From a rooftop in Arizona in 1981, a 19-year-old Douglas Hamilton peered over the edge wanting to jump.
After facing ridicule and bullying from students at Arizona State University, Hamilton checked into a mental ward.
“Only two things stopped me [from jumping],” Hamilton said. “The first one was the parking lot looked extremely hard. And the second was I wanted to see what happens. This could not be the end of it.”
Hamilton now serves as an operations director at Equal Rights Washington and shared his story at a discussion hosted by Sen. Patty Murray at the University of Washington on Thursday. The discussion centered on the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2014.
Murray is a co-sponsor of the bill.
The legislation — an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965 — requires any colleges and universities that receive federal funding to prohibit harassment and expands the definition of harassment to include cyber-bullying.
The bill also attempts to establish grants which will support preventative programs on campuses.
The bill is named after the late Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who killed himself in 2010 after discovering his roommate streamed hidden-camera footage of Clementi in a sexual encounter with another man.
Joey Hunziker, a graduate student at the UW, said while the Clementi story was a “travesty” it doesn’t represent the majority of incidents against LGBTQ students.
“There are micro-aggressions that happen all the time on campuses across the nation where you can’t pinpoint one certain thing and say ‘that happened, you need to fix it,’” Hunziker said. “There are lots of things that build up and add up that make the campus environment and campus culture impossible to live on for a lot of people.”
Jennifer Self, director of the Q Center at the UW, echoed Hunziker’s sentiments.
“People think that Seattle is maybe a little bit liberal and everything is going to be ok but that hasn’t been the case,” Self said. “Our students are facing micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions every day.”
Murray took charge of the legislation after the 2013 death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the original sponsor.
The 2013 version of the bill sponsored by Lautenberg failed to reach a vote.
Murray said she had a personal connection to the bill after hearing the story of Kristopher Sharp — now an intern in her Washington D.C. office — who was harassed while running for student president in his junior year at University of Houston-Downtown.
Sharp was called in to the dean’s office during his presidential campaign. The dean showed Sharp, who is openly gay, a flyer with Sharp’s photo on it with a bold X across it and the text, “Want AIDS? Don’t support Isaac and Kris [sic] homosexual agenda.” The back of the flyer showed Sharp’s actual medical records which confirmed he was HIV-positive.
Copies of the flyer had been handed out across campus. The dean told Sharp that there was nothing the school could do.
“By sharing that, [Sharp] helped me truly understand that this is an issue you don’t just hear about, it’s very real and it happens,” Murray said.
While several campuses across the nation currently have anti-harassment policies in place, it’s not legally required.
“Anybody who shows up at an university shouldn’t have to ask, ‘Do you have a harassment policy? If something happens, am I protected?’” Murray said “They should be on campus, focused on getting an education and should know that no matter where they are, they are protected.”
Reach reporter Joshua Bessex at email@example.com, and on Twitter @Bessex_Joshua.