Coverage of Bullying Tragedies Hitting Home

AP writer Geoff Mulvihill is pretty close to hitting the nail right on the head, when he writes: "Gay Americans have arrived at a 'teachable moment.'" The truth is it's not just gay Americans, it's all Americans. It's tragic that it took the suicides of at least five young gay men within a month to get us there, but as GLAAD's own Rashad Robinson put it in Newsday: "...by holding our leaders accountable in politics and the media, we can let our young people know they’ll be accepted and protected. We must learn from these tragedies together, honor those we’ve lost, and show our children that there is a future full of possibilities, no matter who they are."

In the days since Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life, the media's coverage of the bullying and harassment faced by LGBT teenagers has consistently improved. Laura Murphy from the ACLU makes the case in the New York Times for the passage of the Student Non-Discrimination Act. CNN profiles the Trevor Project, while Anderson Cooper is devoting an entire week to the topic of bullying. In the afternoon, Ellen DeGeneres launched a campaign to support the Trevor Project through text messaging, while Dr. Phil spent an entire show on the subject, including an interview with U.S. Education Official (and GLSEN founder) Kevin Jennings.

It is absolutely crucial that the media is devoting as much time to September's tragedies as it is. But if we're going to solve the problem and put an end to homophobic bullying in our schools, we need to ask the question: Who's telling the bullies that it's okay to harass kids who are (or are perceived to be) LGBT?

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint seems to be sending a pretty clear message that LGBT people are worth less than their straight peers, by defending his remarks that gay individuals shouldn't be teaching in our schools.  DeMint is telling our nation's youth that gay people aren't fit to teach them. How is that type of rhetoric supposed to do anything other than encourage exactly the kind of sentiments that led to last month's tragic suicides? Not only does this type of rhetoric tell LGBT kids that they're not good enough, it encourages an entire school community to be antagonistic towards kids who are (or are perceived to be) gay.

Alfred Doblin from the Bergen Record blasts NJ Governor Chris Christie for seemingly omitting the fact that Tyler Clementi was gay from his statements about the tragedy.

"Last week, Governor Christie emotionally said, 'As a father of a 17-year-old, I can’t imagine what those parents are feeling right now.' Christie said it was an 'unspeakable tragedy.'

What happened to Clementi cannot be 'unspeakable.' It must be shouted from every bully pulpit that people like Christie has at his disposal. Perhaps it was omitted in the press accounts of the governor’s genuinely heartfelt statements, but I did not read or hear the words gay or homosexual."

There's even talk at Clementi's own school that the media is "exploiting" his death, and that gay rights advocates are "using him as a martyr for a cause that has yet to be proven." That's from the editorial board at Rutgers' newspaper, the Daily Targum.  The truth is, the fact that college campuses are far less LGBT-friendly than they're made out to be was proven, in a study by the group Campus Pride, released just days before Clementi took his own life.

The Daily Targum's editorial board is correct when it writes "we should address that the signs of a suicidal 18-year-old kid were unseen and went unnoticed," but it's  wrong in asserting that the CAUSES of those suicidal feelings should go unspoken.

The media is doing a tremendous service to our nation's young people by finally shining a spotlight on the harms faced by LGBT and LGBT-perceived youth in our schools. Again, quoting Rashad: "If elected representatives make light of the harms gay people face - if the media refuse to depict the truth of LGBT lives  — our society is not only telling them that they’re not welcome, it’s painting a target on their backs for the bullies to see."