Last week, Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after two classmates secretly recorded his sexual relationship with a man and broadcasted it over the internet. Tragically, Clementi marks the fourth gay student to commit suicide in three weeks because of anti-gay harassment from fellow students. Seth Walsh, 13, Asher Brown, 13, and Billy Lucas, 15, also took their own lives last month because fellow students bullied them in school.
The growing number of suicides reveal the “unique set of safety concerns” that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students face both in secondary school and college. According to a National Education Policy Center study released yesterday, “over 85% report being harassed because of their sexual or gender identity, and over 20% report being physically attacked.” The “highly troubling pattern of mistreatment, negative consequences” and “the dramatic failure” of educational institutions to “adequately address” LGBT students’ concerns has contributed to a suicide rate among LGBT students that is “3-4 times higher than that of their straight counterparts.”
Many states across the country are taking laudable steps to enact measures that bolster administrators’ ability to protect students who face such harassment. However, despite the evidence supporting the need, right-wing lawmakers and activists insist that anti-bullying measures are nothing more than insidious tools of the “homosexual agenda”:
— The American Family Association of Michigan has spent years decrying a proposed anti-bullying measure as “a Trojan Horse to sneak [homosexual activists’] special rights agenda into law” and to “legitimize homosexual behavior” which is “a practice scientifically proven to result in a dramatically higher incidence of domestic violence, mental illness, illegal drug use, promiscuity, life-threatening disease, and premature death.” The bill “died in 2008 in the state Senate because senators could not agree” on whether to address bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the measure.
— In Minnesota, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer said he would not sign the anti-bullying Safe Schools For All bill because “I don’t want the government” instead of parents to be on “the front line of defense of our children.” Indeed, Emmer voted against and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) vetoed the same bill in 2009 after the right-wing Minnesota Family Council pushed legislators to reject the bill in 2009 because it would “promote acceptance of homosexuality.”
— The right-wing Christian media ministry Focus on the Family is attacking an anti-bullying standard on the federal level. Insisting that bullying prevention is being “hijacked by activists” who are “politicizing or sexualizing the issue,” Focus on the Family’s Candi Cushman claims that the anti-bullying bill currently before Congress “cater[s] to a narrow political agenda” that “becomes a gateway for homosexuality promotion in school.” In their current back-to-school guide “equipping” parents with tools against the “sneaky” gay agenda, Cushman told parents to look out for bullying seminars, diversity lessons, and “cute little pictures of furry animals” as “red flags” signaling the “gay agenda.”
Currently, only eight of the 44 states that have laws to address bullying specifically reference bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited conduct. Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA) introduced a bill in August, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, that would require any public schools receiving federal funding to develop race, sex, and gender-specific anti-bullying policies and teach harassment prevention strategies.
“These tragedies underscore the need for a federal law that comprehensively addresses bullying and harassment in schools,” Casey’s spokeswoman told ThinkProgress. In response to Focus on the Family’s charges, she noted that, along with educators, administrations, and civil rights groups, the legislation has been endorsed by the National PTA. When announcing the bill in August, Casey asserted that the harassment of a student “to the point of suicide or where he can’t function or is subject to violence” is “just wrong.” Failure to address “the horror so many kids go through every single day” amounts to “one word: betrayal.”