Armstrong incident a trigger for anti-bullying rally in Lansing

Salam Rida/Daily
Andrew Silapaswan along with other citizens rally on the steps of the Capital Building in Lansing, Michigan, in support of the University of Michigan’s Student Assembly President, Chris Armstrong and the shockining spike in Gay teen suicides over the past month on Friday October 8, 2010. Buy this photo

Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 8, 2010

LANSING — With the issue of cyberbullying garnering increased attention across the country and on campus, students and LGBTQ rights activists gathered here on Friday asking policy makers to do more to stop harassment on the Internet.

Supporters of the LBGTQ community and the student-run organization Expect Respect in Michigan assembled on the steps of Michigan’s state Capitol on Friday to voice support for Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong and to advocate for stricter anti-bullying legislation.

Ross School of Business graduate student Adrian Delmont, who is a member of Expect Respect in Michigan and who helped organize the rally, said the group held the event to expose the tragic repercussions of bullying in schools and urge supporters of the LGBTQ community to speak out against cyberbullying and student harassment.

About 60 people gathered at the Capitol to advocate for the cause, and five speakers gave personal testimonies of their experiences with bullying at school and work because of their sexual orientation.

Speakers at the event included Michelle Brown, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Black Justice Coalition, Adam Taylor, a graduate student at Grand Valley State University, Dr. Penny Gardner, president of Lansing Association for Human Rights, Cheryl Vandekerkhove, a member of LAHR, and Veronica Piechotte, founder of Michigan Resource Center for Safe Schools.

Cyberbullying has gained recent attention in Michigan and the University community after an assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, Andrew Shirvell, created a blog called Chris Armstrong Watch, which accused the MSA president of promoting a “radical homosexual agenda” on campus. In addition, the blog also attacked Armstrong’s friends and family members.

The issue of cyberbulling has also gained prevalence across the nation, as nine students from across the country committed suicide in the last few weeks after they were bullied by peers because of their sexual orientation.

Each of the speakers emphasized that students have always been subjected to harassment and bullying, but lawmakers and citizens are finally speaking out in an effort to stop these behaviors and call attention to the serious repercussions they can have.

In her speech, Gardner said respect should be given to everyone and that the LGBTQ community should not have to work to earn the respect of others.

Taylor, who gives speeches on bullying across the country and has appeared on mtvU during Suicide Prevention Week, said parents and schools need to monitor the use of social media sites at home and in the classroom.

“Students may get online and harass and bully and say the most horrendous things you would never say in person because there’s no one to enforce a reaction to it,” Taylor said in an interview before the rally.

At the event, Brown urged government intervention in the issue of bullying.

“Kids have been killing themselves about this for a long time … how much longer do we keep saying, ‘Well, it gets better.’ We have to reach a point to where we say, ‘Let’s take the next step. What can we do?’” Brown said in an interview.

Each of the speakers stressed the urgency of the issue and encouraged the public to show support for safer school environments and legislation against bullying.

The speakers also offered ways in which people outside the LGBTQ community can show support for the issue and ensure the rights and respect of members of the community who face discrimination.

Taylor asked everyone present at the rally to enter the phone number for “The Trevor Project” in their cell phones, which can be dialed to report incidents of discrimination or bullying against a member of the LGBTQ community. The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that serves as a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth and has answered more than 100,000 calls since it began.

David Baum, a Michigan State University undergraduate student who attended the rally, said he feels the event helped raise awareness about issues of bullying.

“The speakers were inspirational … it gives hope for LGBT youth,” he said.