Parents of bullied teen say harassment has ‘got to stop’

Liz Goodwin

The parents of teen Jamey Rodemeyer spoke out against bullying on the Today Show Tuesday.

Jamey Rodemeyer died by suicide earlier this month, after posting a number of video diary entries online recounting how his high school classmates had relentlessly bullied him for being gay. His parents, Tracy and Timothy, said that some kids who bullied Jamey taunted their 16-year-old daughter at a recent homecoming dance, saying that they're happy her brother is dead.

"I can't grasp it in my mind, I don't know why anyone would do that," Timothy Rodemeyer said. "They have no heart."

Rodemeyer, who was 14 when he died, posted online that no one listened to him when he tried to talk about how bullied and harassed he felt at school. "What do I have to do so that people will listen to me?" he wrote.

His parents say Jamey hid his troubles from them. They told the Buffalo News that they had no idea he had a Tumblr blog where he vented about his pain. They knew Jamey was bullied in middle school and sent him to see a therapist, but he told them that high school was much better and that he was getting along with his peers.

"My message to the parents is badger their kids and make them talk or get them the help they need," Jamey's father said.

"Do whatever you have to to make sure they get the help they need." Jamey's mother wore an "It Gets Better" shirt during the interview in support of the campaign that encourages gay youth to survive bullying.

New York lawmakers are now considering a bill that would update the criminal code so that cyber-bullying can be punished as second-degree manslaughter if the courts determine that hurtful online comments intentionally aided or caused a suicide. Internet users could also be charged with third-degree stalking if they harass a child online. The pop star Lady Gaga, whom Jamey idolized, is now pushing for a federal law that would punish bullying as a "hate crime"--though it's unclear exactly how that would work.

Not everyone agrees that criminalizing bullying is a good idea, though. In a series for Slate, Emily Bazelon argued that using criminal law to punish minors for verbal bullying is misguided and even cruel. She says schools should be better at preventing harassment.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a nonprofit that raises awareness about gay bullying, says schools should have policies that specifically bar bullying based on sexual orientation and encourage gay-straight alliance clubs. LGBT adolescents and adults attempt suicide at higher rates than other groups, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. While most of those who attempt suicide have an underlying mental illness such as depression, the foundation says the stigma and discrimination LGBT people face contribute to the higher suicide risk.