Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Iowa Students Respond to the Death of Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr.

Des Moines, Iowa– April 18 – Iowa Pride Network’s Leadership Team, made up of high school and college students from across Iowa issued a statement today regarding the tragic death of 14 year-old Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr. of Primghar, Iowa.
The death of 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn Jr. is heartbreaking. Kenneth’s classmates began to bully him at his South O'Brien High School and online after he came out earlier this year. As lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied (LGBTA) students, we are heartbroken that this persecution and tragedy has taken place. Many are outraged and are asking the question, why is this happening? How could this happen here?

From what we know, Kenneth frequently experienced verbal harassment and cyber-bullying. According to reports, Kenneth’s sister Kayla Weishuhn, a sophomore, stated "A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything." Unfortunately, what Kenneth experienced in school and online is not uncommon, as Iowa Pride Network’s School Climate Survey reveals:

• 78.4% of Iowa LGBT students report being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation
• 93% of Iowa LGBT students are more likely to have considered suicide if they were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation
• 59% of Iowa LGBT students are more likely to report having considered suicide if cyber-bullied because of their sexual orientation

This tragedy has shown the need for our peers to stand up for one another—to care for one another—to realize the cost of silence is the lives of our generation. As young people, we need to vocalize what is happening in our schools and communities.

We have the power to make things better. We must stop bullying in that classroom, at that desk, in that lunchroom, and on that playground. If there is bullying, we must report it to school officials. If you are being bullied or harassed, you are not alone. Iowa Pride Network is a resource for you and so is The Trevor Project, a confidential hotline where you can talk with a trained counselor by calling 1-866-488-7386.

As the details of this tragedy become clear, it is our hope that the lessons learned will create an environment where all students are treated with dignity and respect and where all students feel safe. Our hearts and thoughts go out to Kenneth’s family.

Benjamin Alley, University of Iowa                                                   
Hollie Wilson, Southeast Polk High School
Sean Hernandez, University of Iowa                                               
Dane Buchholz, Iowa State University 
Alan Toussaint, University of Iowa
Joy Dannelly, Roosevelt High School                                               
Nicholas Muntz, University of Iowa                                            
Brittany Banks, Waldorf College
Stephen Boatwright, DMACC                                                           
Sara Puffer, University of Iowa

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