NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said Wednesday he’ll introduce legislation requiring colleges to adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment following the suicide of a student whose gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was broadcast online.
Lautenberg, a Democrat, made the announcement at a town meeting on the Rutgers University campus in memory of 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi.
Clementi, a promising violinist, jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on Sept. 22 after the intimate images of him with another man were webcast, and his body was identified days later.
Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another Rutgers freshman, Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invasion of privacy, and authorities are weighing whether bias crime charges should be added.
Clementi’s death has prompted a national discussion on the plight of young gay people and bullying. The Rutgers event, organized by the university and the gay rights activist group Garden State Equality, drew about 300 students and others, including U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and actress Judy Gold, a Rutgers grad.
“No one could have heard about this degradation he suffered without feeling pain themselves,” Lautenberg said. “This is a major problem, and we’re going to fix it.”
Gold expressed outrage at the pain inflicted on Clementi.
“What happened to him was not just an invasion of privacy. This was just sick,” she said.
Gold told the gathering that it was not surprising that Clementi was the victim of bullying, 1010 WINS’ Terry Sheridan reported.
“Because being bullied because you’re gay is the last acceptable form of bullying. Because bullies see gay people being thrown out of the military. They see gay people fighting tooth and nail for basic civil human rights,” Gold said.
“What we need to encourage, what we need to engage in this dialogue is decent moral citizenship — one based on tolerance,” Sen. Menendez said.
CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported that in the crowd Wednesday were students, teachers and members of the lesbian and gay community a taking a stand against the bullying.
Many shared their personal stories — including parents of teens being bullied for being gay, or teen victims themselves.
“That could have been me,” said Corey Bernstein, a sophomore at the Hudson School in Hoboken, N.J.
Bernstein recalled his own harassment and bullying in grade school to the point he wanted to commit suicide.
“I never understood why I was harassed and made fun of for all those years…eventually I realized.. it was because I’m gay,” Bernstein said.
Lautenberg said his bill would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to create policies prohibiting harassment of any student. Such policies are not currently required by federal law, he said. The bill also would provide funding for schools to establish programs to deter harassment of students.
State Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle is also co-sponsoring pending anti-bully legislation that’s based on the findings of a state panel released last year.
“If bullying was recognized as a highly destructive practice, not just a marginal disciplinary infraction,” Huttle told WCBS 880 reporter Paul Murnane. “We would have coordinators and specialists.”
Huttle says the proposal would set statewide standards, as compared to current plans that vary from district to district.
Clementi’s family has said little. In a statement last week, it said it hoped the tragedy would “serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity.”
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