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Iowa survey: LGBT students more likely to be suicidal, harassed

BY MICHELLE MCCONNAUGHEY | FEBRUARY 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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DES MOINES — Stephen Boatwright was in eighth grade when he told friends and family he was gay. But that was only start of the struggles he soon faced.

“The hard part for me wasn’t coming out, it was sticking to my guns and sticking up for myself and my friends in the face of adversity,” said Boatwright, a Des Moines Area Community College freshman and six-year member of the Iowa Pride Network.

On Wednesday, the group released a new report tracking comfort levels, depression, and harassment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students on college campuses.

According to the first-ever College Climate Survey given to volunteers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students are 25 percent more likely to have thoughts of suicide, and 44 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students said they have been harassed.

“I think it’s disturbing what some of the results from the survey were,” said Joshua Merritt, a University of Iowa senior and outreach coordinator.



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Members said harassment may be the reason an estimated four in 10 gay students haven’t told anyone about their sexual orientation yet.

“It’s so surprising in this day and age when we’re still dealing with discrimination,” Boatwright said.
Founded in 2003, the Iowa Pride Network works with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allied students to fight homophobia and transphobia in pursuit of equal treatment.

“For me, the survey isn’t about being gay, it’s about everyone being treated equally,” said Sarah Mowitz, a Des Moines Roosevelt High senior and first-year member of the Iowa Pride Network.

Ryan Roemerman cofounded the Iowa Pride Network as a junior at the UI in 2003.

“It all starts with verbal harassment, then leads to physical harassment, and then it turns into physical assault,” said Roemerman, now executive director of the organization.

He said it’s shocking when no one intervenes after hearing negative comments. He said people expect things to get better in college, not worse.

Though some campuses struggle with their outreach programs, members said the UI is known for its acceptance and tolerance. But that doesn’t mean the campus is free from problems.

Jennifer Modestou, the director of the UI Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, said students have filed complaints reporting harassment related to sexual orientation.

“I would say in terms of complaints, it’s not a predominant issue, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the complaints that have been filed,” she said.

She said UI has resources available for students to turn to.

And Merritt agreed.

“As a student at the University of Iowa, I am lucky,” Merritt said in a speech Wednesday. “I have never been teased, harassed or bullied for being gay. I have never been afraid of being a leader on my campus.”

He said that it’s important to note that as accepting as some of Iowa’s colleges are, there’s still things to be done.

“The College Climate Survey should be our wake-up call,” Merritt said.

Mowitz said in her search for a college, she will definitely take their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender programs into play when deciding where to go.

“I think that it’s really important to not only consider the students you have, but also the ones you might have in the future,” she said.

Boatwright agreed with Merritt and said the survey should be a way for more people to get involved and understand the problems that need to be fixed.

“It’s very hard to stand up for yourself or what you believe in when you’re the only one stepping up,” he said.


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