Thursday, October 7, 2010

Celebrities Team Up for Anti-Bullying Campaigns

In September, five teenage boys killed themselves after being physically or verbally (or both) assaulted for being gay. The suicides of Tyler Clementi, 18, Billy Lucas, 15, Asher Brown, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15, and Seth Walsh, 13, have brought national attention to the epidemic of bullying in American schools.

Now, a number of stars, many of whom have personal experience with anti-gay bullying, are speaking out in hopes of raising awareness and providing support to teens and young adults who are being victimized or who are having trouble dealing with their sexuality. The topic is also addressed in a cover story for this week's PEOPLE magazine and in a week-long series on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.

Most recently, 'Project Runway' mentor Tim Gunn spoke candidly about his own suicide attempt and his support for The Trevor Project, a national 24-hour, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth. "I understand the desperation. I understand the despair," an emotional Gunn said with tears in his eyes. "And I understand how isolated you can feel ... It will get better. I promise."

Following Billy Lucas' death, well-known columnist and author Dan Savage launched the "It Gets Better" campaign – a series of user-created YouTube videos in which gay adults openly discuss the torment they incurred in high school and encourage GLBT youth to stick it out because "it gets better." Clementi's death has inspired an overwhelming response to the campaign, which has since been flooded with videos from men and women across the world sharing their stories.

"When a gay teenager commits suicide, it's because he can't picture a life for himself that's filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for," Savage told MTV a week after Clementi's death. "So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there's a life worth sticking around for after high school."

Savage's "It Gets Better" message has seemingly become the rallying cry around which a movement against anti-gay bullying has centered, with Anne Hathaway, Jenny McCarthy, Ian Somerhalder and Kristin Cavallari recording a PSA for The Trevor Project that uses the motto. 'Harry Potter' star Daniel Radcliffe also recently spoke to MTV about the importance of the Trevor Project.

TV stars Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris have also spoken out against anti-gay bullying. "This needs to be a wake up call to everyone ... One life lost in this senseless way is tragic; four lives lost is a crisis," DeGeneres said in an emotional message taped on the set of her daytime talk show. "My heart is breaking for their families, for their friends and for our society that continues to let this happen. These kids needed us, and we have an obligation to change this. We can't let intolerance and ignorance to take another kid's life."

Harris, who is openly gay and will welcome twins via surrogate with his partner of over six years, actor David Burtka, this fall, pleaded with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth to focus on their futures, which he sees as bright and full of possibility. "For the love of Pete, there's no need to harm yourself if something is going bad. You can act with strength, you can act with courage, you can act with class," Harris said in the MTV PSA. "Stand tall, be proud of who you are. This is a good time that we live in, and we're being granted more and more rights. And that's awesome, and it will continue in that direction. Yeah – be proud."

Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, allegedly used a web cam in their dorm room to secretly stream a romantic encounter between Clementi and another man. Ravi's alleged behavior inspired disgust from conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly, who, when responding to analyst Gretchen Carlson's assertion on FOX News' 'The O'Reilly Factor' that Ravi and his accomplice, Molly Wei, 18, "are probably good kids who did an immensely stupid thing," said, "I don't believe that. I don't think you can be a good kid and plan that kind of stuff out in the cruel nature that they did ... I think they're bad kids. They're bad kids, and they should have been raised better."

Comedienne Sarah Silverman has inspired some controversy by positing that a national atmosphere of institutionalized homophobia, as exemplified by the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy as well as campaigns for constitutional amendments to ban civil marriage for same-sex couples, are at the heart of this epidemic.

And former NSYNC singer Lance Bass, who came out as gay on the cover of PEOPLE in 2006, surprised many when he admitted to having been a bully himself. "If people can look at me and see that I was one of those bullies that always made fun of gay people, and I had this huge secret, so there's always a bigger story than what you see."

What has been made abundantly clear -- regardless of personal opinions on the religious and/or moral implications of homosexuality -- is that there is a problem, and no child (no person) deserves to be harassed or made to feel worthless because of who they are. If you or someone you know is suffering in silence, encourage them to get help by visiting The Trevor Project or calling 866-4-U-TREVOR.

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