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Gay/straight alliance urges support of hate-crimes bill

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Many gay students won't have fond memories of high school.

The typical high school student hears anti-gay slurs 25 times a day.

Eighty percent of gay and lesbian students report they've been verbally abused, 44 percent have had things thrown at them and 30 percent have reported being chased or followed, presumably because of their sexual orientation.

Gay teens are anywhere from two to six times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers, and they may account for as many as 30 percent of youth suicides.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Utah cited the statistics, attributed to the Des Moines Register, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and American Journal of Community Psychology, at a Monday presentation in the Capitol rotunda.

Speakers at the event, which coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the opening day of the 2002 Legislative session, urged lawmakers to support a hate-crimes bill and learn to view gay students and teachers in a more positive light, as part of Utah's mosaic.

But GLSEN/Utah says there's work to do.

A junior high school teacher recalled discovering her own child was gay, then suffering a blow when the girl was excommunicated from her church about the time her sister went on a mission.

Local high school teacher Andrea Butterfield talked about the "crimes teachers see every day," such as name-calling of gay students. She believes "passing hate-crime legislation will help" prevent such offenses from escalating.

Hate-crimes bills have surfaced in the past several years but gone nowhere. Republicans, who outnumber Democrats 2-1, have made it known that a bill to enhance criminal penalties for hate crimes would face obstacles this year.

Meanwhile, GLSEN suggests schools can help by teaching respect for all and providing peer support, perhaps through gay-straight alliances, which are available in six Utah high schools.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com