Mother of Bullied 11-Year-Old Who Committed Suicide Last Year Calls on President Obama to Do Something to Protect America’s Youth
October 16th, 2010
First, watch this video from CNN in Atlanta.
The epidemic of bullying in schools has been close to the top of the news cycle for over a month now. The American attention span, often reduced to 30-second sound bites, remains focused on the heart-wrenching stories of young people and their families from around the country. The youth in these stories have ranged in age from 11 to 19 and they have come from all manor of background and socio-economic status.
What they all share in common is the tragic impact of bullying and a lack of successful intervention by those tasked with ensuring the protection of students in school on a daily basis. Inconsistency in action by school teachers and administration is matched by inconsistency in laws and policies designed to address and prevent bullying in schools.
As of September 2010, only 14 states and the District of Columbia have laws that addresses discrimination, harassment and/or bullying of students in school based on sexual orientation and gender identity: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
In addition to those states, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin ban discrimination and/or harassment based on sexual orientation (gender identity is not included as a protected category).
A number of additional states have anti-bullying laws that do not enumerate categories of protection, including sexual orientation or gender identity. No doubt these laws were created, in part, to allay the concerns of social conservatives who fight tooth and nail to prevent sexual orientation and gender identity from being included in legislation.
However, as former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the landmark ruling against Colorado’s Amendment 2, “Enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.”
In other words, nondiscrimination and anti-bullying laws should absolutely include sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as other categories of protection.
In an earlier post, I wrote about unique opportunities that arise to create legislative and social change, often without some coordinated plan by activists and pressure groups focused on a particular issue. This is one of those opportunities to address bullying and discrimination in schools.
I applaud and honor Masika Bermudez-Carrasquillo, in memory of her son, for appealing directly to President Obama to do something to force schools to better care for bullied students and ensure accountability for those who fail to do so, including the parents of bullies.
Leading up to and post the mid-term election, Congressional leaders and President Obama have a historic opportunity to take leadership on an issue that the overwhelming majority or Americans will support: Protecting our nation’s youth.
There is an opportunity to revisit legislation already languishing in Congress – the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) - to see whether their provision adequately address the need to protect students. For example, many Box Turtle Bulletin readers, commenting on a previous post about those laws, called for more explicit provisions that allow parents to take legal recourse against school districts and administrators who fail to protect students.
While the tragic affects of bullying will likely continue, at some point the American consciousness will move on. Our major news outlets will be enraptured by the outcome of the mid-term election and momentum to create change on this issue will diminish.
I also encourage you to contact the leadership at HRC (202.628.4160), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (202.393.5177), and GLSEN (212.727.0135) to voice your hope that they are doing everything they can to seize this moment to protect our nation’s youth.