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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 27
Anti-bullying settlement announced following the suicide of California teen
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Anti-bullying settlement announced following the suicide of California teen

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The stories used to appear only in newspapers like Seattle Gay News. The headlines were somber, the topic was cruel: another Gay teen has died by suicide. But something happened when the 2010-11 school year began. An alarming number of teens - the youngest just 13 years-old - took their own lives due to anti-LGBT bullying.

As the ugly truth began to surface (many of the students had reached out but did not receive the help and support they needed), the mainstream media began to take notice and the country began to mourn. The bullying of LGBT teens, or those perceived to be LGBT, must stop. Donations to the Trevor Project began to pour in. The It Gets Better Project took off. Locally, the Youth Suicide Prevention Program saw a record number of fundraisers that would help to financially support the important work that they do.

LGBT suicide awareness had finally gone mainstream, and there was no turning back.

Still, LGBT teens are committing suicide. We, the media (be it mainstream or community newspapers) continue to hear about, and report on, the needless loss of a youth's life.

Reports bearing good news are few and far between. Well, Seattle, this writer is happy to report that justice (however late it might seem) has been served.

On July 1, the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education reached a significant settlement with the Tehachapi Unified School District, following an investigation into harassment of Seth Walsh based on his non-conformity with gender stereotypes.

Seth Walsh killed himself in September 2010 after enduring years of bullying and harassment at school.

The DOJ and DOE investigation in the Tehachapi district confirmed that Walsh was targeted for harassment at school for two years and that the school district did not fulfill its responsibilities to protect him from this harassment. As a result of the settlement, the district will implement a series of specific policies, procedures, and training that will better protect students from sexual harassment and harassment based on gender stereotypes.

This settlement is one of the first of its kind in the country (and perhaps the most comprehensive) under the DOE definition of gender stereotyping that includes sexual orientation.

'The findings from the DOJ and the DOE send a clear message that protection of students in public schools is of paramount importance. When it comes to stopping harassment based on sexual orientation and gender perception, schools need to get it right or face the consequences,' said James Gilliam, director of the Seth Walsh Project at the ACLU of Southern California. 'Better harassment policies save lives and make a safer environment for all students. No student should feel threatened for being who they are.'

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