WATCH: Minnesota teens who committed suicide together may have been girlfriends

Paige Moravetz, left, and Haylee Fentress, both 14, committed suicide last weekend. Family members said the two may have been girlfriends and may have been bullied at school over their relationship.

Two 14-year-old girls in Marshall, Minn., have killed themselves together, becoming the latest in an ever-more-tragically long list of teens who were — or at least, are believed to have been — pushed to suicide by bullies. And relatives told NBC’s Today Show the two may have been girlfriends and may have faced further torment from classmates because of that.

Best friends Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz hanged themselves together following a slumber party last Saturday, April 16, at Haylee’s house. Both girls left suicide notes, but relatives said the notes gave no clear explanation for their actions.

Watch the Today Show report below.

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LEGE UPDATE: Anti-bullying bills advance; Senate to consider trans marriage ban Monday

Daniel Williams

Anti-bullying bills were voted out of committee in both the House and Senate this week, the 14th of Texas’ 20-week regular legislative session held in odd-numbered years.

Back on April 5 House Public Education Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, appointed a subcommittee on bullying. Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who has filed anti-bullying legislation for the last two sessions, chaired the subcommittee.

On Tuesday, Strama’s subcommittee presented a compromise designed to appease conservatives on the Public Education committee. The bullying subcommittee recommended amending House Bill 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, to include the least controversial elements of other anti-bullying bills and to add the authors of the other bills as co-authors on HB 1942. The newly formed compromise bill requires that anti-bullying materials be included in school health classes and updates the education code to recognize the existence of cyberbullying. Unlike Strama’s original anti-bullying bill, House Bill 224, the compromise only allows administrators to address cyberbullying if it happens on school grounds or at school events. The compromise bill would also allow for the transfer of bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred).

The subcommittee avoided any recognition of LGBT students in its compromise. The bill neither prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination (as legislation filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, would do) nor requires school districts to report if homophobia or transphobia motivated an incident of bullying (as legislation filed by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would do).

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Removal of LGBT references makes anti-bullying bills weaker, but more likely to pass

Daniel Williams

DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Instant Tea reported Monday that the reporting requirement proposed by the “big” anti-bullying bills (HB 224, SB 245) will be amended so that the provision that school districts file annual reports on instances of bullying in enumerated categories will now only require a report — with the specifics to be determined by the Texas Education Commission (TEA).

(HB 224 has been filed in the House, SB 245 in the Senate. The bills are nearly identical. It is common practice to file the same legislation in both the House and the Senate. Doing so allows bills to be considered by both sides simultaneously which can speed the process of a bill becoming a law. Since the Texas Legislature only meets every other year for 140 days speed is crucial in passing any law.)

HB 224 (by Strama, D-Travis County) currently would require districts to specify in their annual reports if instances of bullying were based on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or disability of the victim. SB 245 (by Davis, D-Fort Worth) requires the same enumerated report but adds gender identity and expression to the list. (Strama filed this same bill last session, also without gender identity and expression, but added it to the list of attributes in committee).

In addition to the reporting requirements both bills would require school staff, administrators, students and volunteers to attend training on how to identity and respond to bullying, would allow bullies to be transferred to different classrooms or campuses than their victims (currently only the victim may be transferred) and would allow administrators to address cyber-bullying under limited conditions.

Neither bill currently contains a provision prohibiting schools from discriminating against teachers or students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Let’s face it, removing the enumerated list from the reporting requirement will make these good bills less good — there is no getting around that. But (and it’s an extremely ambivalent “but”) the proposed change to these bills dramatically increases the chances of the Legislature doing something to address the issue of bullying this session.

—  admin

Golden Globes: Chris Colfer’s Acceptance Speech Message To Bullies

Glee's Chris Colfer takes home the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in TV Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie. One small step for out homosexual actors, one giant leap for high school musicals. He says during his acceptance speech: "To all the bullies who say you can’t be who you are: screw that, kids."

[photo via]


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WATCH: Mom says son was stapled to wall by bullies at high school in South Texas

Mary Koch tells CNN that her 14-year-old son’s teacher at Carrizo Springs High School did nothing to stop the abuse. The district says the teacher has been placed on administrative leave, and that the students involved have been placed in an alternative school.

—  John Wright

Half Of High Schoolers Victimized By Bullying. And Half Of High Schoolers Are Bullies Themselves

Nearly half of all American high schoolers faced harassment in the past year, according to a new national survey. But the real startling statistic is that roughly an equal number of students reporting being the tormenters.

CONTINUED »


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Joel Burns responds to Arkansas school board member who encouraged gays to kill themselves

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns responded Tuesday night to Clint McCance, the Arkansas school board member who went on an anti-gay tirade last week in which he basically encouraged LGBT people to kill themselves. The openly gay Burns, whose “It Gets Better” video message to LGBT youth has more than 2 million views, posted the following note on his Facebook page:

“Hate and violence born of ignorance must not be allowed to harm the youth of Midland, Arkansas or anywhere in America. Two weeks ago I shared at our Fort Worth City Council meeting that the words and attitudes expressed by those like Midland School Trustee Clint McCance result in misery and even death for America’s youth. At that council meeting and in the days since, I have asked people in communities across the nation to take responsibility and stand up to these hateful bullies. I encourage adults to tell our children they are whole, perfect, and complete. And I try to remind those bullied youth that things will get better and that they will make a lifetime of happy memories. I can assure you that changing the course of just one potentially lost life is worth our standing up to the bullies like Clint McCance. Trustee McCance is a failure as a responsible adult, an embarrassment to the good citizens of Midland, and he has betrayed his community’s trust.”

McCance made his comments on his own Facebook page (screen grab above) in response to last week’s Spirit Day, when people were asked to wear purple to support LGBT youth: “Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.”

McCance wasn’t done, either. From The Advocate:

Initially, six people “liked” McCance’s message. He also received supportive comments, though some challenged his statement. A commenter wrote, “Because hatred is always right.” That led McCance to write, “No because being a fag doesn’t give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then dont tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I dont care how people decide to live their lives. They dont bother me if they keep it to thereselves. It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it.”

McCance was again challenged on his statements — and his Christianity. Wrote one commenter: “YOU NEED TO STOP AND THINK FOR A SEC GREAT YOU BIG CHRISTIAN MAN ! SO KEEP ALL OF YOUR THOUGHTS TO YOUR SELF YOU DONT WANT PPL TALKIN ABOUT YOUR FAMILY SO DONT TALK BOUT OTHERS.”

McCance responded with, “I would disown my kids they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone.

Go here to join a Facebook page calling for McCance’s removal.

—  John Wright

Confronting our inner bullies

If we really want to stop bullying against LGBT youth, we need to start by taking a long, hard look at ourselves and how our own histories of being bullied may have caused us to internalize homophobia that leads us to bully others in the community

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns made an impassioned plea in the “It Gets Better” video that swept YouTube and landed him on The Today Show and Ellen and others.

His words brought tears to my eyes, not just because of his sincerity and candor, but because of my memories of being bullied as a teenager. I suspect almost all LGBT people of my age ran their own gauntlet of bullies, who for whatever reason decided that they were different enough to deserve taunting, scorn or physical abuse.
It says a lot about those of us who survived and not all of it is good.

For some, the words of the bullies sank in and colored how we feel about ourselves. It is a matter of conditioning. If someone calls you a disparaging name long enough, you begin to identify with that name.

Even though we rationally know it’s not true, somewhere inside we retain that taunt and it becomes part of who we are. That’s why when LGBT people reclaimed the word “queer” it was so empowering.

Unfortunately, that kind of consciousness-raising takes a good deal of maturity. For many teens, that maturity never happens. They become so beaten down with the taunts and jeers and abuse that they opt for a permanent solution — suicide.

Those of us who were lucky enough to survive still carry the wounds, and they manifest themselves in self-destructive ways.

Internalized homophobia, brought on by bullying, spawns a myriad of problems, some subtle and some overt. I am no psychologist, but I would bet a good portion of the rampant alcoholism and drug abuse in the LGBT community stems from self-hatred and internalized homophobia.

The greater issue is that bullying is not just a schoolyard problem. It is pervasive in our society, from grade school right up to the workplace, church and even the highest halls of government.

Every time a politician uses “gay marriage” to drum up fear in a campaign speech, it is just an extension of the schoolyard bullying. Every time a preacher condemns LGBT people from the pulpit, it is just another extension of bullying. Every time a comedian or other public figure uses the term “gay” as a synonym for “lame” or “bad,” it is a subtle form of bullying — and it is unacceptable.

So how do we stop the bullies? It’s not going to be easy. It will take the same kind of concerted and ongoing effort that made using the “N” word unacceptable. It will take the same kind of ongoing and constant work that has made the language of sexism unacceptable in the workplace, schools and society at large.
It will not be easy. We will be derided as being overly “politically correct” and face some stiff resistance. But we must make the effort.

Otherwise the bullying will continue and perhaps become worse.

So what do we do? My suggestion is to start with our own behavior.

Every time we start to deride someone for being too nelly, or dressing too flamboyantly or looking too butch, we need to stop and ask where that voice is coming from.

Most likely it comes from the inner bully that lives inside us. Our own internalized homophobia expresses itself in catty remarks and snide comments. It is a dirty little queer secret that we all sometimes share.

When we become flustered by someone’s gender identity, most likely it is because we have succumbed to the bullying of the hetero-normative society in which we live. That means anyone who doesn’t conform to the heterosexual model, who doesn’t conform to some archetype of female or male throws a monkey wrench into our reasoning.

We listen to that voice inside us that says, “He or she is different from what I expect, therefore I should ridicule them.” It’s our inner bully speaking and it harms not only us but our community as well.

OK, I know this all sounds a bit Kumbaya and idealistic, and quite frankly it is. Idealism is something that is often the punch line of jokes, but without it we are just fumbling along hoping things will get better. Without a goal, an ideal, we will end up lost, and like those lost souls who end up as the schoolyard bullies, we will do more harm than good.

Beginning with our own lives, we can stop the root causes of bullying. Then we can begin to change it wherever we find it in our community and the greater community as well.

My parents used to tell me that the bullies who taunted me were cowards. Though it did little to comfort then, I now see they were right. Bullies pick on the weak, the different kids and those less likely to fight back.

They do it to feel more important, or to prove themselves to their peers, but inside they do it because they are scared. They fear kids who are different, who don’t fit their adolescent world view.

For some reason they feel the need to dominate someone to prove themselves and rather than excel at something important, to actually achieve something they can be proud of, they take the easy way, the coward’s way.

So next time you hear a politician or preacher or comedian make a snide remark about LGBT people, remind them of their cowardice. Write them, call them and let them know you find their remarks distasteful and unacceptable.

It’s a small step, but with enough people taking a stand, things will change.

As the old folk song says, “Freedom’s name is mighty sweet … keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Another approach to anti-gay bullying

Jeremy Liebbe wants to show LGBT youth how to fight back against would-be bulliers and bashers.

Liebbe, an openly gay detective sergeant for the Dallas ISD police department, is a volunteer at Youth First Texas who’s taught the YFT Youth Defenders program for the last two years.

The daylong Youth Defenders Program, which is open to all YFT youth and volunteers, will be offered again Saturday, Oct. 23. The program teaches basic self-defense and self-awareness techniques, and is designed to help raise participants’ self-esteem.

Liebbe, a first-degree black belt and a SWAT-trained supervisor in the DISD police narcotics unit, said the Youth Defenders program is especially relevant given the ongoing gay teen bullying and suicide crisis.

“Just changing their mindset alone is going to prevent most bullying,” Liebbe said. “Bullies and bashers, they’re looking for an easy target. Most of the time the bully’s going to back down or walk away the moment they realize you’re going to fight them.

“A lot of it is just self-esteem,” he added. “It’s almost a self-victimizing cycle. Anything we can do to increase the self-esteem and personal power of this very marginalized age group is going to help reduce self-destructive behavior.”

The Youth Defenders program will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Youth First Texas. For more information or to sign up, visit the Facebook page.

—  John Wright

The epidemic continues: Parents say bullies drove their son to take his life

From the Houston Chronicle:

Asher Brown’s worn-out tennis shoes still sit in the living room of his Cypress-area home while his student progress report – filled with straight A’s – rests on the coffee table.

The eighth-grader killed himself last week. He shot himself in the head after enduring what his mother and stepfather say was constant harassment from four other students at Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

Brown, his family said, was “bullied to death” – picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said.

The 13-year-old’s parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.

You would think that a wave of violence against LGBT (and perceived LGBT) school kids — and an alarming body count — might prompt some sort of comment (let alone action) from the White House… even calls for immediate passage of the Federal Safe Schools act.


On a personal note, I went to school in this particular district — a very long time ago. And it appears that despite the passage of time, not much has changed… I was bullied in middle school and much of high school — being short, slight build, into the arts, etc. — to the point that when I did finally fight back, I wound up breaking the other kids arm. The school administrators, teachers and adults acted as if the bullying occuring under their noses didn’t exist — they were blissfully unaware.

I’ve carried the scars through my life — and it has spurred me to be an activist for change

We all need to let our kids know: IT GETS BETTER.


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—  John Wright