Not even one full month into the new school year and we have already learned of six tragic cases of young people being victims of hate crimes and severe bullying in schools. It’s time to take a stand for youth, families and inclusive safer school laws and policies. As we have watched these events unfold over the past month, it is more urgent than ever before that advocating for safer schools must be made an unmitigated priority. These tragedies deserve the undivided attention of all of us. Below are the most recent reports we’ve learned about since the official school year began:
• Asher Brown – Harris, TX – 09/27/10. Asher Brown, a 13 year old eighth grader, put a bullet in his brain this week after enduring years of anti-gay taunting and bullying at his Texas middle school. His parents say they complained to the school repeatedly. The school, of course, claims no knowledge of such complaints. Cy Fair ISD officials alleged Monday that they never received any complaints from Brown's parents before the suicide about the way the boy was being treated at school. School district spokeswoman Kelli Durham said no students, school employees or the boy's parents ever reported that he was being bullied. That statement infuriated the Truongs, who accused the school district of protecting the bullies and their parents. Texas does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.
• Tyler Clementi – New Brunswick, NJ - 09/22/10. A Rutgers University freshman is presumed to have killed himself by jumping off the George Washington bridge after his roommate broadcast live video of him engaged in a sexual act with another man on the internet, according to The New Jersey Star-Ledger. Authorities found 18-year-old Tyler Clementi’s car, wallet and computer on the bridge last week. Clementi’s body has yet to be found. Dharun Ravi, 18, and Molly Wei, 18, have both been charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for setting up a camera in a dorm room on Sept. 19 and using it to view and transmit a live sex scene, said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan. Ravi and Clementi were roommates at Rutgers. Ravi’s Twitter feed on September 19 referred to his seeing his roommate engaging in the act in their dorm room. Two days later, Ravi posted an iChat link to a video feed of the encounter.
• Seth Walsh – Tehachapi, CA – 09/10/10. Seth Walsh, a 13-year old California boy hanged himself last week in the wake of what friends and neighbors describe as another case of anti-gay bullying. Police and school officials are investigating the suicide, which occurred in Tehachapi, a town 40 miles east of Bakersfield. Walsh was found Sunday, September 19, unconscious and not breathing, and it appeared he had tried to hang himself from a tree branch, according to police reports. He was rushed by helicopter to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. According to reports, Walsh is openly gay and was taunted by bullies for years, at school and at a local park. Walsh attended Jacobsen Middle School last year and for only two weeks this year, before being transferred to independent study — reportedly because he had been bullied relentlessly. But school officials at Tehachapi Union School District claim there have been no reports of bullying. “The circumstances which led to Seth’s current condition are neither his family’s nor his friend’s focus at this time,” the Walsh family said in a statement earlier this week. “Seth’s family is simply requesting respect for their privacy, positive support and prayers for Seth!” The statement continued: “A negative action … by adults and children … will not solve or help anyone! Violence is not the answer! Please everyone, be kind and love one another!”
• Billy Lucas – Greenburg, IN – 09/09/10. Billy Lucas, 15, took his own life inside his family’s barn in Greenburg, Ind., on September 9. His and the other suicides point not only to bullying as a lingering issue facing many LGBT youth, but also to a culture that continues to condone anti-gay harassment and discrimination in schools across the country. Indiana does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.
• Tyler Wilson - Findlay, OH – 08/31/10. Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old cheerleader was persistently bullied by two boys because of sex-stereotypes. Kristy Wilson, of Findlay, Ohio, told ABC News that she knew her son Tyler would get some flak from classmates for joining a youth football cheerleading squad over the summer, but she never imagined it would turn so violent. Wilson’s mom reached out to school administrators, but was disappointed that they didn’t do more to stop the bullying. Recently, Wilson’s bullies beat him so badly that they broke his arm. According to Wilson’s mom, the beating didn’t break his spirit - Wilson has vowed to continue cheering with hopes it helps him get into college some day. Ohio does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.
• Justin Aaberg - Anoka-Hennepin, MN - 07/09/10. Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old, committed suicide on July 9. Aaberg came out as gay when he was 13 and, as his mom found out only after he hanged himself, suffered tremendously inside. The school district had already suffered the tragedies of two other suicides of LGBT youth within the year on the heels of a widely publicized case where two teachers conspired to harass a student who they thought was gay. Many activists feel the district should be doing more to trump up anti-bullying policies and train staff on how to address LGBT issues with they arise in the classroom. Minnesota does not have a fully enumerated anti-bullying policy.
Tragically, Ohio, Texas, and Indiana all lack fully enumerated anti-bullying protections for LGBT school community members and mandatory anti-bullying trainings, which only aggravates the existing problems of unchecked bullying, harassment and discrimination. However, PFLAG and numerous other organizations are working hard to educate school community members on how to advocate for their federal civil rights in the absence of state protections. We stress the need to report incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination with the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department. To learn more about how to claim your rights and the rights of LGBT students, please visit our new Claim Your Rights Resource Center.
We also recommend writing to your members of Congress to ask them to co-sponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would establish a comprehensive Federal prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, something that surprisingly only 11 states currently have. Along with SNDA, we encourage promotion of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which instructs school districts to implement a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that includes specific enumeration for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as well as requires states to include bullying and harassment data in the statewide needs assessments. To learn more about lobbying and talking points for these bills, please check out our latest version of Bringing the Message Home.
The call for action has never been more pressing than today. Please do what you can to reach out to your local school community members to help cultivate respect for all and build safer schools today!
This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.