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October is National Bullying Prevention month, and unfortunately the themed awareness month is timelier than ever. Over the past few weeks, there’s been a rise in media coverage on teenage suicide associated with bullying, particularly amongst young gay teenagers. Most recently much of the press has been surrounding the untimely death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after being harassed by his school mates, resulting in the fourth suicide of this nature in the past month. According to a recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, nearly 9 out of 10 G.L.B.T. youth suffered physical or verbal harassment in 2009, and we are talking about anything from teasing to full scale beatings. Furthermore, the suicide rate amongst G.L.B.T. teens are reportedly four times the rate of straight teens.

While all of these figures are extremely disturbing, we also know that bullying is occurring to many children across our country for many reasons (or conversely for no reason at all) beyond their sexual orientation. According to the Department of Health and Human Services bullying-prevention campaign, studies show that 15–25 percent of U.S. students are bullied with some frequency. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recently designated bullying as a national health crisis.

If the numbers are this severe, what is being done to actually prevent bullying or help bullying prevention programs on the state and federal level?

Currently there are 45 states with “anti-bullying” laws. The comprehensiveness of each of these state statutes varies. However, in many cases, these laws mandate that bullying will not be tolerated on school property (including school buses), as well as issuing provisions that involve the integration of anti-bullying curriculum for teachers, staff, and students. Of particular interest as of late, and in keeping with the rising popularity of social media sites, is the increase in incidences of cyberbullying. About 30 states currently have measures that mention some kind of electronic harassment in their laws, but only a handful address “cyberbullying” specifically. Massachusetts, which recently passed their anti-bullying law this past May, has gotten particularly good grades from anti-bullying advocates including local G.L.B.T. groups, who applauded the strict bill even without specific language regarding harassment based on sexual orientation.

As far as support goes on the federal level, The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSC) was passed as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). This part of NCLB created specific federal funding to promote school safety, however it does not specifically address bullying or harassment in schools. A number of bills were introduced in the 111th Congress to amend SDFSC: Senator’s Casey’s S.3739, Rep. Danny Davis’ H.R.5184, and Rep. Linda Sanchez’ H.R.2262. Rep. Elliot Engel also introduced a resolution H.CON.RES.92 , which honors the principles and objectives of the “Day of Silence” in bringing attention to the harassment of G.L.B.T. youth. All of these bills are still pending in their respective committees. First Focus only hopes that next Congress, each of these bills is reintroduced, and eventually pass both chambers. We also urge local, state, and federal governments to pass or amend comprehensive anti-bullying legislation to include zero tolerance measures, grants for school-community culture development that rejects bullying, parent/family engagement (bullying is sometimes also rooted in the home, and partnerships with community organizations and law enforcement that have an expertise in bullying.

There is an almost overwhelming amount of information available out there on anti-bullying campaigns, but here are a number of websites that serve as excellent resources:

Also, a number of media outlets are currently launching a number of anti-bullying campaigns this month that are worth checking out: