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Valerie Jarrett at annual HRC event: gay teen suicides a ‘terrible tragedy’

Valerie Jarrett at annual HRC event: gay teen suicides a ‘terrible tragedy’
Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett, a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, spoke at the annual national dinner of the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday evening to address the recent suicides within the LGBT community related to anti-gay bullying.

Mentioning Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, and Billy Lucas by name, Jarrett said the “tragic loss” of young gay, or perceived gay, teens “strikes at the heart of our values as Americans, and our sense of humanity.”

“We all have an obligation to engage in the broader struggle to build a more perfect union –- a nation where each of us is free to pursue our own version of happiness,” she said.

Jarrett also took a moment to recognize Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg who took his own life in July, also provoked by anti-gay bullying.

Following is an excerpt from Jarrett’s prepared remarks:

(Left to right) Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Justin Aaberg

“…the President asked me to come here tonight, to carry a message on his behalf.

Recently, we’ve all been shocked and heartbroken by the deaths of several young people who had been harassed and bullied for being openly gay -– or because people thought they were gay.

It’s a terrible tragedy.

And it has turned a harsh spotlight on an issue that often doesn’t get the public attention it deserves. The struggles of LGBT youth. The enormous pain that too many experience as a result of bullying. And the desperate, tragic decision by some young people who feel that their only recourse is to take their own lives.

I say this not only as an advisor to the President. I say this from my heart, as a mother. I cannot begin to fathom the pain – the terrible grief – of losing a child. There is no greater loss – and we have lost too many in just the past few months. Asher, Billy, Seth, Tyler, Justin.

I want to express my deepest condolences to Tammy Aaberg, Justin’s mom, who is here tonight and who I just met backstage. Please join me in recognizing her for the courage she has shown in sharing her son’s story, and honoring his memory – in the hope that no other mothers or fathers will have to know her pain.

We all want to protect our children. We want to be there for our children. And the idea that a young man or woman, in some cases barely teenagers – just at the start of life – would feel so hopeless and tormented as to want to end their lives, it saddens all of us.

Young people are our future. They need guidance. They need our support. And this responsibility is far too great to be shouldered by parents alone. Our whole society has to step up and reaffirm our collective obligation to all of our children. This includes the responsibility to instill in young people respect for one another. And we adults should set an example of mutual regard and civility ourselves.

No young person should have to endure a life of relentless taunts and harassment, just because they’re gay.

On behalf of President Obama, I want to make clear that this administration is firmly committed to working with you and other advocates. For we all have to ensure that we are creating an environment in our schools, our communities, and our country, that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

During her speech, Jarrett called attention to several initiatives the Obama administration has undertaken to address the kind of bullying in schools that has led to teen suicides.

In a nod of recognition to efforts of the LGBTQ community , Jarrett said “you are living proof of what has become a powerful message in recent days. Simply put: ‘It gets better’,” a reference to Dan Savage’s video project for gay youth.

Full text of Jarrett’s speech can be found at the White House blog.

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