. S. 3739) introduced by Representative Linda Sanchez of California and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. The SNDA prohibits any school program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating or ignoring harassing behavior against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The SSIA requires that schools and districts receiving federal funds adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Both bills would ensure that schools would have a responsibility to ensure that proactive steps are being taken in order to prevent discrimination, including bullying and harassment, against students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The recent teen suicides are not a new problem. Sadly, this has been going on for decades. Fortunately, there are resources out there for those in crisis. The Trevor Project and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available 24-hours a day for those in need. Additionally, our Religion and Faith Program has provided resources and called on clergy and other faith leaders around the country to write and speak about this week in connection with both their Sabbath observances and the lead-up to National Coming Out Day.
HRC is committed to making our schools safe places. Our Welcoming Schools program provides a model of best practices for elementary schools in order to teach children respect and tolerance early on to prevent violence later in middle and high schools. Please help pass the word on about this program to anyone you know involved with an elementary school. It could save a child's life.
To learn more about the Human Rights Campaign and the important work that is underway, please visit their website at hrc.org.