Education Secretary calls for tolerance in response to bullying, suicides of gay teens

Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, released a statement today in response to recent suicides among gay teens and anti-gay bullying.

Arne Duncan

This week, we sadly lost two young men who took their own lives for one unacceptable reason: they were being bullied and harassed because they were openly gay or believed to be gay. These unnecessary tragedies come on the heels of at least three other young people taking their own lives because the trauma of being bullied and harassed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation was too much to bear.

This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether it’s students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the President of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.”

Duncan’s latter comment refers to Andrew Shirvell, an assistant attorney general in Michigan, who, for nearly six months, has used his blog “Chris Armstrong Watch,” to vehemently attack Chris Armstrong, the openly gay president of the student governmental body at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. [CNN]

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign — the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization — issued a nationwide action alert following news of a number of bullying and harassment-related suicides around the country.

The alert called upon Duncan to speak out immediately and to push every school in the nation to implement anti-bullying policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Our schools and our nation cannot sit back and wait for the next tragedy,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Tools and resources are available to protect our children and it is adults who must act to put strong laws, policies and procedures in place.”

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Last month, there were at least 6 known teen suicides among openly gay, and perceived gay, teens in what has become an epidemic of gay suicides: Billy (William) Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, IN; Cody J. Barker, 17, of Shiocton, Wisconsin; Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, CA; Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, NJ; Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, TX; Raymond Chase, 19, of Monticello, NY.

Recent studies show that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are more likely to attempt suicide and to face violence at schools than are their heterosexual peers.

In 2009, The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network surveyed 7,261 middle and high school students and found that at school nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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