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Senator to Offer Bill on Campus Harassment

By L.K. Regan

We are all aware of the tragic developments last month at Rutgers University, where freshman Tyler Clementi took his own life after his roommate secretly recorded and internet broadcast a video of him with another man. The outrage generated in response to this act of bullying is generating legislative action—and thousands of messages of support.

On the legislative front, New Jersey Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg announced Wednesday that he would be introducing a bill requiring federally funded colleges and universities to adopt anti-harassment policies—where harassment would include cyberbullying. The planned bill would also require that schools have policies for fielding harassment complaints. Lastly, it would involve a grant program for colleges and universities to build anti-harassment programs.

Lautenberg talked about the legislation at an event on the Rutgers campus, explaining that he planned to introduce the bill in November, after the mid-term election and when congress returns to session. “Right now there is no federal law to require colleges to protect students from harassment and bullying," Lautenberg said, "and what I want to do is change that, and the bill I’m introducing will require that colleges and universities who are recipients of federal funds must adopt a code of conduct that prohibits harassment and bullying.”

In related news, last week we invited our members to submit a video to Dan Savage's It Gets Better project, a YouTube channel devoted to videos posted by adult LGBTs to those suffering in school, offering them hope for the future. The channel has been so successful that it filled up within a week. “We reserved the video channel on September 15. We didn’t post the video until September 21, but my column about it didn’t come out until the 22nd, but in just in a week, we have gotten probably 1,000 videos,” Savage said in an interview with McClatchey news service. “The limit you can post on YouTube is 650, and we’ve hit that. We didn’t post every one we got, and there are more coming in—every day, every minute.” An update on the YouTube site says that more space has been made available—but at the rate videos are coming in, it doesn't seem likely to last long.

"I've gotten some criticisms that these videos don't solve the problems for a bullied gay kid," Savage told the San Francisco Chronicle. "And you know what? They don't. But we can't get all that stuff done by tomorrow. We can get these videos up today." And the results are immediate. As he told McClatchey, "I was afraid it would be about adults talking to other adults, and we wouldn't be reaching the kids we need to reach, but I'm hearing from teenagers and from the parents of teenagers, who are sitting their kids down in front of the videos." And, "People are talking to kids who are in the exact situation they were in and giving them hope—and not just hope, but also practical advice."

The scale of the response means that if you are making your own video now, you may have a bit of a wait to see it online. That's no reason not to do it, though! (Instructions here.) Even if your video doesn't appear on the YouTube channel, Savage has plans to put together a website to house the videos permanently, and to make them searchable. And in the meantime, you can look through the videos on the YouTube channel—among which are celebrity submissions by Sarah Silverman, Kathy Griffin, Joel Madden and, in a particularly moving piece, Tim Gunn of Project Runway, who talks about his own suicide attempt as a young man. Describing the video, Dan Savage said, "It's heartbreaking and inspiring that he was willing to open up about how he really reached the breaking point, and how he is happy that his suicide attempt wasn't successful. He was articulate, compassionate, revealing, and it's one of the best videos on the site."

Check it out:

The video campaign has also helped to bring attention to the Trevor Project, a hotline for at-risk LGBT youth, which uploaded a celebrity-filled message: