New Jersey Town Meetings on Bullying
October 13, 2010
The past few weeks have been filled with stories of LGBT youth who have been bullied to death. Last week, Garden State Equality held two town meetings to honor the life of Tyler Clementi and to engage the community to end anti-LGBT bullying. Clementi was a 18 year old Rutgers University student who took his life after having an intimate moment in his dorm room live-streamed to the internet by his roommate and the roommate’s friend. Both town meetings began with a somber violin solo to honor Clementi, a gifted violinist. Then long-time Garden State Equality Chair/CEO, Steven Goldstein, opened the meetings by sharing his own story of being bullied as a gay youth but reminded all that queer youth aren’t the only targets, “…we are fighting for a world where not just gay people are bullied, but straight people as well. People get bullied just because they are different.” Next to speak at the first town meeting was Emmy-award winning comic Judy Gold, a Rutgers alumna: “Being homosexual is about who you choose to love; it should not be a death sentence.” Gold also drew numerous standing ovations as she called out politicians, pundits and faith leaders who spout anti-lgbt hate “Shame on you! You are sending us a clear message that we are less than you.”
The town meeting on campus also featured local, state and federal elected officials who spoke in support of LGBT youth and legislation that may help ease the harm of bullying. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez discussed both the tragedy and possible legislative action. Said Sen Lautenberg “I would ask that we all pledge this evening that we will do whatever we can to eliminate the bullying and say we are proud of you.” Local U.S. representatives Frank Pallone and Rush Holt spoke, with the latter drawing attention to the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that has been introduced in both the House and Senate. NJ state legislators also spoke at both meetings about the need to strengthen and enhance the anti-bullying bill that exists in the state. When I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of HRC I first mentioned our legislative team’s commitment to passing federal anti-bullying/harassment legislation and working with Garden State Equality to pass stronger laws in New Jersey. Then I discussed the crucial need to begin educating about diversity and difference at a young age. Fear and ignorance are the breeding grounds of hate – help kids understand that different does not equal bad and the bullying will decrease. The HRC Foundation’s Family Project has an outstanding curriculum designed to do just that, Welcoming Schools. Directed at K-5 students, Welcoming Schools is a comprehensive guide with tools, lessons and resources on family diversity, gender stereotyping and name-calling. Finally I acknowledged the approach of National Coming Out Day and reminded the audience that while coming out is still a risk for many, it remains the most effective way we have to turn ignorance into understanding. Voices of today’s youth were included in both meetings, sharing stories of bullying, harassment and lack of intervention from school officials. Mothers and fathers of bullied students also spoke of their support for their children and their own efforts to address bullying in schools. One of the youth who spoke, 22 year old Daniel Jacobson, shared his story of being bullied both for being gay and Latino. Jacobson echoed a theme of hope for the evening “… it [bullying] still does happen and no teen or adult should know what it feels like as I did, not a day goes by when I don’t think about it, but it does get better.” That message, “it gets better”, was stated often at both town meetings. It was and is an important message to queer youth across the country, a ray of hope in what for too many seems like a doomed life. The two powerful town meetings have produced hundreds of committed youth and adults who are now engaged in the work to end bullying against all youth. From neighborhood activists to candidates for school board and from national efforts with The Trevor Project and GLSEN to the grassroots action needed to pass legislation. The tragedy of youth suicide has touched all of us in some way – there are ways each of us can work toward a more supportive environment for LGBT young people and others who are bullied. Here a some suggestions:
- Contact Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Join HRC in calling on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ensure schools across the country include sexual orientation and gender identity in anti-bullying programs.
- Safe School Improvement Act The SSIA would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion. It would also require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the Department of Education.
- It Gets Better Author and journalist Dan Savage was moved by the suicide of Billy Lucas and has created a collection of videos of LGBT people sharing their own stories – from coming out, to harassment, to personal and professional successes. It’s an effort to let “bullied and isolated and unhappy LGBT kids know that it gets better.” Hundreds of videos from across the world have been added to the channel – now it is time to share your story.
- Give a Damn The Give a Damn Campaign is a project of the True Colors Fund, founded by the awesome Cyndi Lauper, and is for anyone who cares about LGBT issues, but especially straight allies. When it comes to ending school bullying, straight allies are vital in working with school administrations, school boards and parents. Get informed, take action and share your story.
- The Trevor Project The Trevor Project promotes acceptance of LGBTQ youth and works to prevent suicide. They offer lifesaving resources to queer youth and their families, advocate acceptance and help prevent teen suicide by promoting mental health and positive self-esteem through on-line resources, nationwide 24/7 call centers and empowering social activities. Get involved as a lifeline counselor, TrevorSpace monitor or workshop facilitator.
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