Suicide Surge: Schools Confront Anti-Gay Bullying - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Suicide Surge: Schools Confront Anti-Gay Bullying

NEW YORK — A spate of teen suicides linked to anti-gay harassment is prompting school officials nationwide to rethink their efforts against bullying – and in the process, risk entanglement in a bitter ideological debate.

The conflict: Gay-rights supporters insist that any effective anti-bullying program must include specific components addressing harassment of gay youth. But religious conservatives condemn that approach as an unnecessary and manipulative tactic to sway young people's views of homosexuality.

It's a highly emotional topic. Witness the hate mail – from the left and right – directed at Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District while it reviews its anti-bullying strategies in the aftermath of a gay student's suicide.

The invective is "some of the worst I've ever seen," Superintendent Dennis Carlson said. "We may invite the Department of Justice to come in and help us mediate this discussion between people who seem to want to go at each other."

Carlson's district in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis is politically diverse, and there are strong, divided views on how to combat bullying.

"We believe the bullying policy should put the emphasis on the wrong actions of the bullies and not the characteristics of the victims," said Chuck Darrell of the conservative Minnesota Family Council.

That's a wrongheaded, potentially dangerous approach, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network – which tries to improve the school climate for gay students nationwide.

"Policies have to name the problem in order to have an impact," said GLSEN's executive director, Eliza Byard. "Only the ones that name it see an improvement."

According to a 2009 GLSEN survey of 7,261 students, only 18 percent said their schools had a comprehensive program addressing anti-gay bullying, while gay students in schools that had such programs were less likely to be victimized and more likely to report problems to staff.

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