On Wednesday, May 28th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray gave the opening remarks at the Pride Foundation's annual Scholarship Reception in Seattle. Senator Murray discussed her ongoing efforts to address issues facing LGBTQ youth in the education system, including her Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014, aimed at curbing harassment and bullying at colleges and universities.
Following is the full text of Senator Murray's remarks, as prepared:
-Thank you Seth for that very kind introduction.
-And thank you to Kris and the Pride Foundation for inviting me to speak with you here this evening.
-I see so many friends and familiar faces here tonight.
-And it makes me so proud to represent a state that can bring this many people together - year after year, from all over the Pacific Northwest - to recognize our outstanding LGBTQ and ally students.
-Since 1985, Pride Foundation has been doing exemplary work to ensure students who have been stigmatized or isolated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity feel welcome.
-As we know, many students lack critical family, financial, and community support.
-And too often those with excellent potential give up because they do not believe success is possible.
-So I'd like to just take a minute to tell you the story of a young man named Kris, whose life could have taken a very different turn had he not found this type of support during a very trying time in his life.
-Kris would be the first to tell you he hasn't led the easiest of lives.
-After turning 18 - and aging out of the Texas foster care system - Kris found himself homeless in Houston, sleeping on whatever park bench or apartment roof was available that evening.
-As luck would have it, one night while Kris was searching for a public restroom to use, he stumbled upon an admissions fair for the University of Houston's downtown campus.
-Kris always had ambitions to attend college, but because of his unstable childhood and minimal income, pursuing higher education was never a priority.
-But once he learned tuition for the school was waived for foster system alumni, this dream seemed more like a reality and Kris decided to enroll.
-After declaring his major in social work, Kris settled into college life, making friends and participating in extracurricular activities on campus.
-In fact, Kris was so involved that one of his good friends, Isaac, invited him to be his running mate for the upcoming student government election.
-Excited about this idea, Kris realized this was his opportunity to make a real difference for many of the students on campus who had been through some of the same trying experiences he had.
-So Kris and Isaac kicked off their campaign in pursuit of elected office.
-Then one day - in fact, one year ago this month - Kris was called into the Dean of Student's office.
-Kris sat down as the Dean reached into his briefcase and pulled out a stack of papers with Kris's photo on each and every one of them - with a big X across his picture.
-In big, bold letters across the top of the flyer it read: WANT AIDS? - with a question mark at the end.
-And across the bottom it read: Don't Support the Isaac and Kris Homosexual Agenda.
-And on the back of the flyers - unbelievably - was a copy of Kris's official medical records, displaying in plain view that Kris was HIV positive.
-I know, I was just as stunned as you are when Kris sat down and told me this story.
-The Dean then informed Kris that these were found all over campus.
-And, as if the situation couldn't get any worse, the Dean told Kris there was nothing the university administration could do about it.
-At one point Kris said the administration even accused HIM of being responsible for these acts.
-Kris was told the administration's sole responsibility was simply just to inform him of what was going on.
-Nothing more - just making sure he knew what had happened.
-Kris was told that words like -homosexual' and -AIDS' were proper terms, as well as protected speech, and therefore not grounds for punishment.
-Kris was devastated.
-He didn't attend class for weeks and weeks after that.
-His friends and loved ones started to seriously worry about his well-being.
-In the meantime, word of this incident - and Kris's status as HIV positive - spread like wildfire across campus.
-And while Kris had been out to a small group of friends - there was no going back once the local papers picked up on the story, eventually circulating in the national media.
-Thankfully, Kris's heartbreaking story has a happy ending.
-Kris and Isaac won their election and Kris served a term as the student body vice president.
-Kris then moved on to serve in a different, but similar capacity.
-And that was as a Congressional intern in my Washington, D.C. office last semester.
-Unfortunately, Kris had to return to school to finish up his degree, but - as I have told him several times - he has left a lasting impact not only on me and my office, but on the future of our LGBTQ and ally students as well.
-That is because back in March - with Kris standing there with me on the Senate floor - I reintroduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014.
-As many of you know, this bill is named after Tyler Clementi - an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University.
-In 2010, without his knowledge, Tyler's roommate streamed video footage on the internet of Tyler in his dorm room, being intimate with another male.
-After his roommate and another student invaded his privacy in such a serious way, and continued to harass him over the Internet, Tyler leapt off the George Washington Bridge - taking his own life.
-When I was thinking about introducing the bill, I sat down and spoke with Kris and he told me how his story was very close to ending just like Tyler's.
-Fortunately, he was able to lean on the campus LGBTQ community for support during this trying time, but he said QUOTE -If I hadn't reached out to the community, I probably wouldn't be here today. Every day going to school felt like a battlefield.'
-Quite shockingly - despite statistics telling us LGBTQ students are nearly twice as likely to experience harassment when compared to their heterosexual peers - there is no federal requirement that colleges and universities have policies to protect their students from harassment.
-And that's why I feel so strongly about this legislation.
-Unfortunately, as you all know, there are so many others like Kris who don't have that point of contact on campus or a supportive parent or network like the Pride Foundation, who will help them get through these experiences.
-But being here in this room tonight - with all the volunteers, advocates, parents, mentors and students - talking to you and hearing your incredible stories, I am so encouraged and hopeful for our future.
-It's getting better - and it's happening quickly.
-People like you are truly turning the tide - as we saw in Oregon and Pennsylvania last week - and I thank you for standing up and speaking out.
-And here in Washington state, schools like UW and Western Washington have already adopted policies to address campus bullying.
-But as you know, we can't leave it up to chance.
-We need bills like the Tyler Clementi Act and ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] to combat discrimination in all walks of life.
-So I just want to once again applaud the great work you all are doing day in and day out to not only support LGBTQ and ally students in their academic endeavors, but also by creating a strong foundation for an even brighter future.
-And of course, my deepest congratulations to all the scholarship recipients here today.
-I look forward to seeing all they will accomplish in the coming years.
-I am so proud to be your partner in the United States Senate.'
Courtesy of the Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!