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Fat? Gay? Keep your head up: Bullies, this month is to combat you

October 07, 2012|By Amy Hubbard
  • Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after being targeted by online bullying.
Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after being targeted…

I'm fat? You're a bully. 

It's National Bullying Prevention Month, and several current events illustrate the pervasive problem of bullying, which is not restricted to classrooms.

Jennifer Livingston of WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., made headlines last week when she called out a viewer who had sent her an email saying the TV anchorwoman was obese and not a good community role model.

Livingston went on air, saying she wanted to encourage children not to be hurt by this kind of bullying. Then she went on talk shows. The man who sent the email, personal injury lawyer Kenneth Krause, reportedly said he had not intended to be hurtful. In a statement to WKBT, he encouraged Livingston to go on a yearlong weight-loss "transformation," offering up his "advice and support."

A somber sense of closure came last week when the parents of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi decided to drop a plan to sue the university for failing to prevent their son's suicide in a case of online bullying.

Clementi killed himself in 2010 after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, used a webcam to spy on him while he was kissing another man in a dorm room. The image was transmitted to another student's computer in the dorm. Clementi found out about the spying by way of Twitter. Days later, he was dead.

Joseph and Jane Clementi, of Ridgewood, N.J., also decided not to sue Ravi.

Clementi's death was one among a rash of suicides -- four within 2 1/2 weeks -- by gay teens at that time. One of them was California middle-schooler Seth Walsh, who hanged himself after withstanding a daily gantlet of harassment, including being goaded to commit suicide, relatives told the Los Angeles Times.

In the Rutgers case, Ravi was convicted in March of 15 counts of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. He spent 20 days in jail and is appealing the conviction.

An attorney for Clementi's parents told the Los Angeles Times that they had moved on. They had come to “a place where they are interested in positive, constructive work" through a foundation created in their son's name and were not interested in trying to recover money.

Although the issue of bullying often focuses on gay teens, National Bullying Prevention Month was launched by people concerned with the plight of disabled children. 

"Those kids are bullied at two to three times the rate of other children," Julie Hertzog, director of the Pacer National Bullying Prevention Center, said in a recent email to the Los Angeles Times. "We began creating bullying prevention resources for children with disabilities in 2002." But in 2005, Pacer's leaders decided to extend those resources to all children.

Pacer, a Minnesota nonprofit created to help children with disabilities and their families, opened its National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006 and started National Bullying Prevention Month.  Then, it was actually bullying-prevention week. In 2009, the week became a month as participation grew.

"It has grown beyond our expectations," Hertzog said. "It has really become an international student movement that continues to gain momentum.”

The organization has a range of supporters, including national educator and parent organizations as well as celebrities. Demi Lovato was the first star spokeswoman in 2009.  This year, Rebecca Black -- who was an online sensation with her song "Friday" -- is the National Bullying Prevention Month celebrity rep. 

In a statement, Black said she joined the effort "with the hope of educating a new generation."

Ellen DeGeneres also is a fan. The talk show host was among those who heeded the inaugural Unity Day call in 2011. Pacer asks everyone to wear orange for a day to show their support for the anti-bullying effort.  Wednesday is Unity Day 2012.

Coincidentally, DeGeneres plans to have anchorwoman Jennifer Livingston on her show this week to talk about her shout-out to bullied children.

In addition, Black and other young celebrities have teamed with CustomInk to raise funds for Pacer's bullying-prevention campaign by creating custom T-shirts. All profits go to the Pacer cause. Actresses Janel Parrish ("Pretty Little Liars"), Katie Leclerc ("Switched at Birth") and Olympic diver David Boudia are among those who created shirts.

Leclerc, in an email for The Times, said she was a victim of bullying. The actress, 25, is hearing impaired and plays a deaf teen on "Switched at Birth." 

"As a victim of bullying, I know how isolating it can feel," Leclerc said, "and the pressure to seem normal is very strong, but it is important to reach out to an adult and let them know what is going on. Every victim needs an ally."

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