Posted: October 05, 2010

THE SUICIDE of a Rutgers University student last week whose sex act with another man was videotaped and posted on the Internet made international headlines in part because of the novel issues posed by the use of social networks and the question of what should happen to the two students charged with invading his privacy.

But a report by the National Educational Policy Center at the University of Colorado - released, by sad coincidence, just a few days after Tyler Clementi's suicide - confirms that anti-gay harassment is not unusual at all: In fact, most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT youth (more than 85 percent) have experienced bullying related to their sexual orientation. In many instances, adults in the schools are witnessing the abuse but are not acting to stop it. In others, adults themselves are making homophobic remarks.

So it's no coincidence that LGBT students are killing themselves at a rate three to four times higher than other kids. In just past three weeks, three others, aged 13, 13, and 15, are known to have committed suicide after being bullied because they were thought to be gay.

Anti-gay harassment can have lifelong consequences: A new study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that anti-gay bullying in school leads to higher levels of depression and "decreased life satisfaction" in adulthood.

It's a serious public health crisis, made more tragic by the fact that it is perpetrated by kids who surely don't grasp the damage they are doing. It's time for the grown-ups to step in.

In August, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey introduced a bill that would require school districts that receive federal funding to adopt codes of conduct that prohibit bullying. It would also require them to teach harassment-prevention strategies. What's critically important: Like the House version, the bill enumerates categories of bullying, including harassment based on students' race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion and sexual orientation or gender identity.

You might think that all decent adults would want to protect kids from the kind of emotional torture that would lead them to take their own lives. You would be wrong.

Right-wing religious groups are against it. They aren't for bullying, they claim. They're just against actually admitting that kids are being harassed for their real or perceived sexual orientation. That might suggest that it's all right to be gay or - more to the point - that it's actually wrong to harass someone who is.

Or maybe they are against it because it might be effective. Forty-four states (including Pennsylvania) have anti-bullying laws, but only eight (not Pennsylvania) have laws that "enumerate" the categories of bullying. Data compiled by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that naming the problem makes a significant difference. Students in districts with comprehensive anti-bullying policies are much less likely to be harassed and much more likely to report harassment if it occurs.

How like the opponents to cloak their opposition in the language of fear and victimization. They claim that proponents of safety in schools are themselves the bullies - pushing a "gay agenda" that tramples on their freedom of religion.

The legislation doesn't require anyone to accept a view of homosexuality that runs counter to personal belief. It does require that every student be protected from abuse. Federal legislation won't stop all bullying, but it will at least make a clear statement that it is wrong.

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