The Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reports that Sen. Bill Ketron is alarmed by the two Middle Tennessee teenagers committing suicide, apparently after being the target of bullying because of their sexual orientation. And he has an idea on what to do about it.
Ketron sponsored a bill that passed in 2011 extending the state’s harassment statutes to offensive messages posted on the Internet. The law ran afoul of First Amendment defenders, including film critic Roger Ebert, so this session Ketron is backing two pieces of legislation to strengthen it.
“The main goal is to combat cyberbullying and prevent tragedies like the ones which have occurred recently in Tennessee from taking place,” Ketron said in a written statement.
The Murfreesboro Republican committed to making the law stronger last year and said the new legislation was drafted to prepare for an amendment that will make its wording better. He said he is meeting with the attorney general, ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg and others to address legal issues.
Citing a need for the law, Ketron points to examples of bullying that are shocking local communities, including the suicide of a 14-year-old Gordonsville boy who killed himself this month after being bullied constantly for being gay….. In December, a gay Ashland City teen also committed suicide because of bullying he received at Cheatham County High School.
Opinion from Gail Kerr:
Two Middle Tennessee gay teens have killed themselves in recent weeks, and friends and family members say both were the objects of persistent bullying in school because of their sexuality.
Which is the best reason Tennessee lawmakers need to examine their hearts and put a screeching halt to the “don’t say gay” bill, which would contribute to a toxic atmosphere in schools. By telling teachers that they cannot discuss homosexuality, the legislature would be endorsing free-for-all bullying of gays.
The bill breeds hostility in the highest halls of power in Tennessee. There’s no excuse for it.
Funeral services were held Monday for Phillip Parker Jr., 14, an eighth-grader at Gordonsville High School. He hanged himself in the upstairs bathroom of his home Friday night. Family members said they complained to school officials about the constant bullying he experienced because he was gay.
In December, Cheatham County High School senior Jacob Rogers, 18, killed himself. He, too, was gay. He, too, complained about being bullied because of it to school officials. He had other troubles as well.
Could any elected official look in the eyes of one of those two teens’ relatives and defend a vote in favor of this horrific “don’t say gay” bill? If teachers and guidance counselors are forbidden from using the word “gay,” how can they respond to bullies?
The suicide of a Cheatham County high school senior should show every Tennessee legislator how devastatingly dangerous the “don’t say gay” law would be, says Gail Kerr.
This unnecessary, homophobic law made national headlines last year. Now, Tennessee is in those headlines again. Only this time, it’s for a tragedy: the Dec. 7 suicide of 18-year-old Jacob Rogers, a senior at Cheatham County Central High School. He was openly gay.
“I think it will wake some people up,” said Chris Sanders, chairman of the Nashville committee of the Tennessee Equality Project. “This is the first notable case right next door to Nashville.”
The project works to protect the civil rights of the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families. It fought against the “don’t say gay” bill last year and said cases like Rogers’ are exactly why. The bill got so much publicity, “it’s created a chilling effect in Tennessee. A lot of people think the law has passed, and we can’t talk about those things.
The Tennessean’s year-end story on Bill Haslam also has a quote from the governor on don’t say gay (along the lines of what he’s said before):
“I don’t think it’s something we need to have,” he said. “In the end, I don’t know that that’s a problem in our schools today.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The National Guard celebrated its 375th birthday Tuesday with state officials announcing a new suicide prevention smartphone app for Tennessee soldiers.
The “Guard Your Buddy” app is the first of its kind in the country with the potential to spread to other states, Guard officials said on Tuesday. At least six Tennessee guardsmen or women have taken their lives since 2004.
“There’s a stigma in the military about suicide,” said Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston, the state adjutant general. “We want to take it away.”
$4 Million for Rural Development
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, and USDA Rural Development State Director Bobby Goode were at the Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens on Thursday morning for the announcement of more than $3 million in USDA Rural Development funding that will be provided to 14 organizations and governmental bodies in east Tennessee for various projects. (Full story in Johnson City Press)
$5.4 Million for River Bank Repair
Metro Nashville received $5.4 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a project to secure the riverbank in the Waterford subdivision. The city is contributing $600,000, a required match. The project will help 40 homes and is scheduled to begin next month, with a November completion date. (Full story in Tennessean.)
$1.4 Milllion for Suicide Prevention
The Tennessee Department of Mental Health has been awarded a grant of more than $1.4 million to fight suicides by youths. The grant, over three years, was made by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It will be used to increase the skills of individuals who work with high-risk youths. The money also will go toward follow ups with youths who have made suicide attempts. The grant is targeted toward ages 10 to 24. (Via the AP)
Jack McElroy looks at the political pressures that apparently were involved in the suicide of Chuck Jenkins, who had been property tax assessor in Loudon County since 2006 and who previously worked for the Republican National Committee and the administration of the first President George Bush.
Jenkins looked into what appeared to be inappropriate assessments of property by his predecessor and provided his findings to the local district attorney general, who decided not to prosecute.
Reporter Hugh Willett, who wrote many stories about the Arp-Ross shenanigans for the News Sentinel, relied on Jenkins as a source in his reporting. But whistle-blowing turned Jenkins into a pariah in some GOP circles in Loudon County, where Arp had become mayor.
“He stuck his neck out and went on the record in the face of tremendous political pressure from supporters of Arp and other powerful people in the county,” said Willett. “While I was interviewing him he often made reference to the notion that the only reason he was doing this was because he knew what happened was wrong and he didn’t want to be a part of covering it up. He knew that he was making a lot of powerful enemies in Loudon County.”
More recently, Jenkins had been battling Tate & Lyle and Kimberly-Clark, two of Loudon County’s largest businesses, over their assessments. The companies recently appealed to the state equalization board, triggering a yearlong process.
Suicides have no simple explanations or causes, and no one can tell what demons haunted Jenkins in his final hours. But the burden of being an honest and dedicated public official must have taken a toll.
“It really hurt Chuck when the special prosecutor found that there was nothing to prosecute in the Arp case,” Willett remembered. “He laughed and told me, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ “
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The parents of a schizophrenic man who committed suicide blame TennCare cuts for his death in an obituary they placed to draw attention to the impact of reducing public-funded mental health care in Tennessee.
Frank and Ann Zingheim, who live in Cumberland County, placed the obituary in Sunday’s edition of The Tennessean newspaper for their 48-year-old son, Francis Scott Zingheim, and noted that he was no longer eligible for a case management program after he was dropped from the state’s expanded Medicaid program during major cuts in 2005.
The younger Zingheim, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, died after jumping from the 12th floor of his Knoxville apartment building on March 31, his family said.
His parents wrote their sadness was compounded by the lack of effective mental health treatment.