by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
U.S. Senator Patty Murray visited the University of Washington April 17 to discuss her newly introduced anti-bullying bill with local students and community leaders.
Murray, working with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, introduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act on March 27.
The bill would require all colleges and universities that receive federal funding in any form - in short, almost all institutions of higher education in the United States - to develop anti-bullying policies. The measure also establishes a Department of Education grant program to support campus anti-bullying programs.
In an emotional introduction, Murray told the story of one of her interns, Kristopher Sharp, who had been harassed and had his confidential medical records - including his HIV status - published after he ran for a student government position at the University of Houston.
Sharp said he was devastated by the revelation, but felt even worse after the university administration told him they would not try to catch and discipline the perpetrators.
'It seemed so horrendous to me that the university said it couldn't do anything,' Murray said shaking her head.
'By sharing that, he helped me truly understand' the problem of harassment at colleges and universities, she added.
Following Murray, several students and community members related their own experiences of harassment, and the toll it took on their mental and physical health.
Nicole Masangkay, a UW student, said she had been a valedictorian as a high school senior, but in her senior year, 'my gender expression changed,' so that teachers who had previously 'shown me off' became hostile to her.
In one incident, she remembered, a teacher confronted her in a checkout line at a local Walmart and insulted her. She still suffers from anxiety, depression, and PTSD that have twice caused her to apply for hardship withdrawals from school.
Joey Hunziker, now working on his master's degree in social policy, recounted his undergrad days at small liberal arts college where he was 'one of only three open Queers out of 2,300 students.'
'It was a very masculine campus culture,' he recalled, 'where countless micro-aggressions build up and add up to an unlivable situation.' In one incident, he said, he and a couple of friends were pelted with fruit and called 'fags' in a drive-by assault by other students.
Former Equal Rights Washington staffer Doug Hamilton added his experience as an undergrad at Arizona State University in 1981. When he heard that Senator Murray would be in town collecting stories of bullying, 'I felt compelled to come forward,' he said.
Hamilton was tricked by his dorm mates into revealing his sexual orientation and then subjected to merciless harassment, suffering a nervous breakdown as a result.
'I felt humiliated,' he said. 'Eventually I lost control of my ability to take care of myself.'
Finally he was checked into a county hospital, but escaped to the roof of an adjacent building, where he briefly considered jumping to his death.
'I'm grateful I stuck around to see what happens,' he added.
UW Q Center Director Jennifer Self added that such experiences, while horrifying, are not exceptional.
'People think Seattle is liberal and maybe things are OK here,' she said, 'but that isn't really the case.' The Q Center routinely deals with students who have been bullied, she said, and tries to offer 'a safe space - emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically safe,' for them to come to.
In response to a question about using First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom as an excuse to avoid dealing with anti-LGBT harassment, Murray said flatly, 'The bill says that if you get federal money you must have an anti-harassment policy. If you don't want to have the policy, you don't have to take the money.'
While she admitted that the bill faces an uncertain future in Congress, Murray noted that introducing the legislation and holding public events where people can share their experiences of bullying helps create a climate where the problem can be addressed.
'The LGBT community knows as well as I do - if you don't speak up nothing changes,' she said.
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