NEW YORK, April 3, 2009 - The parents of an Ohio boy who took his own life two years ago after enduring constant anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) bullying and harassment are suing Mentor High School in hopes the school will implement an effective and comprehensive anti-bullying program.
According to the lawsuit filed last week in federal court, classmates targeted 17-year-old Eric Mohat with taunts such as "gay," "fag," "queer" and "homo," often in front of teachers, but the school did next to nothing to address the problem.
Mohat's parents told ABC News that their son did not identify as gay.
"As a parent myself, I can't fathom surviving the pain of losing a child, or working through the rage of feeling that other adults did not take sufficient care of your child while your child was in their hands," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "But Janis and William Mohat are working to build a lasting legacy out of this tragedy, by trying to ensure that no other student has to endure what Eric did.
"Bullying and harassment are endemic problems in far too many schools, especially anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Despite this fact, far too many schools look the other way."
Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students (60.8%) who experience harassment or assault never reported the incident to the school, according to the GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students. The most common reason given was that they didn't believe anything would be done to address the situation. Of those who did report the incident, nearly a third (31.1%) said the school staff did nothing in response.
Anti-LGBT taunts are also widely used against all students, not just LGBT-identified. Two of the top three reasons students said their peers are harassed in school are actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to the 2005 GLSEN/Harris Interactive Report, From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America.
The problem is even worse for LGBT students. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to the 2007 National School Climate Survey.
Additionally 60.8% of LGBT students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and nearly a third (32.7%) said they had missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.
GLSEN recommends four simple and effective steps that schools can implement to improve school climate and make school safer for every student.
Adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that enumerates categories such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression/identity. Enumeration is crucial to ensure that anti-bullying policies are effective for LGBT students and those targeted with anti-LGBT bullying.
Provide staff trainings to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment effectively and in a timely manner.
Support student efforts to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment on campus, such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in the National Day of Silence on April 17.
Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula to help students understand and respect difference within the school community and society as a whole.
Ohio does not specifically protect students from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia protect based on sexual orientation, and only seven and the District of Columbia protect based on gender identity/expression.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established nationally in 1995, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.