Why Are Kevin Jennings + GLSEN Completely Silent On September’s 5 Gay Bullying Suicides?


Somehow Dave Navarro, the guitarist of Jane’s Addiction, has managed to beat both Kevin Jennings (Obama’s safe school czar) and Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (the group Jennings founded to help LGBT youth) in responding to the five suicides by tween and teen gay men. The folks with the most visibility, power, and reach to actually instruct the nation how to respond to these tragedies, and how to prevent more of them? Radio silence. (Update: I hear a crackle!)

“You can get through this,” writes Navarro on his website. “High school is full of plenty of bullies and fear based hate, as is the world. With any group of people comes a percentage of people who just don’t get it and probably will never get it. That’s OK.”

It’s a message aimed at the families, friends, and world who watched bullying by classmates claim the lives of Seth Walsh, Asher Brown (pictured), and Billy Lucas. And of course this week’s college student Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate broadcast an intimate moment on the web. (NB: Tyler Wilson, a male cheerleader in Ohio, had his arm broken this month in a similar fashion.)

With this nationwide tragedy — which is not, by any means, a new phenomenon — you’d think Jennings would at least have a statement ready to go, right? But he doesn’t. The all but invisible safe schools czar, who is kept hidden lest Fox News continue its attacks on his radical gay agenda for American schools, is nowhere to be found. And GLSEN, whose entire mission is to create a safe space for kids in school, says it doesn’t want to talk “out of fear of suicide contagion.” Yes, GLSEN won’t even mention the deaths because it doesn’t want to encourage other kids to kill themselves.

There is one word to describe this response: FAIL.

“I assure you,” GLSEN rep Daryl Presgraves tells Michael Petrelis, “we are working behind the scenes to address these specific incidences, but we are trying to tread carefully. We will have much to say in the coming weeks, including a new nationwide effort to make schools safer for LGBT youth. We want to make sure we do and say the right thing.” In ensuing remarks, Presgraves adds, “There hasn’t exactly been a dearth of gay orgs putting out statements. We are trying to be responsible. Please judge us by what we do the next two weeks not just the past few days. For what it’s worth, we will be releasing a statement tomorrow with our sister orgs that responsibly reflects our commitment to supporting young people.”

How about, I dunno, “This is awful.” Or maybe, “Our hearts go out to the families.” Or perhaps, “Here’s a link to some reading material to guide parents on what they can do to combat bullying.” But there is nothing of the sort. Instead, GLSEN’s position is that it should wait a few weeks to even acknowledge the losses of life we just suffered. And it’s like, dude, when the freakin’ Human Rights Campaign is acting faster than you, there’s a problem. Neither party, meanwhile, has taken the time to respond to Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell’s senseless campaign against a gay college student. Instead, on GLSEN’s homepage, is a link to a fundraising auction. Twitter? Useless.


We must assume Jennings and GLSEN are doing, well, something behind the scenes. But without any transparency or public acknowledgment, we’ll never know what their plan is. Instead, we’ve got five dead kids who didn’t need to die, and perhaps more on the way. Because the very parties who assumed responsibility for keeping our kids safe are not doing their jobs.

And if they continue to voluntarily remain silent, and not speak publicly about these tragedies, and not tell parents and kids there is something they can do, and not tell schools they must act to prevent this shit, there will be more blood on their hands.

UPDATE: Jennings will break his silence tomorrow in NYC “during his address to community leaders at the YMCA of Greater New York’s annual Legislative Breakfast.” And GLSEN also managed to eek out a tweet. Actually, a retweet of executive director Eliza Byard. Complete with spelling errors: “Amist [sic] tragic news, visible support is critical to LGBT student well-being. Thank you to school staff who are there for students every day.” Good one!

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #asherbrown #billylucas #bullying stories and more


  • Tollendyr

    It’s sad when our gay org’s are becoming accomplices to the deaths in our own community.

  • RM

    Actually, I’ve wondered this too. Kevin Jennings was once a strong advocate. But since Obama’s been in the Whitehouse, there have been many high profile events in the news concerning gays in schools. Many bullying-related deaths, and many high school officials directly antagonizing students (e.g., Contance Mcmillan and the Itawamba School District).

    Why the silence?

    And why isn’t GLSEN or HRC working with the Whitehouse to address these problems?

  • TommyOC

    Neither should respond to the Shirvall happening… it feeds right into that dude’s allegations that this is all some big conspiracy.

    Instead, that Shirvall guy will be taken to task for what he is: A giant douche.

  • greenmanTN

    Yesterday, while looking for for more info on the Andrew Shirvell story, I came upon 4 other news stories about the suicides of Clementi, Brown, Walsh, and Tyler Wilson having his arm broken, all from the last few weeks! What the hell is going on?! It’s overwhelmingly sad that these young men and boys couldn’t see past what was going on in their lives at that moment or that their schools didn’t step in to stop the bullying when they had the chance.

    However, as an organization that reaches out to students the GLSEN really DOES have to be careful with how they discuss and present these suicides. It isn’t about us, it’s about them. It isn’t really an organization for parents or the adult gay community, it’s for young GLBT youth and those questioning their sexuality so how they present the information is important. Suicide can be “contagious” so care has to be taken in how to address them without over-romanticizing or lionizing the victims or playing up the “I bet NOW everyone is sorry for what they did!” angle, and unintentionally making suicide seem attractive or as a successful revenge upon their tormentors.

    So what I’m saying is that GLSEN is NOT beholden to adult gay groups or news organizations to address these suicides within a certain timeframe, their job is to support LGBT youth not supply satisfying press releases. They should ONLY be judged by how successfully they reach out to at-risk youth.

  • hephaestion

    We need a HUGE response to these deaths. Fame is Power in America. We need for ALL famous “cool” AND serious power people to make a TV announcement that STRONGLY condemns bullying and tormenting gay kids.

    This ad needs to be played over and over on TV. It needs to be the definitive statement on the non-acceptability of anti-gay remarks in school.

  • Cam

    Um…why do they need to “Tread Carefully?” Even if they are working on a comprehensive strategy to make schools safer that in NO way would prevent them from coming out and saying.

    These tragedies underline the difficulties that gay youth encounter every day just going to school. Nobody should ever be bullied to death.

    One simple fucking B.S. sentance for a press release would at least let the community know that you are awake. But the more I see of what seems to happen to “Activists” in the Obama administration the more i’m starting to believe that the man actually hates us.

  • JT

    Better question: why aren’t the so-called loving christians condemning the torture these kids are going through? (Yes, we all know the answer to that already.)

  • Tomas

    Years ago, I wrote an article about LGBTQ youth who’d escaped from gay-to-straight bootcamps into an underground network of safehouses. The interview / quote that stood out came from a social worker explaining why there’s so little advocacy for LGBTQ youth. Namely, that the christian right/conservatives had cowed the adult LGBTQ community with the implicit threat of attaching “pedophile” to any queer person who defended a young person.

    Seeing how long it’s taken for the mainstream LGBTQ community to even begin organizing around this issue suggests to me those intimidation tactics were, until recently, effective. So, I think, that’s a practical ie., politically calculated, part of the reason why queer adults have been slow to speak up – or, even to – the youth in the community.

    The other explanation, I believe, is emotional. Even if you weren’t beaten up, called “Faggot” everyday from seventh to twelfth grade and otherwise made to feel like a piece of shit, you were let known in many other ways that a) you were not equal, and b) you did not have the same rights as other students. Most people, having been through years of abuse, whether internalized or externalized homophobia, really aren’t eager to reengage with that part of their life. Because it means dealing with years of layered shame and self-loathing. IMO, people just want to move on with the lives. And forget.

    Maybe because I ended up writing a novel about those safehouse kids, I’ve been forced to stay engaged with my tormented 11-17 y.o. So when I read about Tyler Clementi’s death – and then Asher Brown’s – I knew exactly what to write. And I did.

    To everyone who’s so quick to condemn GLSEN et al, how many of you have spoken or written about what happened to you when you were a young person? What you went through? Why you don’t want to speak about it? And if you have spoken about your experiences, why was it a struggle to speak?

  • gina

    Tomas, this is an organization who’s very purpose is to prevent such incidents as these, to educate the public and to advocate for student safety. If they can’t stand up forcefully at times like these, then what’s their purpose. I might note that parts of GLSEN (in the Bay Area) have already split off from the national organization for just such reasons.

    Heaven forfend they should say anything which might be construed as “obstreperous.” That wouldn’t be conducive to funding.

  • ewe

    GLSEN might be a bit busy i would think. Years ago I recall seeing a band member of Janes Addiction shooting up in the mens bathroom stall of a san francisco club the night they were playing there so i don’t give any of them much credence personally. After seeing that i was not the least bit interested in anything any of them ever said or did. TACKY. Yup, i am definitely sitting in judegement of them. Scrawny drug addicts making a lot of noise with an audience that could not even afford to buy themselves a drink after scouring around enough for the small cover charge to gain entrance. water water water please.

  • Tomas

    @ Gina, thank you for reminding me of GLSEN’s mandate. Maybe I’m missing it, but GLSEN isn’t about spearheading the sort of legal changes that would hold the Rutgers perpetrators accountable. I get your anger and disappointment in GLSEN but how exactly were they supposed to have prevented Tyler from jumping off that bridge? And is a statement by GLSEN, no matter how forceful, supposed to reorder a culture that is so systemically homophobic?

    In Tyler’s case, he sounded incredibly isolated. Put that together with having his sex life exposed by others, it must have been intolerably humiliating. I can’t help but wonder, was the LGBTQ community at Rutgers? Why hadn’t someone reached out and befriended him? As for Asher Brown, how does an adult (outside the school system) even know that a 12 y.o. kid is in such pain? Asher came out to his PARENTS who contacted the school system and, apparently, even that wasn’t enough to stop the abuse.

    Again, I believe the onus for prevention falls upon peers and adult LGBTQ people. We are the ones who need to do this work. Here, in Los Angeles, for example, I’ve observed Trans people create an intergenerational community. Why aren’t we learning from our trans brothers and sisters about how to create this support? Clearly, if we as a community, young, old, whatever, don’t start figuring out how to engage one another, and start cut through all the isms – racism, classism, ageism, sexism – these stories are just going to continue happening. Esp. as kids continue coming out earlier and are more easily identified by and assaulted by their peers.

    Lastly, I’m curious, Gina, if you were in charge of writing that GLSEN statement, what would it say?

  • eric

    “It’s sad when our gay org’s are becoming accomplices to the deaths in our own community.”

    seriously? FUCK YOU.

    their lack of an effective response may be cowardly, lame, tardy or many other things they should correct but the men and women and organizations who spend their lives trying to do something RIGHT in the lives of us queers hardly merit inclusion with the parents, schools, bullies, roommates, bigots and sociopaths who DIRECTLY lead to the fucking tragic deaths of these young men.

    it has been HEARTBREAKING this week to read and ponder the lives and deaths of these young guys and your comment and the implications of this post are utterly misdirected.

  • eric

    sorry. been too passionate about this all week. i apologize for the fuck you statement. still, i think seriously misguided.

  • KiomainNY

    I really GENUINLY feel the recent tragic cases of suicide were meant to be an unfortunate AWKENING FOR ALL LGBT COMMUNITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    For ALL passive LGBT to stand up..stand tall…speak up and speak up as ONE voice. We are louder and more powerful in numbers. This is a societal battle that has been provoked to OUR kids…kids in our community. Each of us owes it to do ONE thing to prevent this, educate, contribute in some capacity to the cause of LGBT youth and the unprovoked bullying they endure. We are their voices, we can not turn a blind eye just because we don’t endure that treatment anymore. Kids are crying themselves to sleep trembling at the amount of HATE they’ll face the following morning. Their parents don’t accept them. The faculty could not care less. Their peers attack them, and their leaders tell them when they grow up they are not worth inherent rights. Who does that leave to roll up our sleeves and go to battle for these defenseless CHILDREN?….US…WE THE GAY COMMUNITY!
    Please contribute. This is not okay and we nor our futue generation of LGBT deserve this treatment of hate for who we are.

    Now go do something about it:
    I spoke to my nephew who is 14 about the consequences and bigotry in bullying of any kind. A deep, heartfelt discussion that felt gratifying after. Get involved and stop believing gay is just what you are in the bedroom. It is an extension of you you should pride yourself in and outreach to your community who has many of you, with the same journey and stories.

  • Xo

    This QUEERTY posting, along with hothead blogger Petrelis’ diatribe, is what’s wrong with the community. If the values we want to support is merely to be fast and first over a measured response to a terrible series of deaths – I’m all with the tortoise.

    Anyone who wants to stand on the corner and bang on some pots and pans and wail, well, go right ahead. Just don’t trash community members who don’t choose that route. Otherwise, you better be willing to be called out when YOU don’t do what I want YOU to do.

    I find it bizarre that some people posting here are so willing to make outrageous judgments about what someone (Jennings) or some group (GLSEN) is or isn’t doing. How in the world would you know what’s going on with these folks? Jennings now works for the Obama Administration. All government workers have restrictions on what they can and can’t say. So what? That doesn’t mean they’re doing NOTHING. They’re just not doing what YOU want. Who are you? Why should we listen to your self-righteous complaining? What are you doing besides bitching and moaning? Are you doing ANYTHING that actually is going to help prevent another suicide?

    At least GLSEN actually works with students. HRC? They might be faster to put out statements, but they don’t do squat for average people in the community except to glomm onto any LGBT issue they can in order to get you to send them dollars. But those dollars never get turned around and used for our youth.

    …ah, I see that GLSEN has put out a joint press release along with PFLAG and The Trevor Project. And there’s a lot of useful info and links with it too. They have my vote.

    GLSEN, PFLAG, The Trevor Project Release Statement on Recent Tragedies

  • Jack E. Jett

    Goddamn motherfucking pussies. They are only trying to protect their own ass. The gay community made a massive mistake voting in Obama. We got snowed. Should have never thrown Clinton under the bus. She was a longtime ally. Gays are even lower on Obama’s list than progressives and liberals. Dry fuck em all in their oh so jesus loving religious buttholes.

  • UMB

    Oh thank god, Queerty has found a figurehead scapegoat for me to blame, for a minute I was about to blame the kids who did the bullying, the parents who failed to raise decent fucking human beings, and the staff who failed to put an end to it.

  • Wes

    Actually the count is more like 7…
    Wisconsin- Cody J. Barker, 17
    Louisana- unnamed kid shot himself at school…

  • Dan

    Thank god more than 40 of the 50 states have statewide GLBTA Safe Schools groups.

  • AdonisOfFire

    Silence is apathy, people will keep treating us as second class citizens if we never fight back.

  • Joe

    I looked up suicide contagion. Did queerty? Seems like GLSEN has some valid concerns. Way to shit on an org that apparently IS trying to do what’s right rather than just put out meaningless statements.


    Suicide Contagion is Real
    ……..between 1984 and 1987, journalists in Vienna covered the deaths of individuals
    who jumped in front of trains in the subway system. The coverage was extensive and
    dramatic. In 1987, a campaign alerted reporters to the possible negative effects of
    such reporting, and suggested alternate strategies for coverage. In the first six months
    after the campaign began, subway suicides and non-fatal attempts dropped by more
    than eighty percent. The total number of suicides in Vienna declined as well.1-2

    Research finds an increase in suicide by readers or viewers when:
    • The number of stories about individual suicides increases 3-4
    • A particular death is reported at length or in many stories 3,5
    • The story of an individual death by suicide is placed on the front page
    or at the beginning of a broadcast 3-4
    • The headlines about specific suicide deaths are dramatic 3 (A recent
    example: “Boy, 10, Kills Himself Over Poor Grades”)

  • swarm

    Actually they weren’t ~completely silent. I saw someone representing them on MSNBC or Fox (I forget which one)…right away. I remember it because I actually never heard of GLSEN before and googled it. Albeit, they may be kinda lame, I think it’s more a matter of censorship from the media than lack of willingness to have a higher profile.

    I’d like to point out that while everyone castigates LGBT orgs, (usually with good reason- myself included) it doesn’t help that some LGBT blogs/bloggers/contributors are often proudly caustic, mean spirited BULLIES. Or does it only count when children are bullied and adults are fair game?

    Has Obama made any statement? J/S.

  • swarm

    ETA ^^: I agree with #23 @Joe’s points btw. I never let my kid listen to 90’s depressing grunge genre music, for example. I kept his ass in positive hobbies.

  • paul canning

    @Joe is right. ‘Suicide contagion’ is real. We just went through (hopefully it is over) a spate of suicides linked to it in one small Welsh town.

    It’s ironic that in a piece praising the media (who are the prime cause of ‘suicide contagion’) you are so quick to dismiss the concerns of those with the expertise.

  • swarm

    crossposting my comment from the other suicide thread wherein Queerty asserts GLSEN’s “in charge” of school safety:

    @Queerty “This is the guy in charge of keeping our schools safe?”

    Hyperbole much? NO. He’s not “in charge” of anything.

    TRY getting the FACTS about things. I never heard of GLSEN before this week when they were on TV. Their website says they are an EDUCATION organization and their 990 shows alot more positive high profile PUBLIC activities than, say, GLAAD’s ridiculous “media awards”.


    “An ****ONLINE**** community dedicated to safe schools for all”.

    AND most importantly, WHERE HAS THE OBAMA ADMIN BEEN?:


    “For the past eighteen months, GLSEN has worked closely with federal agencies, including the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice, and with Congress to enlist their help in combatting the impact of anti-LGBT bias and bullying in our schools.

    From meetings with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit to endless visits in the halls of Congress, GLSEN has been there day in and day out to ensure that our issues were represented and our voices were heard. And now, in a time of crisis, we were in a position to make our voice heard once again, calling for Secretary Duncan to speak out in support of LGBT youth.

    Today, he answered that call.”



    Sad how you continue to miss the point that the Obama administration doesn’t give a shit about LGBT or anything other than BIG GOVERNMENT.

    Target the actual people who are PAID and CHARGED with school safety, not some little online educational advocacy group who’s actually done MORE than the entire US Federal Government. eyeroll.

    I’m waiting for a thread asking how much Queerty contributors have donated to any LGBT 501C3’s. Or do we think they magically conjure up free money for their activities. They don’t have unlimited access to other people’s money like the feds do.

  • kalifani6

    Where have they ever been on these issues?
    I remember reaching out the the LGBT Task Force in my area for assistance during a time I experienced harassment at a former place of employment.

    In a nutshell:They were useless.

    ALL THEY DO IS COLLECT NON-PROFIT FUNDING in order to continue to exist as nothing more than a local figurehead of diversity for the municipalities they ‘serve’.

  • kalifani6

    @RM: “And why isn’t GLSEN or HRC working with the Whitehouse to address these problems?”

    Because the Obama administration has ‘bucked’ up to the whining as protestations of the ‘Right’.
    Still…get out the vote for Nov.2 to show the fools this administration is so afraid of that WE’RE NOT AFRAID TO TAKE THEM ON.
    Then collect the heads of those that let us down…figuratively speaking,ahem.



    (& I’m an Independent for the record that will be voting for those cowering Democrats.The lesser of two GRAVE evils.)

  • kalifani6

    @kalifani6: Correction:Reaching out TO the…

  • kalifani6

    @kalifani6: the Obama administration has ‘bucked’ up to the whining AND protestations of the ‘Right’. (need more caffeine/coffee…zzzz)

  • Darrell

    What I am amazed at most here is that while we have a rash of suicides of LGBT youth on our hands, this blogger thinks the best use of resources is to attack national LGBT orgs and leaders.

    What is really shocking though is that you do it ignorantly. Activism isn’t about being the first to make a statement. It is about being smart and strategic. My background before my LGBT activism is in mental health. Suicide contagion is a very VERY real issue. Reacting too quickly, too publicly to suicides puts more youth at risk.

    Before bashing leadership who are in fact handling this VERY wisely, do your homework. This isn’t the marriage debate or DADT where civil disobedience is the call of the day. This is about life or death. It needs to be handled so to raise awareness of the problem, the solutions while being sure not to do more harm.

    For transparency, at 19 years old I was a struggling to come out closeted teen who planned to kill himself. GLSEN and its safe space kit saved my life. So yes, I’m personally attached but my professional experience also tells me that you completely missed the mark here.

    The folks with real blood on their hands are Paladino in NYC and Tony Perkins. Wanna do some good? Attack them! Help ensure Paladino never becomes governor and share this video that is positive and helpful.

Comments are closed.