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Spotlight on bullying after rash of teen suicides

Experts say anti-gay harassment widespread in D.C. schools



Trevor Project fundraiser

Friday at 7 p.m.

Duplex Diner

2004 18th St., N.W.

$10 donation

The death by suicide of four gay male teenagers within a four-week period last month has triggered international media coverage of the topic of anti-gay bullying and harassment and prompted renewed calls for Congress to pass anti-bullying legislation.

Much of the media attention focused on the Sept. 22 death of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who leaped off the George Washington Bridge connecting New York and New Jersey.

University officials said Clementi took his own life days after discovering his roommate planted a video camera in his dorm room that captured Clementi and a male visitor “making out” during an apparent sexual encounter and then broadcast the video online.

New Jersey authorities have charged the roommate, Dharun Ravi, and one of his friends, Molly Wei, with criminal invasion of privacy, an offense that carries a possible five-year prison sentence.

A New Jersey prosecutor said Ravi, who shared the dorm room with Clementi, left his webcam-equipped laptop computer in the room with the intention of spying on Clementi, who informed him he planned to bring a visitor into the room. Ravi agreed to allow Clementi to use the room in private to host his guest.

Prosecutors said Ravi went to Wei’s nearby dorm room and used another laptop he owns to remotely turn on the webcam while Clementi and his male guest were in the room.

He then broadcast the video of Clementi and his guest live on iChat, according to technology blogger Kashmir Hill, who discovered separate online chat room conversations by both Ravi and Clementi talking about the incident.

Although the suicides of Clementi and the other three gay teens took place outside the D.C. metropolitan area, the head of D.C.’s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, known as SMYAL, said a 2007 study showed that local LGBT youth are at great risk for suicide.

Andrew Barnett, SMYAL’s executive director, noted that the D.C. Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is conducted under the supervision of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 37 percent of D.C. high school students who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual reported being bullied over their sexual orientation during the previous year. Only 15 percent of heterosexual-identified students reported being bullied, the survey found.

The same survey found that 32 percent of students identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual reported attempting suicide in the previous 12 months compared to just 8 percent of heterosexual students who reported a suicide attempt.

“That’s almost one in three,” said Barnett, in referring to the suicide attempts reported by the gay, lesbian or bi sample.  “It’s shocking. It’s devastating,” he said. “That’s not thinking about suicide, that’s actually attempting suicide.”

The 2007 survey, the most recent one conducted, did not cover transgender students. D.C. school officials have said they plan to add a transgender component to future Youth Risk Behavior Surveys.

According to Barnett and Laura McGinnis, communications director for the Trevor Project, a national LGBT youth suicide prevention group, the D.C. public school system has one of the nation’s most far-reaching anti-bullying policies.

However, Barnett said many LGBT high school students in D.C. who frequent SMYAL’s drop-in center on Capitol Hill report that teachers and school administrators often don’t enforce the policy. He said LGBT students from D.C. area suburban schools also report widespread incidents of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.

“Unfortunately, bullying and specifically bullying targeting LGBT students very much happens in D.C. area schools,” he said.

McGinnis said the recent rash of gay teen suicides has prompted media outlets to report on the Trevor Project’s 24-hour telephone “Lifeline,” where trained counselors help LGBT youth grapple with bullying and other problems linked to their sexual orientation.

But she said media reports and public policy makers sometimes have misinterpreted studies similar to the D.C. Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly all of which show LGBT youth having a higher suicide rate than non-LGBT youth.

“A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not, in and of itself, something that makes you more likely to take your own life,” McGinnis said. “Just being gay doesn’t mean you’ve also got the suicide gene.

“But what it does mean is that you are more likely to be bullied or harassed,” she said. “You’re more likely to be rejected by your family or your church. You’re more likely to not feel welcome in your community. You’re more likely to have a number of ills associated with you, whether it’s being told you’re going to go to hell or being told that homosexuality makes you less of a person,” she said.

It’s these external factors, McGinnis said, that lead some LGBT youth to depression or suicide, not their sexual orientation.

The three other gay youth-related suicide cases occurring in September involved high school and middle school students.

Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old middle school student from Tehachapi, Calif., died Sept. 29, 10 days after he hanged himself in the backyard of his home. His mother reported that she offered him love and support when, as a sixth grader, he told her he was gay.

But she and others who knew Walsh said he had been subjected to relentless taunting, bullying and harassment by fellow students over his being gay, a burden with which he apparently could no longer cope.

On Sept. 9, Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself at his home in Greensburg, Ind., after years of being harassed by fellow students who perceived him to be gay.

Less than two weeks later, on Sept. 23, Asher Brown, a 13-year-old in Harris, Texas, a Houston suburb, shot himself in the head after being subjected to taunting and bullying by fellow students who believed he was gay.

His parents told the media, including the Houston Chronicle and CNN, that school officials ignored their pleas that they intervene on their son’s behalf to stop the harassment. School officials dispute those allegations, saying the parents never reported their son was the target of anti-gay harassment.

A fifth incident of anti-gay school bullying in September received national attention when “Good Morning America” interviewed 11-year-old Tyler Wilson of Ohio, who suffered a broken arm at the hands of two fellow students who believed him to be gay and subjected him to anti-gay taunts.

Wilson, who has not disclosed his sexual orientation, said he was attacked after he joined his school’s cheerleading team, becoming the first boy to become a part of what had always been an all-girls group. Since returning to school after being treated for his injury, he’s been threatened with having his other arm broken, he told “Good Morning America.”

Local colleges sensitive to anti-LGBT bullying

Officials with Georgetown University and the University of Maryland said their schools were among several in the D.C. area that have campus LGBT resource centers and policies in place that prohibit bullying, harassment and other aggressive acts targeting students because of personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I know that American University and George Mason University have similar LGBT resource centers or offices that also address these issues,” said Sivagami “Shiva” Subbaraman, director of Georgetown’s LGBTQ Resource Center.

Subbaraman said Georgetown and several other D.C. area universities held vigils or special gatherings during the past week in honor of the gay teens who committed suicide last month. She said the Clementi case was especially troubling to her and LGBT students and their supporters at Georgetown because it showed that campus support systems at Rutgers University did not reach Clementi.

Both Subbaraman’s office and the University of Maryland’s Office of LGBT Equity issued e-mail statements to all students, faculty and staff discussing the September gay teen suicides and reminding students of the availability of mental health counseling services and LGBT student support groups on their respective campuses.

Amari Ice, president of CASCADE, a Howard University group that represents LGBT students, said Howard doesn’t have an LGBT resource center but has counselors and other support personnel who are trained to assist LGBT students in need.

Rutgers University President Richard McCormick issued a statement last week addressing the death of Rutgers freshman Clementi.

“We grieve for him and for his family, friends, and classmates as they deal with the tragic loss of a gifted young man who was a strong student and a highly accomplished musician,” McCormick said.

“This tragedy and the events surrounding it have raised critical questions about the climate of our campuses,” he said. “Students, parents, and alumni have expressed deep concern that our university, which prides itself on its rich diversity, is not fully welcoming and accepting of all students.”

McCormick noted that a gay student group formed on the Rutgers campus in 1969, becoming only the second gay group in existence at the time on any college campus in the country. He said the college has long been fully supportive of its LGBT students, but will arrange to meet with LGBT students and faculty in the coming weeks to discuss how the school can improve its status as place where all people “feel accepted and respected.”

In D.C., meanwhile, gay activist Trevor Thomas organized a fundraiser for the Trevor Project on Friday, Oct. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Duplex Diner at 2004 18th St., N.W., in Adams Morgan. A donation of $10 is requested.

The Trevor Project’s 24-hour, seven-day help line can be reached at 1-866-488-7386. More information about the group, including access to its online chat site for LGBT youth, can be accessed here.

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  1. Judge Tom

    October 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    After 23 years in juvenile court, I believe that teenagers often learn from the experiences of their peers, not just from being lectured by those in authority. Consequently, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” was published in January, 2010.
    Endorsed by Dr. Phil on April 8, 2010 [“Bullied to Death” show], “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” presents real cases of teens in trouble over their online and cell phone activities.
    Civil & criminal sanctions have been imposed on teens over their emails, blogs, text and IM messages, Facebook entries and more. TCI is interactive and promotes education & awareness so that our youth will begin to “Think B4 U Click.”
    Thanks for looking at “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” on [publisher] or on [a free website for & about teens and the law].
    Respectfully, -Judge Tom.

  2. Dr. kathy Seifert

    October 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Bullying has 3 parts. It is a learned behavior when that is the type of behavior a youth sees and attempts to emulate. Part 2 however, is Developmental Trauma Disorder. Children can be traumatized to the extent that social, problem solving, self-soothing, self-monitoring, and communication skills are delayed. When this happens, they do not develop empathy or reciprocity, which comes later in the developmental cycle.These are needed to prevent someone from becoming a bully. We have to be careful to not see bullying or its solution in simplistic terms. Stopping bullying can be difficult and challenging. art three is how well we, as a society, accept or reject those that are different from ourselves. Are our systems and our traditions inclusionary or exclusionary. Examples are: 1) Is there only one “right” religion or way to celebrate a religious holiday? 2) Is there only one “acceptable” student nationality, tradition, dress, gender identity, ethnicity, learning style, or political belief that should dominate a school. Others that think or look differently are not welcome or are belittled? 3) What examples do we set for settling differences of opinion?

  3. Robert Taylor

    July 30, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I just finished watching Dear Evan Hansen at arena stage, and it reminded me of how lone some it felt being in highschool, and the bullying of anyone different. So I was wondering if anyone knows if there is someone or group I can talk to about helping to stop bullying and teenage suicide. I don’t have much money but I have time and effort to help anyway I can.

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Texas GOP Governor Greg Abbott signs anti-Trans youth sports bill

“Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids & adults- the emails to the Governor to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law”



Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott (Blade file screenshot)

AUSTIN – Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday H.B. 25, an anti-Transgender youth sports bill banning Trans K-12 student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. 

H.B. 25 is the 9th statewide bill signed into law this year banning transgender youth from participating in school sports and the 10th in the country. This bill also comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

“We are devastated at the passage of this bill. Despite the powerful testimony of trans kids and adults, families and advocates, and the many emails and calls our community placed to the Governor’s office to veto this harmful piece of legislation it is now law,” Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said.

“Most immediately, our focus is our community and integrating concepts of healing justice to provide advocates who have already been harmed by this bill with spaces to refill their cup and unpack the acute trauma caused by these legislative sessions. Our organizations will also begin to shift focus to electing pro-equality lawmakers who understand our issues and prioritize representing the vast majority of Texans who firmly believe that discrimination against trans and LGB+ people is wrong,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Texas state government was criticized for removing web pages with resources for LGBTQ youth, including information about The Trevor Project’s crisis services. The Trevor Project the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

“Transgender and nonbinary youth are already at higher risk for poor mental health and suicide because of bullying, discrimination, and rejection. This misguided legislation will only make matters worse,” Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

To every trans Texan who may be feeling hurt and attacked by this legislation and months of ugly political debate — please know that you are valid, and you are deserving of equal opportunity, dignity and respect. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7 if you ever need support, and we will continue fighting alongside a broad coalition of advocates to challenge this law,” Paley said.


Additional resources:

Research consistently demonstrates that transgender and nonbinary youth face unique mental health challenges and an elevated risk for bullying and suicide risk compared to their peers.  

  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. 94% of LGBTQ youth reported that recent politics negatively impacted their mental health. 
  • A newly published research brief on “Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth,” found that 61% of transgender and nonbinary (TGNB) students reported being bullied either in-person or electronically in the past year, compared to 45% of cisgender LGBQ students. TGNB students who were bullied in the past year reported more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who were not. And TGNB students who said their school was LGBTQ-affirming reported significantly lower rates of being bullied (55%) compared to those in schools that weren’t LGBTQ-affirming (65%).
  • A 2020 peer-reviewed study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who report experiencing discrimination based on their gender identity had more than double the odds of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not experience discrimination based on their gender identity.
  • Trevor’s research has also found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (68%) had never participated in sports for a school or community league or club — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at, or by texting START to 678678.

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Ohio high school cancels play with Gay character after Pastor complains

The School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month until the play was canceled



Hillsboro High School (Screenshot via Cincinnati ABC affiliate WCPO-TV)

HILLSBORO, Oh. — A Southwest Ohio high school’s play was abruptly canceled after Jeff Lyle, a local pastor from Good News Gathering, complained of a gay character. 

Hillsboro High School’s fall production of “She Kills Monsters” was scheduled to open in less than one month, until students learned the play would be canceled last week, reports Cincinnati’s ABC affiliate WCPO

The story follows a high school senior as she learns about her late sister’s life. It is implied throughout the play that her sister is gay, according to the news station.

The play’s cancellation comes a week after Lyle, a long-time voice of the anti-LGBTQ+ religious-right in Ohio, and a group of parents confronted the production’s directors at a meeting, according to Cincinnati CBS affiliate Local 12. Lyle denies pressuring school officials, but tells WCPO he supports the decision.

“From a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” Lyle said. 

Some families say they believe Lyle did influence the school’s decision. 

“I think that’s wrong,” Jon Polstra, a father of one of the actors, told WCPO. “All they would have had to do if they objected to something in the play was not go to the play.”

In a statement to Local 12, Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis said the play was canceled because it “was not appropriate for our K-12 audience.”

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that the school planned to perform a version intended for audiences as young as 11 years old. 

Students were “devastated” and “blindsided” by the news, according to WCPO. 

“It felt like we had just been told, ‘Screw off and your lives don’t matter,'” Christopher Cronan, a Hillsboro High student, said. “I am openly bisexual in that school and I have faced a lot of homophobia there, but I never expected them to cancel a play for a fictional character.”

Cronan’s father, Ryan, also voiced his frustration. 

“They want to say the town is just not ready, but how are you not ready? It’s 2021,” Ryan Cronan said.

Students have started a GoFundMe in hopes of putting on the production at a community theater in 2022.

“If we do raise enough money, I am going to be genuinely happy for a very long time, because that means people do care,” Cronan told WCPO.

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VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights



(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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