When USA Network launched its Characters Unite public service campaign in 2009, our goal was quite simply to walk the talk of our tagline "Characters Welcome." Over the past three years -- with coalition of nearly two dozen national nonprofit civil and human rights organizations -- we have evolved the initiative to focus on combating hate and discrimination that unfortunately still comes in many forms: racism, religious intolerance, sexism, ableism, homophobia and more.
While we and our partners recognize that great progress has been made in securing and protecting civil rights, we are constantly reminded that for too many Americans, prejudice and bigotry are still alive and much too prevalent. And for LGBT Americans, far too often, the fight is for basic safety as well as for equality.
Just last month, I woke up to the shocking New York Post headline: "Suspect in cold-blooded murder of gay man laughed and boasted, 'Yeah, I shot him in the head,' prosecutors say." Sadly, this attack on Mark Carson was not an isolated incident. Anti-gay hate crimes in New York City have doubled so far this year.
This hatred and violence trickles down to our children. According to GLSEN's (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) most recent National School Climate Survey, eight out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment in school because of their sexual orientation. And one third of LGBT students (31.8 percent) reported missing at least one entire day at school over the course of a month because of safety concerns.
Through Characters Unite, we at USA have had the privilege of meeting many courageous people who have lived with this kind of fear and pain each day, but who have worked tirelessly to prevent others from having to face it.
Like Joey Kemmerling. Joey came out publicly in middle school and then was taunted and harassed relentlessly. One classmate threatened to set him on fire. A school administrator whom he turned to for help advised him, "If you act a little less gay, they'll leave you alone." He felt so humiliated and isolated at one point that he planned to take his own life. But instead he decided to be the change he wanted to see by founding the Equality Project and speaking out in schools and communities for tolerance and respect.
We also got to know Elke Kennedy, a Characters Unite Award winner from Greenville, S.C. In 2007, her son, Sean Kennedy, walked out of a bar and was called "faggot" and then was hit so hard that his brain was separated from his brainstem, and he was left on the street for dead. Despite her immense grief, two weeks after the senseless murder, she launched Sean's Last Wish, a foundation that is working to strengthen hate crime laws and promote nonviolent conflict resolution.
It is with these headlines, statistics and personal heroes in mind that, this June, Characters Unite is teaming up with CB2, the modern home furnishings and accessories destination, to commemorate Pride Month. The partnership -- which includes in-store signage and special events; on-air spots; and the sale of a unique messenger bag -- benefits GLSEN.
We know that signs and parties in stores, and commercials on television, will not end hate and discrimination. We recognize that real and lasting progress takes years, not months. But by supporting GLSEN's work, we can help ensure safe schools and communities for many more students. By celebrating out loud, we can send a powerful message to millions of viewers and customers that our differences should not be an excuse for discrimination and violence but a source of strength.
Pride, much like hope, can be contagious. We will continue to work to spread it, until all characters are truly welcome and accepted.