HARTFORD, CT — It wasn’t necessarily a call for more legislation Wednesday, but it was a call to action at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
At a press conference Wednesday following the suicides of one gay and two transgender teens over the past three months, LGBTQ advocates and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called on Connecticut residents to intervene if they witness bullying.
“When you hear mean, intervene,” said Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, which is a nonprofit organization that works with other social service agencies, schools, and organizations to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are competently met.
Blumenthal said there is an old adage that says “nothing is needed for the triumph of evil except for good people to do nothing.”
He said what they are seeing from Republican President Donald Trump’s administration is the encouragement of “hatred, bias, and bigotry, which is truly un-American.”
He said whether they “condone or encourage this kind of hatred, whether it’s words or action, it’s reprehensible and irresponsible.”
In March, Blumenthal introduced legislation called the National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act. The bill would improve the reporting of hate crimes and provide funding for states to establish hate crimes hotlines. The legislation would also allow judges to sentence those convicted under federal hate crime laws to community service or education centered on the community targeted by the crime.
Blumenthal cited the rescission of Obama-era guidelines related to transgender students within the U.S. Department of Education as one of the reasons they need to remain vigilant.
“Words fly, kids die and Trump tweets on,” McHaelen said.
She said no youth attended the press conference because they are not responsible for what’s going on, but “We are.”
McHaelen added, “This is a grown-ups problem.”
She said it’s been several generations since people have felt so “free to act on their biases so publicly.”
All of the blame for the increase in the bullying and hatred was placed with Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said he thinks it’s tragic that youth would feel so “lost and desperate they want to take their own life,” but he said the press conference was nothing more than political grandstanding.
“They’re trying to score cheap political points in the era of social media where bad behavior is not new,” Romano said.
He said they want to put the blame on politics when their motives are just as political. He said Wednesday press conference didn’t offer any solutions.
Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said her office receives calls every day about incidents of bullying and discrimination. She said her office makes referrals and provides information on how to file a formal report or whether an incident should be reported to police. She said enforcement of civil rights by state and local government is important.
Blumenthal said there seems to be a withdrawal of civil rights enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice under Trump. Spending and staffing on civil rights efforts at multiple agencies have been cut under Trump.
Eagan added: “Our laws, as other folks have pointed out here today, are only as good as our ability to enforce them and make them meaningful in the lives of children.”
FBI data regarding the number of hate crimes for 2016 has not been released yet. The FBI has reported a nearly 7 percent increase in the number of hate crimes in 2015 compared to 2014.
The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled a report of 1,094 bias-related incidents in the month following the 2016 election. Of those reports about 109 were against the LGBT community.
Steven Hernandez, executive director of the state Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, said he heard a startling statistic Wednesday that “three-quarters of our LGBTQ youth are harassed or intimidated in the state of Connecticut.”
Tony Ferraiolo, who runs support groups in New Haven, said 51 percent of transgender youth attempt suicide.
“This is directly linked to bullying. It is directly linked to their families not being accepting, and it is directly linked to the lack of access they have to the medical care they absolutely need,” Ferraiolo said.
He said transgender youth are losing their will to live and that is “directly related to the Trump administration and their strong message that trans youth and LGBTQ lives are less important than everyone else’s.”
Ferraiolo said he often is recruited to visit trans youth in hospitals who have attempted suicide. He said what they tell him is that they just want to die because they know the bullying is not going to stop.
“What can I possibly say to them when they ask me: ‘Why is my government against me?’” Ferraiolo said.
Kamora Herrington, vice chair of the Hartford LGBTQ Commission, said one of the True Colors staff members was walking through New Haven last night when he was assaulted because he is a proud black man.
“That was so offensive to some people that they felt the need to hurt him,” Herrington said. “And there is something going on in our climate that let them know that was okay.”
She said she knows a family with a transgender youth who canceled their vacation to another state because they were concerned about how they would be treated and didn’t feel safe.