Thursday, May 31, 2007

Students converge at State Capitol; share experiences of harassment and bullying with Lt. Governor

Gay and straight students appeal to lawmakers for protections from harassment and bullying

DES MOINES— Lt. Governor Sally Pederson joined high school and college students at a press conference at the State Capitol today to appeal for safe school policies that would protect students from abuse. The press conference coincided with the Iowa Pride Network College Coalition’s first Student Day at the Capitol. The students meeting with the Lt. Governor revealed how they have personally faced discrimination in their schools due to their sexual orientation.

“Bullying is a form of abuse that no child should have to experience and we need to send the message that such behavior is unacceptable and will be punished,” Pederson said. “Passing anti-bullying legislation is the first step toward making Iowa’s schools safe havens for kids. All students should have the opportunity to live and learn free of harassment so that they can perform to their full potential in the classroom.”

High school students detailed their experiences as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) individual in Iowa schools. Emily Frerichs, a senior at MOC-Floyd-Valley High School in Orange City, explained how her grades slipped because of harassment and having to change in a separate locker room for gym class. “I felt degraded and humiliated and like I was less of a person. I heard several times that people were considering vandalizing my home and car. Now wherever I go, I don't feel safe unless all my car-doors are locked.”

Robert Hayes, a junior at North Tama High School stated that after coming-out, “My life was threatened by a bully. He said that he would trash my car and pound my face in. Unfortunately I had the same bully in my gym class. There were times were I felt like just walking out of the gym and leaving school and not coming back.”

Sara Henriksen, a senior at Waterloo West High School described how she received hate mail in her locker. “As I opened the first note I stood there dumbfounded. I didn't want to believe what I was looking at. On the piece of paper was a picture of Matthew Shepard. His face was in flames and it read "you will perish like Matt Shepard." I then opened the next letter which detailed all the ways a person could, as they say, "take care of a fag." The note listed in detail step by step ways to kill a person.”

Rachel Johnson, UNI student and coalition member stated, “LGBT students are being specifically singled out and targeted for persistent harassment. Therefore, specific legislation protecting LGBT students from the ongoing harassment is vital to ensuring that LGBT students have an equal access to a quality education.”

A recent survey by the Iowa Pride Network revealed that these students’ stories are not just rare occurrences: 92.3% of LGBT students reported hearing homophobic remarks frequently in their schools, 83.3% reported being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 61.2% do not feel safe at school because of their sexual orientation.

The College Coalition brings university and college LGBT student groups together to strengthen LGBT organizations, work to put a human face on the type of adversity that many LGBT youths face, and promote social and political solutions.

The coalition brings together students from numerous Iowa cities, colleges and high schools:

29 cities: Altoona, Ames, Ankeny, Cedar Falls, Clear Lake, Clutier, Council Bluffs, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, Gilbertsville, Grimes, Grinnell, Hubbard, Independence, Indianola, Iowa City, Lamoni, Le Mars, Marshalltown, Melcher, Newton, Orange City, Pella, Pleasant Hill, Rowley, Storm Lake, West Des Moines and Waterloo.

11 Colleges: Buena Vista University, Central College, Drake University, Graceland University, Iowa State University, Loras College, Luther College, Simpson College, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Waldorf College and Wartburg College.

14 High Schools: Cedar Falls High School, GrinneIl High School, Independence High School, Lewis Central High School, Marshalltown Senior High School, Melcher-Dallas High School, Meredith Middle School, MOC-Floyd-Valley High School, Newton High School, North Tama High School, Roosevelt High School, Saydel High School, Southeast Polk High School, Waterloo West High School