Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Urgent Message for the Franklin Area School District - Franklin, PA

Franklin High School Principal George Forster and the Franklin Area School District Board should be forced to watch this video every morning until they adequately address the bullying and discrimination that has plagued the area for far too long.

The Bullying of Seth Walsh: Requiem for a Small-Town Boy
By Bryan Alexander / Tehachapi

Time Magazine:

Eleven-year-old Shawn Walsh paid a poignant tribute to the brother, just two years older, he had lost. Gripping a microphone as he stood at the altar of the First Baptist Church in Tehachapi, Calif., Shawn joshed that his brother could be "a pain in the butt" at times but that Seth was "the best big brother in the world — no, the galaxy." Wearing a yellow (Seth's favorite color) plaid shirt, Shawn then, without mentioning the word, made a heartbreaking reference to bullying, the specter at the heart of his family's mourning for his openly gay brother. "I always wanted to protect him," said Shawn, as sobs broke out in the church. "I just wish people could have been nice to him like my mom taught me."

People were not always nice to 13-year-old Seth Walsh. Neither his valiant younger brother Shawn nor the rest of his family could protect him from what they insist was chronic teasing. Even before Seth came out as gay, family and friends say, he was perpetually picked on for his mannerisms and his style of dressing. The bullying turned Seth Walsh to suicide, one of a spate of such deaths across the U.S. in the past two weeks. (See what happens when bullying goes criminal.)

On Sept. 19, his single mother Wendy found him unconscious; he had tried to hang himself from a tree in his backyard after another apparent bullying incident. He lingered on life support for more than a week. His death has since shattered emotions in this rural community 120 miles (190 km) north of Los Angeles. Close to 600 townspeople crammed into First Baptist on Friday, Oct. 1, to remember the teen who loved Pokémon, adored french fries above all other food and had an obsession with disco music. The church was so crowded that Pastor Ron Barker had mourners sit on the floor along the entire length of the middle aisle so everyone could find room inside the church. Still, many mourners gave up trying to enter. "Seth had friends that even this building could not contain," Barker said, smiling even as he knew the crowds in the church were a clear building violation. "My prayer for today is that the fire people don't show up."

Seth's beautician mother Wendy, 44, did not speak at the service. ("It's hard," she told TIME afterward. "It's hard for everyone.") Wearing a black polka-dot dress, she occasionally wept into the shoulder of her father Jim, 65, who was seated next to Seth's two brothers (Shane, 17, and Shawn) and sister (Amanda, 18). But Wendy wrote a eulogy that the pastor read. It began with a story about Seth placing a freshly picked spring flower in offering to his late dog Kelly, whom the family had just buried. "After giving the flower to Kelly, he went back to the family of flowers and gave an offering to the flowers for sacrificing one of their own members," Barker read. "He was a blessing to us and all who knew him, a lesson to the world on how to treat one another." (See the case of Matthew Shepard.)

The pastor told TIME that the focus of the service was "going to be on Seth and his life, not on the bullying, and not on the homosexuality." But both subjects were clearly in evidence at the service. As part of a photo montage displayed on the white walls behind the altar, Seth was shown happily wearing a plastic tiara on his head. The next frame featured the word bullying with a red slash through it.

Seth's grandparents insist their grandson knew from an early age that he was gay. "Wendy did everything humanly possible to help him understand his world and to support him," Jim Walsh, a retired school principal, told TIME. "And so did his brothers and sister." But it was something young Seth had trouble accepting. "Initially he wanted to have a girlfriend," says grandmother Judy Walsh, a retired schoolteacher. "He wasn't happy with his orientation. He read the Bible a lot. This was not the way he wanted to live his life, but that's what he was dealt with."

Even before he came out, he was teased enough, his grandparents say, that he was homeschooled on two separate occasions. His best friend, Jamie Phillips, says Seth, who told friends he was gay last year, was harassed long before: "Since it was a rumor that went around, everyone thought he was gay." "He started getting teased by the fourth and fifth grade," says Judy Walsh. "By sixth grade, the kids were starting to get mean. By the seventh grade, he was afraid to walk home from school because he was afraid he would get harassed. As he was walking by a classroom, a kid yelled out, 'Queer.' Stuff like that."

The bullying took every form. "It was eye to eye, over the telephone, personal, over the Internet," says Judy. "He spent a lot of his life frightened." Seth's grandparents say the breaking point came after what they believe was a bullying incident in a local park on Sept. 19. After the incident, Seth appeared to be acting normally at home. He then showered and asked to borrow a pen from his mother to write. Then he said he was going to play with the dogs in the backyard. His horrified mother found him later at the tree and fought to save her child even though she suspected it was futile. "Wendy told me, when she put him on the ground, she knew his soul was gone," said Jim. The medical response teams did their best to revive him, heliporting Seth to the county's trauma center, where he remained on life support before dying Sept. 27.

Tehachapi police declined to discuss specifics of what they say is an ongoing investigation of the incident. Police Sergeant Kevin Paille did confirm that police were looking into possible instances of "bullying or hazing" centered on Walsh's sexuality. "We're trying to get a clear picture of the totality of the situation," he said.

The boy's death has left his grief-stricken family trying to find the positive in the tragedy. Jim Walsh points out that Seth's organs were donated following his death; a child in Los Angeles was saved after receiving Seth's heart. Meanwhile, the town has used the incident to preach understanding, this time with the nation as a stage. "We're just podunk Tehachapi," says Judy Walsh. "I don't expect to get calls from Ellen ... [she pauses to work on the name] ... DeGeneres or 60 Minutes. The biggest regret is that this didn't happen before Seth's death." As Wendy wrote in her eulogy: "Seth is doing what he always wanted to do — to promote love."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stoning Gays - A "Bible-Believing Christian" Act?

The Murder of Murray Seidman and Hate Crimes

Harrisburg: This past January, a 70-year-old man was stoned to death by a younger friend who alleged the victim made unwanted sexual advances. According to authorities, 28-year-old John Thomas of Lansdowne said he killed Murray Seidman because the Old Testament refers to stoning gay people.

Equality Pennsylvania reaches out with condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Seidman. We offer our sincere support for your loss. The media has reported that he lived a dignified life as an independent man who overcame the challenges of being developmentally disabled, who worked long hours and offered his friendship and a good word to everyone he met. Like so many tragedies, this one is senseless; the loss of Mr. Seidman is one that will be felt by many and hopefully will be recognized for what it is by law enforcement and the LGBT community - a brutal and gruesome crime motivated by the real or perceived notion of the victim’s sexuality.

It is impossible for Equality Pennsylvania to let this moment pass by without once more calling attention to the absolute lack of hate crimes protections in Pennsylvania. Expanded hate crimes protections were passed in 2002 by the General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Governor Mark Schweiker. This law was successfully used by police officers, prosecutors and district attorneys to address a number of serious hate crimes which occurred in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately in May 2008, this law was overturned on a technicality unrelated to the substance of the law itself.

For those who would claim that all crimes are driven by hate, let them pay special attention to the killer's distinct and stated motivation in this heinous act. Surely, nothing could be clearer than the fact that this man was targeted because he was perceived to be both gay and an easy target due to his mental disability.

Certainly compassionate people - especially those with the power to change the law to protect all Pennsylvanians - can come to the honorable conclusion that Murray Seidman's death was not something that can be easily brushed aside as just another murder. Rather, it was a malicious act motivated by vicious anti-LGBT hatred.

Equality Pennsylvania calls for those in power to use the clarity of this tragic moment to produce a positive result and once again enact a strong hate crimes law that says no individual should be targeted in a violent way for who they are or who they love.

In Pennsylvania, we need a strong Hate Crimes law which adds back into the Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act” the same protected classes that were signed into the amended law in 2002 (“actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, gender, mental or physical disability, and ancestry.”).

Equality Pennsylvania is committed to that goal. Our mission is to be the
preeminent LGBT advocacy organization for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and work collaboratively to establish a comprehensive network of individuals and organizations united in securing equal rights for the LGBT community (

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bigots & Bullies: The Unholy Alliance of Newt Gingrich & the American "Family" Association

Newt Gingrich Secretly Funneled $350,000 To Anti-Gay Hate Groups Last Year

from Think Progress:

Last year, former Speaker Newt Gingrich offered his vocal support for the ultimately successful campaign to oust three of the nine Iowa Supreme Court justices who had unanimously ruled in favor of marriage equality. As Gingrich courts social conservatives while exploring a possible presidential bid, new disclosures from his camp indicate that he and his associates bankrolled more than one-third of the $850,000 campaign to remove the Iowa justices.

ThinkProgress previously reported on $200,000 that Gingrich funneled from an anonymous donor to the anti-marriage equality group Iowa for Freedom, which was also being funded by AFA Action, the political arm of the virulently anti-gay American Family Association. The Associated Press revealed yesterday that one of the cogs in Gingrich’s vast network of business enterprises and front groups, ReAL Action, provided $125,000 to AFA Action. The Des Moines Register reported this morning that ReAL Action also contributed $25,000 to yet another Iowa anti-LGBT group, the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

AFA is not only of the nation’s most prominent anti-LGBT groups, it has been officially labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As ThinkProgress has reported, the AFA is known for making incendiary comments about gays, including blaming gays for crop failure and various other biblical plagues, claiming that Hitler was gay, saying lesbians can’t be justices, equating gay sex with domestic terrorism, and equating gay sex to heroin, just to cite a few examples.

Gingrich’s tacit support for these radical views would not seem to be in question, as his spokesman went to great pains to explain that the grant to AFA Action was for “general support,” noting:

“We leave up to the groups receiving the money to determine how they would spend the money."

While those who fought to retain the Iowa justices question why Gingrich had previously kept his financial support for the anti-LGBT groups secret and is only now acknowledging it as his possible 2012 bid ramps up, Gingrich’s spokesman said that there was no connection between his support for the Iowa groups and his possible presidential ambitions. This assertion seems highly questionable considering the leader of last year’s anti-marriage equality campaign against the three justices, Bob Vander Plaats, is an Iowa political kingmaker who now heads the FAMiLY Leader, a radical anti-LGBT organization that is hosting an ongoing Presidential Lecture Series that ThinkProgress has been attending and reporting on. Gingrich himself is scheduled to appear before the group on July 11.

And while some have pointed out that Gingrich’s multiple patriotism-inspired adulterous affairs might present a problem for socially conservative GOP primary voters, Gingrich-funded Vander Plaats seems unconcerned. He told the Los Angeles Times that Gingrich “had won over pastors in [Iowa] with his ‘open and transparent’ approach” and that Christian conservatives “understand that we all fall short of the standards” they set for themselves.

It remains to be seen whether Gingrich’s funding of virulently anti-LGBT hate groups will pay political dividends outside the small group of overwhelmingly white, socially-conservative voters that determine the winner of the Iowa caucuses.