Over the last few months, our Nation has mourned the loss of several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teenagers driven to suicide because of hateful and ignorant bullying and harassment. These tragic circumstances brought families, friends, and concerned citizens together through vigils on public squares in communities all over this country and on college campuses throughout the Nation. Together, millions of fellow Americans have drawn attention to intolerance and violence that LGBT Americans face each day. Together, we can ensure all LGBT Americans that life will get better for them.
As a father, I cannot bear to imagine the unspeakable pain endured by the parents of those teenagers who tragically took their own lives. No parent should have to bury a child. No child should ever feel so hopeless and so forgotten and so alone and so isolated that suicide seems like their only escape. But the rash of highly publicized suicides of LGBT students not only highlights the national epidemic of bullying these students face, it also reminds us that we all as adults, as clergy, as educators, or as peers of these students--we all have a role to play in preventing discrimination.
Bullies target the vulnerable and subject them to cruelty through taunts in the classroom or on the Internet, through chants on the playing field or physical abuse in the neighborhood. Prejudices based on religion or race or disability or sexual orientation or gender or physical or intellectual differences too often translate into physical torment and isolation and abuse against others.
LGBT youth, in particular, are frequently targeted by bullies. Public surveys indicate that 80 percent of LGBT students report regular harassment by fellow students--a rate three times that of heterosexual teens, three times the rate of their heterosexual peers. Seventy-five percent of high school students routinely hear homophobic remarks in school, reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices. Without a safe space to speak openly with a caring adult or a like-minded peer, victims are left to question their self-worth.
On top of the self-doubt and insecurity that all young people feel already regardless of gender or race or sexual orientation--we have all been through that certainly as young teenagers and older teenagers, too, for that matter, but add to that the kind of insecurities that are put on them by bullying tactics, by so many people spouting homophobic remarks.
Too many young gay men and women, boys and girls, are forced into secrecy about who they are rather than affirming the person they should proudly be.
A brave young Ohioan named Nicholas sent me a letter detailing an attack by a schoolyard bully. Here is what Nicholas wrote:
On September 18th, 2009 I was attacked by a student at my school for being gay. This student beat me in the head with a hammer three times. He chased me down so he could get the last two hits. The student attacked me for being gay. I have no way of using this attack to promote gay rights, to promote gay equality, but you do. And you could do this for me. I need your help more than anything. No one deserves to go through what I went through.
My message to Nicholas and to all LGBT Americans is this: You are not alone. Life will get better. You can find the love and acceptance you deserve, and you will find the love and acceptance you deserve, free from fear and hate. You will realize your full potential every bit as much as anyone else because things are changing in this country.
There is no acceptable justification for the violence experienced by Nicholas or the physical and emotional mistreatment of LGBT students in our schools and in our communities. That is why the Senate must take crucial steps to ensure that schools are safe places for learning, safe places for students, and not breeding grounds for bullying.
First, we must pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act which would help schools implement LGBT-inclusive programming to combat bullying and harassment. Second, we must pass the Student Nondiscrimination Act which would bar schools which receive public money from implementing programs that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Legislation alone, of course, will not eradicate or put an end to bullying, but we also know what legislation did for women, for children, for civil rights. Attitudes change over time. Legislation helps accelerate that change. That is why those two pieces of legislation matter. They will be major steps toward ensuring safety and equal treatment for all students in our school systems.
Parents and teachers also have a special responsibility to help LGBT youth confront the bullying they face at school. They, too, should ensure that every student knows she is valued, knows he is valued, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBT community centers or national organizations such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network are valuable resources for students, parents, and educators.
I remember several years ago an event where students sat together as part of a gay/straight alliance at a high school in western Cuyahoga County. There were 10 students at 2 different tables, 5 gay students, 5 straight students, all supporting one another, understanding each other and accepting their differences. They can still care about one another, and they can protect them, in many cases, from some of the bullying that might have befallen some of them.
To our own LGBT students who are either forced to live a lie or face hostility for simply living their lives, all of you should know there are resources to help you in times of need. The Trevor Project is the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. For more information, if you are feeling alone, anyone watching today feeling alone, helpless, or in crisis, people can visit the Trevor Project's Web site, thetrevorproject.org, or they can call the hotline at 866-488-7386.
For anyone who is in suicidal crisis or in need of help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 1-800-273-TALK.
To Nick: I don't normally come to the floor and talk about a service like this. I think, though, when people feel alone, they don't always know there is help out there for them. Young people need to know that it is getting better, that life will get better for them, so it is important to share that information on the Senate floor.
To Nicholas: History is on your side. It will, in fact, get better. Workers fought for the right to organize, women fought for the right to vote, African Americans fought for equal justice, and now LGBT Americans of all backgrounds are fighting for equality.
It is up to us to join this fight. It is up to us to be on the side of people whose lives are a little bit more difficult, perhaps, than others' lives. It is that spirit of inclusion, it is the pursuit of the American dream, that will, in fact, make it better for these young people, and it will make it better for all Americans.
I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.
The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
Without objection, it is so ordered.
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