“I was picked on, I was called gay, I was called fag, I was called sissy, you name it,” he said. “Fortunately, I was able to overcome it and live through it because of a number of friends who were supportive of me.”
Aiken and Louis Van Amstel, host of the television show “Dancing with the Stars,” joined parents Sirdeaner Walker of Massachusetts and Tammy Aaberg of Minnesota in making an impassioned plea for lawmakers to pass the two bills. Sirdeaner and Aaberg’s sons took their own lives earlier this year due to anti-gay bullying.
“Over the past few months I have heard so many stories about other youth who were suffering,” said Walker, who lost her 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker, who hanged himself in his bedroom with an electrical cord.
“Too many of our children are being tormented in schools – and not enough of our adults are doing the right thing and teaching respect for all. Enough is enough,” she said.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, also spoke at the briefing, calling on their colleagues to support the legislation.
“No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied,” Franken told those gathered for the event, held in a committee hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building. “We must address bullying and harassment in schools in the next Congress.”
Polis, who is gay, said school bullying affects students living in both Republican and Democratic leaning states, saying he would work with his colleagues on both sides of the political isle to push for passage of the legislation.
Franken and Casey cited recent cases of suicides due to anti-gay bullying in their home states. Casey introduced to the briefing Joey Kemmerling, a high school student in Bucks County, Pa., near Philadelphia, who helped form an anti-bullying group as well a Gay-Straight Alliance organization at his school.
“I came out in eighth grade and ever since then I have been bullied every day,” Kemmerling told the briefing. “There’s not been a day that has gone by where I have not heard the word faggot, queer or fairy or told that I was not human.”
GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said she was hopeful that Congress would act on the two bills next year despite reports by Capitol Hill observers that the new Republican controlled House of Representatives would block all LGBT-supportive legislation.
“They currently have bipartisan support in this Congress,” Byard said. “And I think just as children’s safety, it’s not a gay or straight issue, it is not a Republican or Democratic issue.”
The Safe Schools Improvement Act requires schools receiving federal funds to develop policies to prohibit bullying based on race, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It has 130 co-sponsors in the House and 15 cosponsors in the Senate.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act calls for providing protections to students who are targeted for bullying, harassment and discrimination based on their “actual or perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity. It currently has 127 cosponsors in the House and 30 cosponsors in the Senate.
Franken said he has proposed that the Student Non-Discrimination Act be incorporated as an amendment to legislation reauthorizing the longstanding and highly popular Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which Congress is scheduled to vote on next year.
Top photo: Singer Clay Aiken, who gained fame on ‘American Idol’ and came out as gay after becoming a father, recounted being called anti-gay slurs as a child and urged Congress to pass a law to stop harassment of LGBT students. (Publicity photo)