Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Religion-based Bigotry Harms Youth

by Mitchell Gold for the Washington Post:

In the past few weeks, the shocking number of suicides by gay teenagers has sparked a serious national discussion about the root causes of anti-gay harassment and bullying. Across the country, parents, school officials, legislators, religious leaders, and others are recognizing that young people are deeply harmed by the message that being gay is sinful and wrong. For the first time, many voices are calling for accountability from groups and public figures who misuse religion to justify anti-gay bigotry.

Not surprisingly, those who have made careers of promoting anti-gay views are fighting back. Last week, Tony Perkins, the director of the Family Research Council, attacked those who "lay blame at the feet of conservative Christians who teach that homosexual conduct is wrong." In a guest voices column for On Faith, Perkins cynically denied any connection between the harassment of gay youth and the belief that gay people are sinful and disordered. According to Perkins, all responsibility must be placed on the bully, and not on religious teachings that condemn homosexuality as a threat to society. Incredibly, Perkins claimed that if gay youth commit suicide, it is because they "recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal," not because of rejection by family, friends, and religious leaders.

Perkin's distortion of scientific research and callous disregard for the harm caused by his anti-gay views have been widely condemned, and rightly so. And yet the views he expressed are shared by millions of Americans of integrity and good will who genuinely love and care for their gay children and family members. For decades, anti-gay religious leaders have taught that homosexuality is not an innate aspect of a person's identity, but a sinful choice to engage in immoral and abnormal conduct. Many people of faith have been deeply influenced by those teachings and have internalized them with little thought or reflection.

But unlike professional anti-gay advocates such as Perkins, most people who hold these views are genuinely unaware of the harm they are causing to gay youth. Tragically, many well-meaning and loving parents and family members who have been exposed to these teachings mistakenly believe they are protecting a gay child by rejecting their child and doing all they can to force the child to stop being gay. As a result, many gay teens are kicked out of their homes or sent to therapists who try to change their sexual orientation because their parents have been taught their child is choosing "an immoral lifestyle." Many loving grandparents reject a gay or lesbian grandchild because their church group said they must do so "for the child's own good." Too often, young people are ostracized by their families at the very time they most need their love and support--because the families have been taught that is what God would want them to do.

In reality, however, sexual orientation is a God-given trait--not a "choice." There is not a shred of evidence it can be changed. And just as is true for heterosexual people, it is a very central and important part of one's being. When parents reject or punish a child for being gay, they are rejecting the essence of who their children are as people.

That rejection can have deadly consequences. Gay youth who are rejected or ostracized by their families are at high risk of depression, substance abuse, HIV infection, and dropping out of school. They are also at least four times more likely than other youth to commit suicide. For gay youth who are sent to a therapist who tries to change their sexual orientation, that risk is even higher. Let me emphasize, it is not their being gay that puts them at risk but rather how they are treated by their parents and clergy. And by people like Tony Perkins.

During my visits with people of faith in all parts of the country, I have spoken with Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants and Jews who have been taught that homosexuality is immoral and wrong. Almost invariably, they are surprised and concerned when they hear about the harms caused by those teachings. Many have told me they had not fully considered the impact on a gay young person of being told that he is sinful and abnormal, or that he will be cut off from God's love unless he can do the impossible and change who he is.

It is tragic that it has taken the death of so many young people in the past few weeks to focus national attention on the impact of anti-gay beliefs and the central role played by anti-gay religious leaders in promoting those beliefs. Once people of faith are made aware of these facts, they must ask themselves whether causing such severe harm to young people can exist comfortably with their deepest religious values.

True faith, compassion, and love do not ask any person to harm another human being. The past weeks have made the harm caused by anti-gay attitudes painfully clear. People of faith must ask whether they are complicit in causing such devastation and whether their beliefs give them the right to judge and condemn others--even when those beliefs may convince a young person that he would rather be dead than gay.

Mitchell Gold is co-founder of renowned home furnishings brand Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, and founder of Faith in America, a 501 C-3 non profit whose mission is to educate about the harm caused to LGBT Americans by religion based bigotry; and in 2008, published a book entitled CRISIS: 40 Personal Stories Revealing The Personal, Social and Religious Pain And Trauma Of Growing Up Gay In America.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

American 'Family' Association: Former Employees Say It's Racist, Anti-Immigrant & Rife with Other Forms of Abuse

At right, Venango County-based Diane Gramley heads the American Family Association of Pennsylvania. She has yet to publicly disavow her participation, as the featured "special guest," at a "Bible Believing Christian" event in Coudersport, PA that promoted violence against transgender people.

Former Employees: Racism & Abuse in Leading Religious Right Org

by Sarah Posner for Religion Dispatches:

Just before this year's Values Voter Summit, the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way called on Republican elected officials and candidates to condemn virulently anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements made by the American Family Association’s director of public policy, Bryan Fischer.

Fischer, who hosts a daily radio show on AFA's radio network of 180 stations, has, among other things, claimed that inbreeding causes Muslims to be stupid and violent; called for the deportation of Muslims and for banning them from military service; claimed that gay sex is "domestic terrorism"; called gay adoption a "terrible, terrible, inexcusable, inhumane thing to do to children"; and claimed that Hitler and his Stormtroopers were all gay.

No one took PFAW up on its suggestion, and AFA's founder and chairman emeritus Don Wildmon was feted at the Summit's gala with the James C. Dobson Values & Leadership Award, which declared him "one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time." At the award dinner, anti-gay marriage crusader Bishop Harry Jackson called him a "legend" and "the ultimate advocate for the kingdom of God"; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson called him "a wonderful man of God" who had a "great influence" on the culture; and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson added, "I don't think there's been a more fearless defender of righteousness and truth than Don Wildmon."

The AFA, founded by Wildmon in Tupelo, Mississippi back in 1977, was known as the National Federation for Decency until 1988. Today, along with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, it’s one of the powerhouses of the religious right. Contributions to the nonprofit exceeded $19 million last year, according to financial data made available by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. In 2008, the organization donated $500,000 in support of Proposition 8 in California, twice the amount donated by Focus on the Family, and Jackson said it gave him money for his anti-gay marriage effort in the District of Columbia. It was one of the first religious right organizations to claim a role in the Tea Party movement.

"The American Family Association is one of the oldest, largest, and most radical religious right groups, and it has always played a major role in the right wing movement's efforts to denigrate gay Americans and to convince conservative Christians that liberals are out to destroy religious liberty and silence people of faith," said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. "The AFA has also played an active role in driving the national right-wing agenda—at the so called Values Voter Summit this year, GOP leaders echoed the AFA's talking points on gays and lesbians, Islam, and the supposed persecution of American Christians."

And yet, while the AFA has long been known for its invective against the "homosexual agenda" and its boycotts of companies that fail to meet its standards of "decency," Fischer—no policy wonk, despite being director of “Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy”—has taken the public rhetoric to a new, ugly level.

According to former employees of the AFA, the views represented by Fischer are not only tolerated within the organization, but any opposition to its anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant invective—including reliance on white nativist sources in the AFA's media programs—is dismissed. What's worse, former employees say, anyone questioning such attitudes as un-Christian is denigrated, and in some cases forced out.

Former AFA employees describe Wildmon—who led the organization until just last year—as an autocratic micromanager incapable of socializing with or showing empathy for his own employees.

Since the elder Wildmon passed the presidency on to his son Tim last year, Fischer has increasingly grabbed the spotlight. According to Allie Martin, who worked as a reporter for AFA's news service from 1997 until he was fired earlier this year, "there's really nobody else there who could step into that role."

"On paper," Martin said, "Tim is in charge," and is probably the "only person who could reel him [Fischer] in." But that hasn’t happened.

Within the organization, "people may not be comfortable" with Fischer’s rhetoric, said Martin, "but they aren't going to say much about it. They are afraid to say anything about it."

"Puppies In The Corner Who Learned to Keep Our Mouths Shut"

Martha Swindle, who worked as the elder Wildmon’s secretary from 1991 until 1999, when he fired her, said that he was perceived by donors to be a "great conservative leader," and that, "while I was there, the majority of funding came from $10 and $15 donations, people who believed in what AFA stood for." Swindle, too, believed in that vision, until Wildmon started "snooping" through her desk drawers and even her trash, she believes, ultimately firing her after another employee had found an off-color joke email she had forwarded to co-workers, an act she says she now regrets.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the AFA said it was the organization's policy "not to discuss issues regarding specific former employees."

Swindle had initially believed in the AFA's mission. "I believe God used him for his vision for the ministry," she said, adding that she is a conservative who supports Focus on the Family and similar ministries, "because I do believe in that vision."

Swindle said she still supports what the AFA stands for. "But by the time I left, it was no longer God's ministry. It had become Don's ministry."

Brad Bullock, who worked for the organization for 17 years spearheading the launch of the radio station and producing the daily radio report, was forced out 3 years ago. He said he admired Wildmon and considered him a friend, but that in dismissing him, Wildmon told him, "you have a problem and you don't know it."

Bullock said the group is "too harsh on homosexuals," though if anyone voiced concerns, "they would be attacked." He described the leadership as "autocratic" and tolerant of petty gossip among employees, like spreading rumors about employees having extra-marital affairs with one another.

Bullock added that Wildmon "chastised" people for taking anti-depressants, and that "a lot of people who had problems felt like they were second class," including Bullock, who said that he suffered from depression while working at the AFA. Employees were fearful of speaking out, according to Bullock. "We were puppies in the corner who learned to keep out mouths shut."

Inside the One News Now Newsroom

The AFA's radio and news division, in particular, said Martin, had become a place where authority could not be questioned, and where the "news" was nothing more than a mouthpiece for conservative "sources" whose views were portrayed as fact. (The Values Voter Summit award citation to Wildmon described One News Now as a "respected online news service.")

And those views were extreme, even by Martin’s standards of conservative evangelicalism. He said that the director of the news service, Fred Jackson, had a "hateful, hateful attitude" that "carried over" into stories. Martin described editorial meetings in which "liberals were accused of hating their kids," while Chad Groening, who covers immigration, described gay people as "degenerates" and "reprobates."

In the newsroom, said Martin, "I saw the tone of stories develop in a way I thought was disturbing."

"They get people as news sources to say what they want to say but can't say," he added.

After Obama got elected, said Martin, "this went up to a whole new level, we have to vilify this man."

Questioning Authority="Attitude Problems"

In 2008, Jackson sent Martin an email with the subject line "attitude problems," citing scripture he said governed "a worker's attitude toward their [sic] superiors." The verses he cited included Ephesians 6:5-8 ("Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, singleness of your heart, as unto Christ") and Colossians 3:22-25 ("Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.") He closed the email with a "final warning" that "any further breaches in this area will be turned over to Brother Don."

Among the topics about which Martin had raised concerns was the news room's approach to immigration. Martin said that Groening has, for example, called undocumented immigrants "stupid," "scumbag lawbreakers" and "freeloaders." Groening believed that illegal immigration would "destroy" the country, and that "we have the best way of life, and if our borders aren't secured, this country would be destroyed."

Martin also noted that Groening had referred to Muslims as "raghead scumbag terrorists" and referred to Allah as "Satan."

According to him, Groening received a subscription to American Renaissance magazine at the office. American Renaissance is published by white nationalist Jared Taylor, and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the magazine and website "regularly feature proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black racists." Taylor's New Century Foundation, which runs the magazine, "also sponsors American Renaissance conferences every other year where racist 'intellectuals' rub shoulders with Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists."

AFA did not respond to requests to interview Jackson and Groening.

A 2005 profile of Taylor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described Taylor’s beliefs that: "black people are genetically predisposed to lower IQs than whites, [and] are sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives.” The profile went on to note that, “Race-relations expert Jared Taylor keeps company with a collection of racists, racial 'separatists' and far-right extremists."

In a 2004 article for One News Now, reprinted on the American Renaissance website, Groening relied entirely on the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) for a story claiming that FAIR, which he characterized as an "immigration reform organization," had revealed purported "voter fraud" in Wisconsin that proved that "non-citizens of the United States could decide the 2004 presidential election."

FAIR, which has been designated a hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center, is one of a network of groups founded by Michigan activist John Tanton; the SPLC describes the organized anti-immigrant movement as "almost entirely the handiwork" of Tanton. His network of groups was behind the passage of Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, and other initiatives.

The SPLC chronicled Tanton's ties to the nativist movement in a 2009 report based on his own papers, finding that:

[T]he papers in the Bentley Library show that Tanton has for decades been at the heart of the white nationalist scene. He has corresponded with Holocaust deniers, former Klan lawyers and the leading white nationalist thinkers of the era. He introduced key FAIR leaders to the president of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist group set up to encourage "race betterment" at a 1997 meeting at a private club. He wrote a major funder to encourage her to read the work of a radical anti-Semitic professor — to "give you a new understanding of the Jewish outlook on life" — and suggested that the entire FAIR board discuss the professor's theories on the Jews. He practically worshipped a principal architect of the Immigration Act of 1924 (instituting a national origin quota system and barring Asian immigration), a rabid anti-Semite whose pro-Nazi American Coalition of Patriotic Societies was indicted for sedition in 1942.

The report also detailed Tanton's admiration for Taylor, noting how he "promoted Taylor's efforts repeatedly" and encouraged FAIR employees to receive American Renaissance mailings.

Leonard Zeskind, author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, first detailed the Tanton network, including its ties with white supremacist organizations and militias, in a 2005 article in The American Prospect. Zeskind reported that Tanton wrote in 1986, "To govern is to populate . . . .Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile? . . . . As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?"

Groening continues to cite Tanton groups as authoritative, tellingly describing NumbersUSA as an "immigration reduction advocacy organization" in an August 2010 piece and citing FAIR in a story claiming that "illegal aliens" would "trump veterans at US medical offices."

Groening also praised a Mississippi immigration raid, citing the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement (MFIRE), listed on FAIR’s website as a "local group" and which is promoting an Arizona-style immigration law in Mississippi. According to a 2010 report by the SPLC, "FIRE took the lead last year in coordinating the activities of the often fractious nativist extremist movement," including launching "The Patriot Coalition, an antigovernment outfit battling 'globalism,' 'socialism' and the 'loss of National Identity and Culture.'"

The head of MFIRE, Dr. Rodney Hunt, is also treasurer of the Mississippi Tea Party. MFIRE’s tagline is "To Promote and Preserve National Sovereignty." In a recent press release, Hunt said, "We can't continue to allow the Mexican drug lords, human traffickers and terrorists organizations to enter our country at will or for illegal aliens to continue to take jobs badly needed in our state and across the nation."

Promoting white nativist views may put AFA at odds with its own allies in the religious right. In the early 2000s, Wildmon was instrumental in putting together the Arlington Group, a coalition of religious right leaders formed to fight gay marriage that also aimed to bring more African-American pastors into the fold. The AFA is also a member of the Freedom Federation, a coalition of religious right groups which described its first summit as "multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational faith-based and policy organizations and leaders committed to plan, strategize, and mobilize to advance shared core values to preserve freedom and promote justice."

Many of the prominent members of the Freedom Federation, including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Liberty Counsel, have expressed support for immigration reform.

Blessed By Americanized Christianity?

Zeskind told RD, "even though the FAIR staff would tell you they are not white nationalists, their concerns are the defense of country, the character of our country, and protection against the future when white people become the minority in a nation of minorities. . . . That's what the anti-immigrant movement is about."

Martin remarked that Groening's attitude toward immigration "goes to the heart of why a lot of the tea partiers and other Christian activists (not all of them) feel the way they do and are so upset. I believe they are afraid that their 'comfortable' lifestyle will be interrupted. They have bought into this idea of Americanized Christianity, that tells them God has blessed them, and evidence of that is their stuff and comfort."

This point of view is reflected in AFA's programming. In 2005, after Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor of Los Angeles, Jackson said on the radio, "we don't want to have two nations within our borders that can't communicate with one another... natural hostility will develop."

The following year, in an exchange between Jackson and Don Wildmon on the radio, Wildmon claimed the immigration issue was a conspiracy between "mainstream media" and "undocumented immigrants" to "weaken the red states." Jackson added, "Because we know the vast majority of mainstream journalists are liberal in their theology and in their politics, they see these people as helping to vote Democrat in the coming elections."

From Boise To Tupelo

Even before Fischer started with the AFA, Groening was hailing his anti-immigration work in Idaho, where progressives had endured years of Fischer’s vitriolic activism as head of the Idaho Values Alliance, the AFA affiliate run by Fischer, his wife, and daughter.

Leo Morales, an Immigrant Rights Organizer with the Idaho Community Action Network, said Fischer "has a very strong immigrant restrictionist perspective," and "was involved in opposing efforts around creating in-state tuition opportunities for undocumented students. He was also involved in pushing for legislation that would deny public benefits to undocumented immigrants."

According to Jody May-Chang, an independent journalist and LGBT rights advocate in Boise, while executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, Fischer hosted anti-gay activist Scott Lively, former head of AFA's California affiliate, as part of a "Shake the Nation" conference, in 2008. In his new book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, Jeff Sharlet describes Lively as a "catalyst" for the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, which calls for the death penalty for homosexuals. During a 2009 visit to Uganda, Lively likened gay people to Nazis and suggested they had instigated the Rwandan genocide. In early 2009, One News Now promoted Lively's book, Redeeming the Rainbow: A Christian Response to the Gay Agenda, as a "textbook on family values." On his radio show this year, Fischer claimed that criminalization of homosexuality was mandated by biblical law.

The Lively visit to Boise sparked a "visceral response" from the community, said May-Chang, including a letter from the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, calling on a local church hosting the conference speakers to reconsider. Rusty Thomas, also a Shake the Nation conference speaker who works with the radical anti-choice group Operation Save America, referred to the Interfaith Alliance in an online report as "the synagogue of Satan and heresy." In the report, Thomas claimed his group was "storming the gates of hell in Idaho," where they "went to the local death camp" (Planned Parenthood), and described the "sodomites" who protested outside the church where the conference was held. Thomas added that they "challenged the Church, and particularly men, to connect their testosterone with Biblical Christianity."

In an online column, Fischer defended Lively's preposterous and debunked "history" of a Nazi-gay link, claiming "the masculine homosexual movement in Germany created the Brown Shirts, and the Brown Shirts in turn created the Nazi Party." In a column earlier this year opposing repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, Fischer recycled that 2008 column, adding, "Even today in America, it is chic in some homosexual circles for individuals to wear replicas of Nazi Germany uniforms, complete with iron crosses, storm trooper outfits, military boots and even swastikas."

Speaking of Fischer, May-Chang added, "I would venture to say that he would've joined Scott Lively in Uganda if he could've." Calling him "an embarrassment to fair-minded Idahoans," May-Chang said that his writings while in Idaho made clear that he favored criminalization of homosexuality. She maintains a dossier of Fischer's radical homophobia on her website.

All three former AFA employees who spoke with RD said they were happier no longer working there. Martin has started a blog, where he hopes to spark conversation among Christians about how their message is being "presented, perceived, and received."

"I'd much rather be working in the secular world than for a ministry," said Swindle. "The secular world is nicer."

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, is RD’s associate editor and covers politics for the site. Her work has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Salon, The Washington Spectator, the religion blogs at the Washington Post and the Guardian, and other publications

Monday, October 4, 2010

Suicides Put Light on Pressures of Gay Teenagers

What has been the toll on youth in Venango County and all of Pennsylvania due to the climate of fear, ignorance and hatred stirred by the likes of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, the Catholic and other area churches, indifferent / intolerant school administrators, and all those whose hearts are too cold and closed to a just and humane world?

from The New York Times:

FRESNO, Calif. — When Seth Walsh was in the sixth grade, he turned to his mother one day and told her he had something to say.

“I was folding clothes, and he said, ‘Mom, I’m gay,’ ” said Wendy Walsh, a hairstylist and single mother of four. “I said, ‘O.K., sweetheart, I love you no matter what.’ ”

But last month, Seth went into the backyard of his home in the desert town of Tehachapi, Calif., and hanged himself, apparently unable to bear a relentless barrage of taunting, bullying and other abuse at the hands of his peers. After a little more than a week on life support, he died last Tuesday. He was 13.

The case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a sexual encounter with another man was broadcast online, has shocked many. But his death is just one of several suicides in recent weeks by young gay teenagers who had been harassed by classmates, both in person and online.

The list includes Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Greensburg, Ind., who hanged himself on Sept. 9 after what classmates reportedly called a constant stream of invective against him at school.

Less than two weeks later, Asher Brown, a 13-year-old from the Houston suburbs, shot himself after coming out. He, too, had reported being taunted at his middle school, according to The Houston Chronicle. His family has blamed school officials as failing to take action after they complained, something the school district has denied.

The deaths have set off an impassioned — and sometimes angry — response from gay activists and caught the attention of federal officials, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who on Friday called the suicides “unnecessary tragedies” brought on by “the trauma of being bullied.”

“This is a moment where every one of us — parents, teachers, students, elected officials and all people of conscience — needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms,” Mr. Duncan said.

And while suicide by gay teenagers has long been a troubling trend, experts say the stress can be even worse in rural places, where a lack of gay support services — or even openly gay people — can cause a sense of isolation to become unbearable.

“If you’re in the small community, the pressure is hard enough,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which is based in New York. “And goodness knows people get enough signals about ‘how wrong it is to be gay’ without anyone in those communities actually having to say so.”

According to a recent survey conducted by Ms. Byard’s group, nearly 9 of 10 gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual middle and high school students suffered physical or verbal harassment in 2009, ranging from taunts to outright beatings.

In Mr. Clementi’s case, prosecutors in New Jersey have charged two fellow Rutgers freshmen with invasion of privacy and are looking at the death as a possible hate crime. Prosecutors in Cypress, Tex., where Asher Brown died, said Friday that they would investigate what led to his suicide.

In a pair of blog postings last week, Dan Savage, a sex columnist based in Seattle, assigns the blame to negligent teachers and school administrators, bullying classmates and “hate groups that warp some young minds and torment others.”

“There are accomplices out there,” he wrote Saturday.

In an interview, Mr. Savage, who is gay, said he was particularly irate at religious leaders who used “antigay rhetoric.”

“The problem is that kids are being exposed to this rhetoric, and then they go to the school and there’s this gay kid,” he said. “And how are they going to treat this gay kid who they’ve been told is trying to destroy their family? They’re going to abuse him.”

In late September, Mr. Savage began a project on YouTube called “It Gets Better,” featuring gay adults talking about their experiences with harassment as adolescents.

In one video, a gay man named Cyrus tells of his life as a closeted teenager in a small town in upstate New York.

“The main thing I wanted to come across from this video is how different my life is, how great my life is, and how happy I am in general,” he says.

Glennda Testone, the executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City, said their youth programs serve about 50 young people a day, often suffering from “bullying, harassment or even violence.”

“The three main groups of pivotal figures are family, friends and their schoolmates,” she said. “And if they’re feeling isolated and like they can’t tell those people, it’s going to be a very rough ride.”

Here in Fresno, in California’s conservative Central Valley, groups like Equality California have been more active in trying to establish outreach offices, particularly after an election defeat in 2008, when California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

In Tehachapi, in Kern County south of here, more than 500 mourners attended a memorial on Friday for Seth Walsh. One of those, Jamie Elaine Phillips, a classmate and friend, said Seth had long known he was gay and had been teased for years.

“But this year it got much worse,” Jamie said. “People would say, ‘You should kill yourself,’ ‘You should go away,’ ‘You’re gay, who cares about you?’ ”

Richard L. Swanson, superintendent of the local school district, said his staff had conducted quarterly assemblies on behavior, taught tolerance in the classroom and had “definite discipline procedures that respond to bullying.”

“But these things didn’t prevent Seth’s tragedy,” he said in an e-mail. “Maybe they couldn’t have.”

For her part, Ms. Walsh said she had complained about Seth’s being picked on but did not want to cast blame, though she hoped his death would teach people “not to discriminate, not be prejudiced.”

“I truly hope,” she said, “that people understand that.”