GBT: Recent rash of teen gay suicides
i am compiling these news stories and clips to use for reference in upcoming blogposts here and writings on the Texas Civil Rights Review
"It Gets Better"
Tonight Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett spoke at the annual national dinner of the Human Rights Campaign to directly address the recent tragedies surrounding youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. In recent months, there have been far too many LGBT youth who have faced bullying and harassment, and Valerie talked about what we can all do to address this important issue.
Her remarks as prepared are below. At the dinner she also took time to recognize Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg who tragically took his own life in July, along with her son Andrew who joined her there. As Valerie noted, Tammy and the other parents of these young Americans are good parents, but they can’t do it alone and America’s youths can’t just stay at home where it’s safe.
Thank you, Joe, for your kind introduction and your leadership of the Human Rights Campaign. Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the attendance of a friend of the President’s and an HRC trailblazer. Terry Bean. And I understand that my friends – Governor Tim Kaine, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Andy Tobias, the DNC’s Treasurer – are here tonight as well.
There are also several members of our administration with us. I won’t be able to name them all. But I do want to acknowledge OPM Director John Berry. John is transforming our personnel operations to be more professional, inclusive, and to mirror the best practices found in any workplace. And I want to thank Brian Bond from my team at the White House. Brian is a tireless advocate for the LGBT community. Please show Brian a little love. I’m also told there is a strong delegation of fellow Chicagoans in the house.
Finally, I want to thank the staff and many supporters of the Human Rights Campaign. HRC has been a formidable force in the fight for equality. And you’ve been a great partner to President Obama over the past two years during some very tough battles. Together, we’re fighting to build a fairer and freer nation. Together, we’re working toward the day no one in this country is treated like a second class citizen – not by our laws, and not in any community.
That’s why the President asked me to come here tonight, to carry a message on his behalf. Recently, we’ve all been shocked and heartbroken by the deaths of several young people who had been harassed and bullied for being openly gay – or because people thought they were gay. It’s a terrible tragedy. And it has turned a harsh spotlight on an issue that often doesn’t get the public attention it deserves. The struggles of LGBT youth. The enormous pain that too many experience as a result of bullying. And the desperate, tragic decision by some young people who feel that their only recourse is to take their own lives.
I say this not only as an advisor to the President. I say this from my heart, as a mother. I cannot begin to fathom the pain – the terrible grief – of losing a child. There is no greater loss – and we have lost too many in just the past few months. Asher, Billy, Seth, Tyler, Justin. I want to express my deepest condolences to Tammy Aaberg, Justin’s mom, who is here tonight and who I just met backstage. Please join me in recognizing her for the courage she has shown in sharing her son’s story, and honoring his memory – in the hope that no other mothers or fathers will have to know her pain.
We all want to protect our children. We want to be there for our children. And the idea that a young man or woman, in some cases barely teenagers – just at the start of life – would feel so hopeless and tormented as to want to end their lives, it saddens all of us. Young people are our future. They need guidance. They need our support. And this responsibility is far too great to be shouldered by parents alone. Our whole society has to step up and reaffirm our collective obligation to all of our children. This includes the responsibility to instill in young people respect for one another. And we adults should set an example of mutual regard and civility ourselves.
No young person should have to endure a life of relentless taunts and harassment, just because they’re gay. On behalf of President Obama, I want to make clear that this administration is firmly committed to working with you and other advocates. For we all have to ensure that we are creating an environment in our schools, our communities, and our country, that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under Secretary Duncan’s leadership, the Department of Education is fundamentally changing the way we look at bullying. And they’re working on how we can do a better job of protecting vulnerable young people.
That’s why, last year, we created a new federal task force on bullying. And just this August they held the first National Bullying Summit, bringing in experts and advocates – including folks from HRC and GLSEN – to begin mapping out a plan to tackle this issue. We are working to replicate proven programs that have helped schools cut down on bullying. We must disprove the myth that bullying is an unavoidable fact of life for young people.
The Department of Education has reinvigorated the Office for Civil Rights to help stop harassment in our schools based on race, disability, sex – and bullying of LGBT young people who may not conform to gender norms.
The Department of Health and Human Services has announced an unprecedented National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. This alliance brings together a wide range of public and private partners. And it’s going to make sure people have access to help, and to resources when they are in crisis. One of its specific goals is preventing suicide in at-risk groups, including LGBT youth.
We must also recognize that creating a safe environment for LGBT youth also means doing more for young people who are forced to leave their homes. For the first time, we have a national strategy to fight homelessness. It specifically addresses the needs of LGBT youth who are living on the streets because they have been ostracized by their families, friends, and community. This includes figuring out whether it’s possible for these children to go home, and if they can’t, that we have safe and nurturing alternatives.
So when it comes to putting a stop to the bullying and harassment of LGBT youth, we are not going to let up. We are going to stand with you. We are going to stand with every single young person in this country who deserves the chance to grow up, learn, have fun, and live their lives without the constant threat of violence, or ridicule. Because although many turn a blind eye, and think that bullying is a harmless rite of passage – words matter. Bullying is simply cruel, abusive, and needs to be stopped. Now. And the work done on the ground by HRC, GLSEN, P-FLAG, the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, the Trevor Project and countless others, are crucial to this fight.
The tragic loss of Seth, and Tyler, and Asher, and Billy, and Justin, and countless others whose names we don’t know – strikes at the heart of our values as Americans, and our sense of humanity. We all have an obligation to engage in the broader struggle to build a more perfect union – a nation where each of us is free to pursue our own version of happiness.
And building that more perfect union means fighting discrimination in all its forms – whether in our schools, or in the workplace, on our streets, or in our moments of greatest need. I was so proud when the President signed a directive to make sure that hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid – most hospitals – allow gay and lesbian partners the same visitation rights as straight partners. And we’ve made clear that, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, LGBT families are entitled to the same rights as anyone else to take leave in order to care for children.
Building a more perfect union means making sure no one ever is afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person he or she loves. And after a long and tough fight, with Judy Shepard at his side, President Obama marked the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. It’s good to see Judy here this evening, and I want to acknowledge her for the incredible perseverance she’s shown on behalf of Matthew and his legacy.
Building a more perfect union means standing against anyone trying to write inequality into our laws and our Constitution – and repealing divisive and discriminatory laws like DOMA. And it means ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell once and for all. This is a promise the President has made in no uncertain terms. For the first time in history, the Secretary of Defense has testified in favor of ending this policy. For the first time in history, we have a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has argued forcefully for allowing gay men and women to serve their country without having to subvert their integrity. And for the first time in history, the House of Representatives has passed repeal. Now we’ve got to keep pushing the Senate to do the right thing and get this done.
But, as you know, building a more perfect union is not just about our laws. It’s about engendering a society where we embrace one another’s differences. And while we have made progress, we all know that these tragedies brought on by bullying do not reflect who we are as a nation. They are a painful reminder of the work we still have to do. That we must feel the fierce urgency to step up now.
We have to keep fighting together. We must not lose hope. We cannot allow people to sow division among us – not when the stakes are so high for our country.
After all, as President Obama said when he spoke here last year, the people in this room are a testament to the progress we have already made as a nation. You are a testament to the capacity of our American ideals to help us overcome old prejudices. To allow us to see in each other, our common humanity. In short, you are living proof of what has become a powerful message in recent days. Simply put: “It gets better.”
And what is clear is that this depends on all of us. It depends on changing laws, and changing hearts. It depends on creating an environment in which our children feel safe to be themselves. And it depends on reaching all of our young people, and letting them know that we care about them, and that want them to thrive and reach for their dreams, without fear.
That's exactly what President Obama said when he spoke to children across this country at the start of this school year.
“[L]ife is precious, and part of its beauty lies in its diversity,” he said. “We shouldn’t be embarrassed by the things that make us different. We should be proud of them. Because it’s the things that make us different, that make us who we are. And the strength and character of this country have always come from our ability to recognize ourselves in one another.”
It is this character of our country that drives the Human Rights Campaign. It’s what drives President Obama. And it is this strength and character that gives us hope. That we will build that more perfect union. That there is a brighter future ahead for us all, and especially for our children.
Brian Bond is Deputy Director of the U.S. Office of Public Engagement
Are We a Nation of Bullies?
The recent suicides of Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince, and others have sparked mass outrage against the kids believed to have bullied them ‘to death.’ But our response may be more harmful than the crime.
It’s the kind of behavior that, in the wake of high-profile teen suicides around the country, would certainly be worthy of an investigation—or more. Except that Sharon Velasquez is no simple victim. She may have suffered at the hands of neighborhood tormenters and anonymous online mobs, but she is also accused of being a bully herself: charged in connection with the suicide of another young girl, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who hung herself last January after suffering months of alleged aggression by her high-school peers.
Find the author on Twitter.
For gay youths, middle school can be toughest time
Coming out at impressionable age makes students a target for bullies
NEW YORK — By the time she was in eighth grade, Rory Mann was so aware of the differences between her and other students that she couldn't bear to enter the cafeteria. Instead, she ate lunch alone on the cold, hard bathroom floor, propped against a wall.Sometimes Mann, who'd known she was gay for about a year but dared not tell anyone, would cut herself on the arms with a razor blade. Her long sleeves hid the evidence of her misery from classmates and family.
"Everyone's trying to figure out who they are in middle school," says Mann, now 18 and a high school senior in Newport, R.I., where she is active in a gay students group.
"They turn into vicious people. They are really insecure, and they exploit someone else's differences so people won't see who THEY are."
With recent stories of anti-gay bullying and tragic suicides of gay youth at the forefront of the national conversation, experts say they are increasingly seeing evidence that middle school is the toughest time for gay youth — a time of intense self-discovery, but also one when bullying and intolerance is at its peak.
Evidence collected over the past few years indicates it's at this age — 11 to 13 or 14 — when many youngsters realize they are gay and consider coming out. Some take the plunge, and some don't. Yet it's a difficult time for such identity struggles, because it's an age when being different feels the most painful.
"We know that kids are much more likely to be cruel-hearted then," says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and frequent commentator on parenting issues. "They'll pick on anyone who is different. Peer pressure is huge. Kids desperately want to fit in and be included."
Indeed, the rates of violence against gay youth in middle school are almost twice as bad as in high school, says Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. She says 20 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender high school students questioned in a 2007 school climate survey reported physical assault, while 39 percent of LGBT middle schoolers reported the same.
And yet the answer is not to stay closeted, says Byard and others.
Her group's 2009 study found that coming out, while obviously making students a target for bullies, is also a hugely positive thing for gay students of any age — correlating with higher self-esteem, lower depression and a greater sense of belonging at school.
The problem, many say, is that middle schools are often woefully unprepared to combat the kind of harassment or bullying aimed at gay students, whether these students are out or not.
"Some teachers have mistakenly thought that if they address these issues in middle school that they're addressing sex, which would be inappropriate," says Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, a San Francisco-based group that helps students form gay rights groups at their schools.
"People think, 'You can't talk about these issues in middle school.' But that is so far from the truth."
Schools often don't understand the early signs of that sort of harassment, Laub adds.
"A lot if it targets students who are non-gender conforming, for example boys who wear clothes considered stereotypically feminine," she says. "They don't realize it's often not about sexual behavior at that age."
Isaiah Baiseri, a high school senior from Glendora, Calif., says he started to realize he was gay when he was 11, in the sixth grade.
"I already had a girlfriend, a 'kid' girlfriend, but I felt uncomfortable at the thought of holding hands with her," he says. "I was trying to do the straight thing. It just wasn't working out."
It took a gay-themed teen novel, "Geography Club," to bring things home to Baiseri. Even then, it took four more years before he came out. His middle school years were particularly miserable.
"It was a really unhappy time. Middle school in general is unhappy," he says. Peer pressure was intense. In an environment where he always heard the dreaded expression, "That's SO gay," Baiseri felt he needed to keep his sexual orientation quiet to avoid being stereotyped.
The worst part came at the start of ninth grade, when a group of girls he thought were his friends turned out to be mocking him on MySpace.
He was crushed, and says that at the worst moments he considered suicide, though never to the point where he made specific plans. Then he threw himself into his studies. He finally came out the following year, and now heads a gay-straight alliance group at his school.
Experts agree that kids are coming out sooner nationwide.
While national figures are lacking, the Family Acceptance Project, a San Francisco State University-based research group, found in a study of California families conducted between 2000 and 2005 that the coming-out age is now on average 13.4 years, as opposed to 14-16 in the late 1980s to mid-1990s and the 20s in 1970.
Project director Caitlin Ryan says youngsters several decades ago may have sensed they were different but weren't quite able to label it.
Now, she says, they are much savvier, thanks to the vast amount of information available on the Web, as well as TV shows like "Glee," which features an openly gay character at high school and appeals to kids as young as 8 or 9.
"Forty years ago there was no openly gay Oscar host like Ellen DeGeneres, or the Web, or 'Glee,'" says Ryan. "Forty years ago a kid might have made his discovery in the stacks of a library — and if you could even find a book, it would have a tragic ending."
But the more positive images of today, she notes, give a "false sense that acceptance is everywhere. Most people don't realize that while society has more positive images, that doesn't translate into a more supportive school or a more supportive home or someone for a young person to talk to."
Emily Coffin, now a high school junior in Santa Clarita, Calif., knows how important that support can be. She struggled to define her sexuality in middle school, where even her friends were mean, she says.
For her, the real change came when she got involved with a gay-straight alliance at her school, of which she is now co-president.
"It gave me an outlet, a purpose," Coffin says now. "It changed my life."
Paladino apologizes (somewhat) for gay remarksCarl Paladino's campaign just sent out an something of an apology for his recent comments.
It might be one of the weirder apologies ever: (By the way, he misspells President Barack Obama's name.)
I am Carl Paladino, a father, a husband, a builder and a business owner. I am neither perfect, nor a career politician. I have made mistakes in this campaign - I have made mistakes all my life- as we all have. I am what I am - a simple man who works hard, trusts others, and loves his family and fears for the future of our State.
Yesterday I was handed a script. I redacted some contents that were unacceptable. I did also say some things for which I should have chosen better words. I said other things that the press misinterpreted and misstated. I sincerely apologize for any comment that may have offended the Gay and Lesbian Community or their family members. Any reference to branding an entire community based on a small representation of them is wrong. My personal beliefs are:
1) I am a live and let live person.
2) I am 100% against discrimination of any group. I oppose discrimination of any kind in housing, credit, insurance benefits or visitation.
3) I am 100% against hate crimes in any form.
4) I am in support of civil agreements and equal rights for all citizens.
5) My position on marriage is based on my personal views. I have the same position on this issue as President Barrack Obama. I have previously stated I would support a referendum by New York voters. I have proposed Initiative and Referendum so New Yorkers can decide important issues like this.
6) The portrayal of me as anti-gay is inconsistent with my lifelong beliefs and actions and my prior history as an father, employer and friend to many in the gay and lesbian community.
I am concerned with the future for all our citizens, gay, straight, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim and Agnostic. Although I am not perfect I do admit my mistakes. I will reach out to leaders of the gay community to educate me on how to better represent my support for the rights of all citizens. If elected as your governor I will stand and fight for all gay New Yorkers rights. I ask you for forgiveness on my poorly chosen words and the publication by others not involved with our campaign of unredacted script that did not reflect my oral statement or match my personal feelings. Please go to my website www.paladinoforthepeople.com to learn more detail about the issues including my staunch support for civil rights for all New Yorkers.
Paladino: Homosexuality is not 'valid or successful option'
The written remarks given to reporters were identical to Paladino's spoken comments other than the two sentences in question.
Paladino's Democratic opponent, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, criticized his remarks, as did an advocate for gay and lesbians and an organization for gay and lesbian Republicans.
"I unequivocally have no other reservations about homosexuality," Paladino's statement said. "I enjoy a close relationship with my nephew who is gay and I certainly consider him to be a functional child of God."
Paladino's nephew, Jeffrey Hannon, a member of the campaign staff, was contacted by CNN early Monday.
"I have no comment right now," he said.
Paladino's remarks came a day after New York police announced the arrest of an eighth suspect in a series of brutal, anti-gay hate crimes against four men.
The incident last weekend involved three victims being held against their will by as many as nine assailants who beat them in a vacant apartment and sodomized two of them, police said. A fourth victim was beaten and robbed in connection with the attacks.
"Don't misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way," Paladino said Sunday. "That would be a dastardly lie -- my approach is live and let live."
"I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family," he said.
Paladino also criticized Cuomo for marching in New York's gay pride parade in June.
"That's not the example that we should be showing the children and certainly not in our schools," he said.
Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto responded to Paladino's comments Sunday.
"Mr. Paladino's statement displays a stunning homophobia and a glaring disregard for basic equality," Vlasto said in a statement. "These comments along with other views he has espoused make it clear that he is way out of the mainstream and is unfit to represent New York."
Paladino's remarks also drew fire from gay rights groups.
"Carl Paladino's comments would matter if they were coming from a serious political figure. However, they are not," said Christopher Barron, chairman of the gay conservative group GOProud, in an email to CNN. "They are instead coming from the imploding campaign of a man with the personal baggage of John Edwards and all the electability of Alan Keyes."
The Log Cabin Republicans of New York State also took issue with the candidate.
"Carl Paladino's statements are unfortunate and show he lacks an understanding of what it means to be gay," said Gregory T. Angelo, chairman of the group. "I think gay men and women -- my neighbors and your neighbors -- would be much better off and much more successful if they were allowed equal rights and the option of getting married and raising a family. I don't want New Yorkers to be brainwashed into thinking that ignorance is an equally valid and successful option. It isn't."
But Paladino's campaign manager, Michael Caputo, stood by the gubernatorial candidate's comments on homosexuality.
"Carl Paladino's position on this is exactly equivalent to the Catholic Church," Caputo told CNN. "And if Andrew Cuomo has a problem with the Catholic Church's position on abortion and homosexuality, he needs to take it up with his parish priest."
CNN's Cheryl Robinson, Mark Preston and Jason Kessler contributed to this report.
Carl Paladino: I Have 'Difficulty' Deciding if Homosexuality Is a Choice
October 11, 2010 8:02 AMThat's what the Republican nominee for governor of New York told me this morning when I asked if he thinks people have a choice to be gay.
“I’ve had difficulty with that. My nephew tells me he didn’t have that choice. And I believe it’s a very, very difficult life for a young person,” Carl Paladino told me. “I believe that young people should not necessarily be exposed to that without some really, really mature background first before, so they can learn to deal with it. It is a very difficult thing. And I sensitize with it totally.”
The Tea Party backed candidate drew fire last night following remarks before Orthodox Jewish leaders because he told them he does not want his children “to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option- it isn't.”
“I think my comments were directed at just the confusion that people have had over this issue. I wanted to clearly distinguish that my feelings about homosexuality were no different than those of the Catholic Church. I’m a Catholic. 7.5 million Catholics in the state of New York. I wanted to make it clear what my position was and I think I clearly defined it,” he said on “GMA.”
But it’s what Paladino didn’t say that has drawn the most attention. Included in his prepared text is the sentence “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual”– however, Paladino did not say that to the group.
Paladino told me he dictated general remarks to an aide who put that sentence in there – but he said it is not what he believes.
“My first reading of it was really quickly in the car just as we were getting out and I saw that remark and I crossed it out on my sheets,” he said. “And I got inside and I read my remarks and afterwards somebody in the rabbinical group distributed…what had originally been prepared, but it was crossed off and I refused to say it.”
The opposing candidate’s campaign – Andrew Cuomo—released a statement saying Paladino’s remarks showed “stunning homophobia and a glaring disregard for basic equality.”
Paladino, who said his only problem with homosexuality is “their desire to be married,” said Cuomo’s campaign has been throwing charges at him for months.
“First he called me an anti-Semitic and yesterday we met with 200 orthodox Jewish leaders and they embraced us…And then he called me a racist and once again the people of western New York who I have know my entire career they came out and they said ‘No, he is not a racist,’” he said. “They called [me] anti-female and some other things, now he called me a homophobic. I’m not a homophobic.”
Watch my interview with Paladino here and then weigh in below.
- Oct. 3, 2010
Preventing the Youngest Suicides
Experts, Including Survivors of Suicide Attempts, Discuss What's Needed to Stop the 3rd Leading Killer of U.S. Youth
Students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., pay their respects on October 1, 2010 to freshman student Tyler Clementi, 18, whose homoesexual encounter was surreptitiously filmed and broadcast over the Internet.
"Let me tell you that suicidal people don't want to die by suicide. They believe they have to, and there's a categorical difference."
Kevin Hines speaks from a place of deeply painful personal experience. Ten years ago Hines came very close to killing himself, leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
"I walked on that bridge probably for 40 minutes crying my eyes out," Hines said.
"Nobody said anything to you?" asked Axelrod.
"Nobody said anything."
Nineteen years old at the time, and suffering from a bipolar disorder, Kevin started to hallucinate.
"Hallucinations telling me when I got to this bridge, 'Jump now. Die now. You must die. You're a horrible person. Jump now.'"
Any discussion about preventing suicide should begin right here in San Francisco. More than 1,300 people have killed themselves by leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge since 1937, when the bridge opened.
On average, that's one every three weeks for the last 73 years . . . which makes the Golden Gate Bridge the most popular place in the world to commit suicide.
"The millisecond I hit free fall, the second my hands left the rail and my legs left the rail, I said, 'I don't want to die. What have I just done? What have I just done? God, please save me."
He hit the water at 75 miles an hour, crushing several of his vertebrae.
But instead of joining the 1,300 people who jumped and died, Kevin Hines joined another club - one of about 30 known to have jumped and survived.
"Out of those people that have survived, 19 have come forward and said that the second they jumped they didn't wanna die," said Hines
Of course, the bridge most of us heard about this past week is New York's George Washington Bridge, where Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman and promising musician, jumped to his death.
A secretly-recorded video of Clementi in bed with another man had been posted online.
The news that it was allegedly put there by his roommate caused protests against bullying to erupt on the Rutgers campus.
"People are very upset and hurt that it could happen here, and are very surprised," said one student.
Clementi's impulse was the classic example of a "permanent solution to a temporary problem" that suicide prevention experts battle . . . part of a national phenomenon that makes suicide the third leading killer of our country's youth.
While they are far more likely to kill themselves by firearms, suffocation and poisoning than by jumping, the latest thinking in preventing suicide is something called "means reduction" - eliminating access to ways people can kill themselves until the impulse passes and they can get help.
"Means reduction" at the Golden Gate Bridge translates into plans for a net that will cost $45 million.
"If it was there when I was attempting to jump," Hines said, "I would not have jumped."
It's the same idea behind the barriers that have gone up on the bridges over the gorges in Ithaca, New York, where six Cornell University students committed suicide last year.
"The question is, can one suicide lead to another through some sort of a copycat mechanism?" asked Dr. David Skorton, Cornell's president. "And the answer is, it can happen."
The experts fear the contagion effect that suicide can produce, especially among the young.
So we're not going to show you any pictures of those who died at Cornell, nor describe the circumstances of their deaths.
But one thing we can tell you about suicide: You may hear about a bad break-up or stress as the cause of a suicide. Those usually mask underlying mental health issues as the real explanation.
"We have to get used to the idea that it's okay to raise our hand and say 'I'm struggling,'" said Dr. Skorton.
Skorton, a physician for 36 years as well as a university president, feels the most important way to prevent suicides is to take away the stigma of seeking mental health care.
"I'm going to tell you, Jim, there was a part of my life where I had struggles, and I had counseling," said Dr. Skorton. "And it turned me around and changed my life, and blazed a trail for a successful career for me. So, it's a very, very important thing to get past that stigma."
Just a few weeks ago at Cornell, the freshmen moved into a campus where the professors, grad students and resident advisors have been getting intensive training on the tell-tale signs of trouble, complete with a video made with students from Cornell's theater department.
"We hope that you feel some sense of responsibility that as members of a community, that we want to watch out for each other. We really want to take care of each other," said Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, the university's mental health promotion coordinator.
The impulse often comes even earlier than college.
In 2009, 13.8% of U.S. high school students - that's almost one out of seven - reported they seriously considered attempting to kill themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We don't always see the subtle symptoms because it's hard to sort out what's adolescent moodiness, and what's the early signs of depression," said Laurie Flynn. She missed her own daughter's signs before she attempted suicide.
Her daughter survived, and Flynn is now passionate about early detection.
She runs Columbia University's nationwide TeenScreen program, designed to identify 14- to 17-year-olds who are at risk.
So far over a million kids have been screened in a thousand testing locations.
"We will ask the youngster, 'Gosh, you've had problems here, serious problems for quite some time, why didn't you say anything?'" said Flynn. "And the youngsters always come back with, 'Nobody ever asked me.' We ask."
Jamie Tworkowski asks as well. And his targets are the young people other screening systems miss.
Tworkowski tours the country reaching out to teenagers and young adults at concerts and festivals.
"We talk about some really difficult issues," he said. "We talk about issues that are not simple, that are complex."
"Meeting people that go through the same thing as you, it's really helpful," said one girl.
"We're trying to fight for people to believe that their life is worth living and worth fighting for," said Tworkowski.
His crusade was born on the arms of a girl he knew.
"She took a razor blade the night I met her, after I met her, and wrote a word that I probably can't say on camera, wrote it across her forearm," said Tworkowski. "She deeply believed this sense of failure and regret that her 19 years on the planet didn't give her much to be proud of."
Tworkowski started an organization, To Write Love on Her Arms. Funded mainly through the sale of T-shirts, the group's MySpace, Facebook and Twitter responses number in the hundreds of thousands.
"I think we were touching on a real need there, where people felt alone in their struggles, alone in their loneliness or their pain," said Tworkowski, "and really trying to let people know or trying to believe the possibility that their story could have a different ending."
For Kevin Hines, that different ending now means he can spread the word through music videos. When it comes to suicide, prevention starts with discussion.
"Not talking about it is getting us nowhere," said Hines. "Let's start talking about it on a regular basis but let's talk about it properly."
"So somewhere in the equation of helping young people in despair is not just getting them the information but telling them in some way, 'I hear you. I see you. I'm with you,'" said Axelrod.
"Yeah," said Hines. "I think, hopefully, there's an element of caring for this person, that they feel heard. I think we never know what can save a life. But I think it's important that we go there and that we try."
The stakes of not hearing those who are young and vulnerable were brought home to the students of Rutgers University, who mourned Tyler Clementi's death.
"For something like this to happen, it's just unacceptable," said one student.
And to fight the unacceptable, the one key weapon seems to be to let struggling young people know they are not alone.
"If we developed a social support, if we identified those who are struggling, if we make it okay to raise our hands and say, 'I need help,' if the help is there, and if we restrict the means to follow an impulse, we will prevent suicides," said Dr. Skorton.
PISCATAWAY, N.J., Sept. 30, 2010
Tyler Clementi Suicide Sparks Outrage, Remorse
Rutgers Freshmen Jumps off Bridge after Sexual Encounter with Another Man Was Webcast
(AP) The death of a Rutgers University freshman stirred outrage and remorse on campus from classmates who wished they could have stopped the teen from jumping off a bridge last week after a recording of him having a sexual encounter with a man was broadcast online.
"Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened," said Lauren Felton, 21, of Warren. "He wouldn't have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life."
Gay rights groups say Tyler Clementi's suicide makes him a national example of a problem they are increasingly working to combat: young people who kill themselves after being tormented over their sexuality.
A lawyer for Clementi's family confirmed Wednesday that he had jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. Police recovered a man's body Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi's.
Clementi's roommate, Dhraun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi's privacy. Middlesex County prosecutors say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi's suicide.
A lawyer for Ravi, of Plainsboro, did not immediately return a message seeking comment. It was unclear whether Wei, of Princeton, had retained a lawyer.
Collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime. Transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years.
ABC News and The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Clementi left on his Facebook page on Sept. 22 a note that read: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." On Wednesday, his Facebook page was accessible only to friends.
Even if the young violinist from Ridgewood was not well known at his new school, his death stirred outrage.
"The notion that video of Tyler doing what he was doing can be considered a spectacle is just heinous," said Jordan Gochman, 19, of Jackson, who didn't know Clementi. "It's intolerant, it's upsetting, it makes it seem that being gay is something that is wrong and can be considered laughable."
Other students who did know Clement were upset that they didn't do more to help him. "I wish I could have been more of an ally," said Georges Richa, a freshman from New Brunswick.
About 100 people gathered Wednesday night for a vigil on campus. They lay on the ground and chanted slogans like, "We're here, we're queer, we're not going home."
Several gay rights groups linked Clementi's death to the troubling phenomenon of young people committing suicide after being harassed over their sexuality.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said in a statement that his group considers Clementi's death a hate crime.
"We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented and kind," Goldstein said. "And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others' lives as a sport."
Last week, Dan Savage, a columnist at the Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger, launched the latest of several efforts to try to stem the problem: the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel where gay, lesbian and bisexual adults share the turmoil they experienced when they were younger — and that their lives are better now.
In response to Clementi's death and other incidents, the group Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays said it would issue a "call to action" on the subject on Thursday.
Rutgers University President Richard McCormick wrote in a letter to the campus, "If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university's standards of decency and humanity." Coincidentally, the university on Wednesday was launching a new two-year Project Civility, designed to get students thinking about how they treat others.
Meanwhile, for some of Clementi's new classmates, the first time they learned much about him was when they got word of his death.
"I guess the only person I haven't talked to is Tyler 'cause he's like really quiet and shy," said Justin Lee, a freshman from Princeton who lives on Clementi's hall.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 .
Seth's family took him off life support this afternoon, reports KGET-TV.
A memorial service honoring Seth will be held on Friday, October 1, at 3:30 p.m. PDT at The First Baptist Church in his hometown of Tehachapi, CA.
Seth 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, Seth was openly gay and was taunted by bullies for years, at school and at a local park.
He 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.
Police said they can not prosecute the students involved because the teasing was not a criminal act.
Judy Walsh, Seth's grandmother, appealed for tolerance within the community. "We are hoping the community will develop more tolerance for different people," she said.
Seth's death is one of three teen suicides this month due to anti-gay bullying.
On September 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, IN, hanged himself at his grandmother's home. Friends of Lucas said that he had been tormented for years based on his perceived sexual orientation.
On September 23, 13-year old Asher Brown, a gay teen in Houston, TX, came home from school while his parents were at work. He shot himself in the head after enduring what his mother and stepfather say was constant harassment and bullying.
ACLU Threatens Suit in Gay Web Site Filtering
Human Rights, Educational Web Sites for LGBT Kids Are Off Limits in Tennessee High Schools
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES, April 17, 2009
Last December, when Andrew Emitt starting looking for college scholarships, he turned to his high school library, hoping to find Web sites that would guide him.
But the Tennessee 17-year-old is gay, and when he searched for organizations that might be friendly to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) students, he hit a firewall.
What he discovered is that 107 schools in Tennessee -- including his, Knoxville Central High School -- use software that can block Web sites catering to gay issues.
Emitt couldn't find any education sites, but he could find those that promoted "reparative therapy," which promises to change homosexuals to heterosexuals.
"I wasn't looking for anything sexual or inappropriate," said Emitt. "I was looking for information about scholarships for LGBT students, and I couldn't get to it because of this software. Our schools shouldn't be keeping students in the dark about LGBT organizations and resources."
"It wasn't anything for entertainment value. It wasn't looking for games or for chat rooms or for e-mails or for dating. It was scholarships," he said.
ACLU Threatens Lawsuit
Now, Emitt and another high school student from Nashville have joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union and threatened Metro Nashville and Knox County schools with a lawsuit, demanding they remove the filter to "educational and political" Web sites.
"If a gay student wanted to... get information about organizations that can help him, he wouldn't be able to," Metro High School student Eric Austin told ABC's affiliate in Nashville.
"It would be like an African American student not being able to get to the NAACP's Web site," said Austin, who is also seeking redress.
The ACLU claims these blocks violate the First Amendment and the federal Equal Access Law.
"Schools are a place for education and part of education is preparing students to be participants in the political process," said Christine Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU's LGBT Project.
"With so many people getting news from the Internet, how can we expect students to be part of the political process if we shield them from one side of the debate?"
AMA Says Anti-Gay Sites 'Harmful'
Sun told ABCNews.com she had visited some of the "reparative therapy" Web sites that were permitted and "found some were sexually explicit."
The ACLU cites several medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, which deem the practice as "dangerous and harmful" to young people.
Some of the allowable sites like traditional values.org and peoplecanchange are "clearly anti-gay," said Emitt. Some of those filtered include advocacy groups for gay marriage.
The ACLU sent an April 15 letter to members of the Tennessee Schools Cooperative: Dr. James McIntyre, Knox County Schools superintendent; Dr. Jessie Register, Metro Nashville Public Schools director and Dr. Lyle C. Ailshie, director of the Greenville City Schools, warning them of the impending lawsuit.
The cooperative -- which represents all but 30 schools in Tennessee -- was given until April 29 to respond and was asked to lift the blocks by next fall or face a lawsuit.
School Spokesman Refuses Comment
Russ Oaks, spokesman for Knox County Schools, told ABCNews.com, "We've received the information from the ACLU and we've referred it to the Knox County Law Director's office for review."
Tennessee Schools Cooperative purchases filtering systems from Education Networks of America (ENA), a Nashville-based technology company that serves schools, libraries and government agencies.
The company can block a variety of categories, including sites related to abortion, alcohol and pornography. On their Web site, the category "LGBT" is open to all schools, except those like Tennessee and Indiana, which are asterisked.
That category includes Web sites that "provide information regarding, support, promote, or cater to one's sexual orientation or gender identity including but not limited to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender sites."
"This category does not include sites that are sexually gratuitous in nature which would typically fall under the pornography category," according to the ENA Web site.
Some of the blocked sites are "well-respected" organizations, according to the ACLU, such as the Human Rights Campaign; Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, The Gay Straight Alliance; and the Gay-Lesbian Straight Education Network.
The ACLU says the category, which is separate from a pornography grouping, singles out and blocks "protected speech."
"Moreover," states its letter, "the filtering scheme engages in impermissible viewpoint discrimination" by blocking sites that are accepting and tolerant of gays.
Equal Access Act
The organization said this filter also violates the Equal Access Act because it prevents student groups like gay-straight alliances to "school resources and privileges" afforded other non-curricular clubs.
In 2001, Congress enacted the Children's Internet Protection Act to address concerns about access to "offensive content" over the Internet on school and library computers.
Since the, companies like ENA have provided filtering solutions with a database of categories from the company Blue Coat. School districts that contract with ENA decide which of those groups are appropriate for their students.
"We do not make those decisions, our customers do," said ENA President David N. Pierce.
ENA provides schools with an "authorized override" which gives certain teachers a password to access Web sites in a blocked category, "for a specific class or period of time or a research project," he told ABCNews.com
School districts can also request that a site within a category be reconsidered as appropriate and be permanently unblocked, he said.
"I expect Tennessee will meet on an emergency basis in the next few days and if they believe as a school system that we should unblock them, we will do what they tell us to do," said Pierce.
This is not the first time the ACLU has fought to stop filtering of gay Web sites. In Palm Beach County, Florida, in 2006, a high school teacher who was researching violence and discrimination against LGBT students, couldn't get access to GLSEN's site.
"The teacher was surprised that it was blocked," said Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, who worked with the ACLU to convince school officials that students deserved access.
Oddly, sites that used terms like "homosexual," instead of "gay" or "lesbian," were deemed appropriate, said Hoch. "Those sites condemned homosexuality."
"His students were uncomfortable enough and GLSEN was a good site to help them." he said. "It wasn't the least bit pornographic."
Conrad Honicker, 17, who has been active in Tennessee's LGBT organizations, was also surprised at similar blocks at Knoxville's West High School.
He, too, had trouble researching an English paper -- "Adverse Effects of Heterosexism in Society.'
"I couldn't find any research on the pros and cons," he told ABCNews.com. "
'Makes No Sense' With School Policies
"It doesn't make sense because Knoxville County has a good anti-bullying policy," said Honicker, who wants to pursue gender studies and psychology in college and hopes to be a guidance counselor.
"My point is that students and teachers don't have access to these resources for anti-gay bullying, which is inconsistent with school policy that addresses the underlying homophobia in Tennessee schools."
His school's librarian, who also sponsors the gay-straight alliance, has sent her own letter of support to the ACLU.
"As librarians, we champion intellectual freedom across the board," said Karyn Storts-Brinks.
As for Emitt, who will attend community college in the fall to study education, he said Central High School has been generally supportive of its LGBT students, despite the block.
"I was shocked when I couldn't get on those Web sites," he said. "It was frustrating. I didn't really think it could be legal. I thought, 'Is this allowed?'"
The Tennessee School Librarians Association (TSLA) says it's not.
"If a student is not getting equal access, then it is censorship to some degree and it's not right," said TSLA President Bruce Hester, who is sending the ACLU a letter of support.
"As long as it's not pornography in nature and it's nothing elicit for students under 18, then I can think of no reasonable reason to deny access, by whatever name it goes by."
They claim school district took no action
By PEGGY O'HARE
Sept. 27, 2010, 10:36PM
Asher Brown's worn-out tennis shoes still sit in the living room of his Cypress-area home while his student progress report - filled with straight A's - rests on the coffee table.
The eighth-grader killed himself last week. He shot himself in the head after enduring what his mother and stepfather say was constant harassment from four other students at Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.
Brown, his family said, was "bullied to death" - picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said.
The 13-year-old's parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.
David and Amy Truong said they made several visits to the school to complain about the harassment, and Amy Truong said she made numerous phone calls to the school that were never returned.
'We want justice'
Cy Fair ISD officials said 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.
"That's absolutely inaccurate - it's completely false," Amy Truong said. "I did not hallucinate phone calls to counselors and assistant principals. We have no reason to make this up. . It's like they're calling us liars."
David Truong said, "We want justice. The people here need to be held responsible and to be stopped. It did happen. There are witnesses everywhere."
Numerous comments from parents and students on the Web site of KRIV-TV Channel 26, which also reported a story about Brown's death, stated that the boy had been bullied by classmates for several years and claimed Cy-Fair ISD does nothing to stop such harassment.
Durham said the school counselor and an assistant principal received an e-mail from Amy Truong earlier this month, asking them to keep an eye on her son, but Durham said it was because of ongoing concerns at home and not about bullying.
Shot himself with pistol
Brown was found dead on the floor of his stepfather's closet at the family's home in the 11700 block of Cypresswood about 4:30 p.m. Thursday. He used his stepfather's 9 mm Beretta, stored on one of the closet's shelves, to kill himself. He left no note. David Truong found the teen's body when he arrived home from work.
On the morning of his death, the teen told his stepfather he was gay, but Truong said he was fine with the disclosure. "We didn't condemn," he said.
His parents said Brown had been called names and endured harassment from other students since he joined Cy-Fair ISD two years ago. As a result, he stuck with a small group of friends who suffered similar harassment from other students, his parents said.
His most recent humiliation occurred the day before his suicide, when another student tripped Brown as he walked down a flight of stairs at the school, his parents said.
When Brown hit the stairway landing and went to retrieve his book bag, the other student kicked his books everywhere and kicked Brown down the remaining flight of stairs, the Truongs said.
Durham said that incident was investigated, but turned up no witnesses or video footage to corroborate the couple's claims.
'I hope you're happy'
The Truongs say they just want the harassment to stop so other students do not suffer like their son did and so another family does not have to endure such a tragedy.
"Our son is just the extreme case of what happens when (someone is) just relentless," Amy Truong said.
To the bullies, she added, "I hope you're happy with what you've done. I hope you got what you wanted and you're just real satisfied with yourself."
Services for Brown will be held Saturday.
Statement from Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg on Four Recent Teen Suicides
"Sympathy is not enough."
Today, as we heard news of the fourth apparent teenage suicide in recent weeks, following antigay bullying and harassment, we felt overwhelming grief and anger. Losing one young person because of bigotry and hate is too much—but two, three, four? Each person and story is unique and tragic, but taken together, they deliver a powerful and painful message: We must act urgently and do everything in our power to end the prejudice and protect our youth.
But sympathy is not enough—we all have a responsibility to take action, and to keep working until all young people are safe and respected, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity. We must push for laws on the federal level and in every state that prohibit bullying and discrimination. We must hold people accountable, and use the courts when necessary. And most importantly, we must love and teach all our children to be their best selves and to respect and support others to do the same.
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