No Excuse for Bullying
By Pride Alliance
The Pride Alliance wished to respond to the recent atrocities within the LGBTQIA community.

Despite a chilly rain, over 150 Five College students, faculty, staff and community supporters gathered at the College on Monday, Oct. 4, for a candlelight vigil to mourn teens who committed suicide after being bullied for their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression. We felt compelled to come together in our anger and sadness to honor those lost and to show our visible positive support for the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) community. Though it is clear there are many that we will never know about, we have learned in recent weeks of no fewer than 10 young students who have committed suicide in the face of torment from their peers.

— On July 9, Tammy Aaberg found her 15-year-old son Justin dead in his room. His friends told Justin’s mom how Justin had been bullied in high school and how they felt harassed and unsafe in school as well.

— On Sept. 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind. was found hanging from one of the rafters in his family’s barn by his mother. He had been bullied for years based on his perceived sexual orientation. More recently, students referred to him as a “fag,” and told him directly that he was a piece of crap and that he didn’t deserve to live. It was clear that others knew about the bullying, as comments on a memorial page created in Billy’s honor included statements like “everyone made fun of him.”

— On Sept. 13, 17-year-old Cody Barker of Shiocton, Wis. took his own life, according to an obituary posted in the Wisconsin Gazette. He was very active in his high school and planned to start a Gay-Straight Alliance. He “cared about making his school a safe place for all students,” although it was suggested that school wasn’t always a safe place for him. Less than a week later, another student who attended a support group for gay teens with Cody also attempted suicide.

— On Sept. 19, 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, Calif. attempted to hang himself in a tree in his backyard. This came after years of being bullied, particularly after coming out as gay. School administrators at Jacobsen Middle School in his hometown did nothing to stop the attacks, even though an anti-bullying program was in place at the school. Seth ended up on life support for nearly 10 days before dying on Sept. 29 of his injuries.

— Earlier this semester, 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi was filmed by his roommate without his knowledge as he engaged in a romantic encounter with another young man. Tyler subsequently committed suicide. His last Facebook status update was reportedly, “Jumping off the GW Bridge. Sorry.” His body was discovered in the Hudson River on Sept. 30 and identified the following day.

— On Sept. 23, 13-year-old Asher Brown shot himself in the head with a gun that he found hidden away in his parents’ bedroom and died. That morning, he had come out as gay to his father who accepted it without issue. While Asher’s parents indicated they had made repeated telephone calls to the school district regarding their son’s bullying, the school district denies that anyone ever contacted them about Asher’s situation. Asher was ridiculed by the same four students not only because of his sexuality, but because of his small stature, his religion (Buddhism) and his lack of designer clothing. The day before he died, he was reportedly kicked down two flights of stairs by one of the bullies. The D.A. in Houston is presently investigating the situation.

— On Sept. 25, 15-year-old Harrison Chase Brown of Rand, Colo. reportedly died suddenly, according to an obituary in a local newspaper. Friends of Harrison’s told blogger Perez Hilton that he killed himself because he had been bullied. No further information has been made available.

— On Sept. 29, openly gay 19- year-old Raymond Chase, a student at Johnson and Wales in Providence, R.I., was found dead in his dorm room where he had hung himself. Neither the university nor his family has suggested a motive for his suicide or any other information.

— Also on Sept. 29, 17-year-old Felix Sacco, a senior at Saugus High School in Saugus, Mass., jumped from an overpass onto U.S. Route 1 during rush hour traffic. He died later that day at a hospital in Boston. Friends indicated that there was a history of him being bullied, probably because of his quiet nature and love of music and film.

— On Sept. 30, 14-year-old Caleb Nolt, a freshman at Fort Wayne High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., also reportedly committed suicide. Classmates said he was a victim of anti-gay bullying, although additional details remain unknown.

— And last year, in our own backyard, Springfield, Mass., 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover killed himself after repeated bullying from his classmates. They called him “girlie,” “gay” and “fag.”

We are proud that Massachusetts has anti-bullying legislation on the books, but Massachusetts remains among a disturbingly small minority. We need to raise awareness, to make sure that these youth realize there’s a way out, that things can and will get better and we must fight for the passage of the Federal Safe Schools Act.

Campus Pride is a national nonprofit organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer college environments for LGBT students. The organization’s primary objective is to develop necessary resources, programs and services to support LGBTQ and ally students on college campuses across the United States. As part of that effort, Campus Pride’s Q Research Institute for Higher Education released the report “2010 State of Higher Education for LGBTQ People.” The in-depth research study is the most comprehensive national LGBTQ higher education study of its kind. Campus Pride surveyed more than 5,000 LGBTQ students, faculty and staff for the report. The findings of the report demonstrate that the incidents of harassment mentioned above are unfortunately not rare.

For example, they found that 23 percent of LGBQ staff, faculty and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with your ability to work or learn). Eighty-three percent identified sexual identity as the basis of the harassment. An even greater percentage of transgender students, faculty and staff reported experiencing harassment (39 percent), with 87 percent identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. The form of the harassment experienced by transgender people was more overt and blatant.

One-third of LGBQ and transgender (38 percent) students, faculty and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate. More than half of all faculty, students and staff hide their sexual identity or gender identity to avoid intimidation. More than a third of all transgender students, faculty and staff (43 percent) and 13 percent of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety. This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or transgender people of color.

We want anyone struggling with feelings of isolation, confusion, depression or fear to know that you are not alone. Students at the College should know that the Rainbow Room is available to all. We have a Coordinator of LGBTQIA Support and Services, Pamela Stawasz, who is available to talk confidentially with any student. We have out counselors in the Counseling Center, and a number of supportive staff, faculty and administrators. They want to help. Please tell one of these people if you are experiencing harassment or need support in any way.

We gathered to speak out and encourage others to speak out against all forms of oppression and raise awareness of homophobia and gender oppression. We want to create safe and nurturing spaces for people of all sexualities and genders. The College, despite its admirable diversity, is not yet such a safe space. One can still hear sexist and homophobic slurs all over campus, and some LGBTQIA people still fear coming out and openly expressing their sexual and/or gender identities. What will YOU do to help Amherst to become a more inclusive community?

Monday, Oct. 11, was the 23rd Annual National Coming Out Day. We hope that all those reading this will support their peers as they come out or continue to live as out LGBTQIA individuals.

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 01:29:42