LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - Schools need to be safe for all

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By this time, everyone has read about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the brilliant young Rutgers student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student in their dorm room and then broadcasted the video online.

But during September, there were at least three other suicides by gay or gay-perceived teenage boys in the U.S.:

1. In California, 13-year-old Seth Walsh hanged himself. According to police, he did so after having been "mercilessly taunted by fellow students over his perceived sexual orientation."

2. In Indiana, 15-year-old Billy Lucas also hanged himself after harassment by students who judged him to be gay.

3. In Texas, 13-year-old Asher Brown took his life with a gun after repeated taunting and bullying over his perceived sexual orientation.

Since the reopening of schools last month, there have been dozens of sexual-orientation related taunting, bullying and beating incidents reported across the country. We simply cannot sit back and wait for the next tragedy.

Schools must immediately include gender identity and sexual orientation in anti-bullying programs. Having older gay community members available as counselors has been helpful in some places but where this is not possible, students would do well to go to "It Gets Better" on YouTube which features gay adults talking about their experiences with harassment as adolescents.

But let's not fool ourselves. Every day that "don't ask, don't tell" is the law of the land, the federal government is telling these same young people, gay and straight, that there is something wrong with being homosexual; that it is better to hide it than to be open about it; that there is shame in being gay.

For that, we should all be ashamed.

Our schools need to be made safe for all young people regardless of their sexual orientation. These are the most vulnerable years of their lives.

Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy Shepard, urges all LGBT youth contemplating suicide to reach out to the Trevor Project, day or night (thetrevorproject.org).

Patrick Henry
Walla Walla

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