Lawmakers reintroduced a bill in Congress on Wednesday named after an 18-year-old Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate posted a video of his private romantic encounter with another man online.
The bill, the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, was introduced in the House by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and in the Senate by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The only out lesbian in the U.S. Senate, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), is an original co-sponsor for the Senate bill.
In a statement, Murray said the legislation is necessary because students need the opportunity to further their education “without the fear of harassment and bullying.”
“I am proud that this bill would take meaningful steps to provide schools and students with tools to prevent harassment and protect survivors,” Murray said. “By honoring Tyler’s life with this legislation, we can work to prevent the bullying that far too many students are forced to endure.”
According to the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, LGBT students are twice as likely as their straight peers to face harassment, but colleges and universities aren’t required to have policies protecting students either from harassment on electronic communications as well as harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity or religion.
The Tyler Clementi Act would require universities to put those policies in place in addition to creating a grant program to support campus anti-harassment programs.
Pocan, one of six openly LGB members of the House, said the legislation is needed because bullying is “a real and persistent danger for far too many students at our colleges and universities.”
“This bill ensures no student has to suffer the humiliation of being harassed for who they are, or who they love,” Pocan said. “Institutions of higher learning should be a place of open expression, which celebrate diversity and embrace students from all different backgrounds.”
After the incident in which students placed the video of him online, Clementi, who was 18 at the time, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. In 2012, Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate and the student responsible for the video, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, three years probation, 300 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine.
Jane Clementi, founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation and Tyler’s mother, encouraged Congress to pass the legislation based on the experience of her son.
“Schools need to take bullying, harassment and humiliation seriously, by making it official policy,” Jane Clementi said. “We support this legislation because no other student should have to feel the pain and humiliation that Tyler felt after he had been web-camed by his roommate.”
The Tyler Clementi Act has support from the Human Rights Campaign, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Association for University Women, the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and the Pride Foundation.
A news statement from the Senate HELP Committee lists the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as a supporter of the bill, but a spokesperson for organization told the Blade it has no official position.
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