In a rare and forceful act of advocacy, an Iowa newspaper devoted the entire front page of its Sunday edition to an anti-bullying editorial after a gay teen committed suicide.
Relatives have said Kenneth Weishuhn Jr., 14, of Paullina, Iowa, suffered intense harassment, including threatening cellphone calls and nasty comments posted online, after coming out to classmates about a month ago. He died April 15 from what the local Sheriff's Office described only as a "self-inflicted injury."
The Sioux City Journal's front-page opinion piece calls on the community to be pro-active in stopping bullying and urges members to learn more about the problem by seeing the acclaimed new documentary film, "Bully," which chronicles the harassment of youngsters, including a Sioux City middle school student. It notes that while many students are targeted for being gay, "we have learned a bully needs no reason to strike."
"In Kenneth's case, the warnings were everywhere," the editorial said. "We saw it happen in other communities, now it has hit home. Undoubtedly, it wasn't the first life lost to bullying here, but we can strive to make it the last."
Editor Mitch Pugh said the newspaper has run front-page editorials before, but never before devoted all of page 1 to one.
"A lot of newspapers shy away from putting editorials on the front page, but we feel we have to be a strong advocate for our community," Pugh said.
Kenneth's mother, Jeannie Chambers, told the Journal last week she and the rest of the family knew he was being harassed but didn't realize the extent of the bullying. His sister told a local television station that Kenneth, a freshman, had many friends and was popular at South O'Brien High School in Paullina until he came out. Then some students turned against him.
Pugh said the newspaper didn't consult the family before printing the editorial. "This was a bigger issue than one person," he said.
Andy Marra, a spokesman for the national anti-bullying group GLSEN, said the Journal's decision makes "complete sense."
"Public education is absolutely vital to addressing bullying and harassment in schools," he said, adding that community pressure could push schools to do more.
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