Gay bullying has been an acknowledged problem for years but has recently come to the forefront of America's awareness due to an increase in suicide among young gay males.
The University of Tennessee in Knoxville is doing its part to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) bullying by providing several organizations on campus, such as the LGBT & Ally Resource Center, that share information for the LGBT community.
"Tragic events like this raise that awareness and get people actually caring and thinking about these matters." - Andrew Morse, Graduate Assistant, LGBT & Ally Resource Center,"I took part in a committee that helped to design the curriculum," Morse said. "We have various campus professionals who are supportive, empathetic about issues of lack of inclusiveness, alienation, things like that on campus and are actually going to combat it with education."
The UT Safe Zone is a place where any person in the LGBT or questioning community may go for support. Participants display a Safe Zone symbol in recognition of their commitment to providing equal opportunities for the growth, education and safety of everyone.
LGBT youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youth. According to a report from the National Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, 30 percent of all youth suicides are related to sexual identity.
Morse said that the recent suicides in the LGBT community are tragic but also bring attention to an ongoing problem.
"Tragic events like this raise that awareness and get people actually caring and thinking about these matters," Morse said.
"An open affirmation of the LGBT experience at the university would be wonderful coming from the administration, coming from faculty, from staff." -Elliott DeVore, UT Senior and LGBT Advocate A study in 2005 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) shed light on the issue. 60 percent of students' aged 13-18 had been verbally or physically abused due to race, disability, gender, orientation, sexual expression or religion. Over half of these incidences were based on sexual orientation alone.
"Leaders, educators, parents, and friends aren't going to have that awareness or reach out to people because they just maybe aren't aware and thinking about [bullying issues]," Morse said.
Elliott DeVore, a senior psychology major at UT, is active in the LGBT campus organizations.
"An open affirmation of the LGBT experience at the university would be wonderful coming from the administration, coming from faculty, from staff," DeVore said. "It would open the doors for a more welcoming environment."
Homemade videos on social websites like YouTube have gone viral with their messages of hope for individuals who may be afraid to speak out. Both DeVore and Morse want everyone, whether LGBT or not, to know that they are not alone.
"You may seem alone; you're not alone. There are lots of other people. Reach out. Come to the Resource Center, that's what it's here for," DeVore said. "Talk to somebody."
"Recognize that you yourself have the power to make a difference in someone else's reality." - Andrew Morse"Recognize that you yourself have the power to make a difference in someone else's reality," Morse said. "Even the smallest actions make a huge difference in the lives of other people."
LGBT bullying is not a new problem. Surveys and studies have been conducted on anti-LGBT bullying for over 25 years. About 90 percent of students who identify themselves as LGBT have been bullied in the past year. Around 66 percent were verbally abused, 16 percent were physically harassed and 8 percent were assaulted.