Memorial Fund Established for Utah gay teen

PETALUMA, Calif. -- The Tzabaco Catalog's Safe Schools Initiative announced that it has formed a Memorial Fund in response to the tremendous outpouring of grief and anger over a gay Utah high school student's tragic death. Tzabaco has established the fund with an initial $2,500 contribution.

Jacob Orozco took his own life reportedly by hanging himself in his mother's home last Thursday after a two-year battle against school district apathy toward gay and lesbian students' needs. Along with school mates at East High School in Salt Lake City, Jacob had formed a Gay-Straight Student Alliance, a support organization for students dealing with issues related to teen sexuality and homophobia. Recently, the school board had reportedly placed additional financial obstacles in the way of the group meeting.

"This should cover the cost of anymore supposed 'insurance policy' requirements that the Salt Lake City School District throws in the path of the gay-straight support group that Jacob led," said Stuart Harrison, director of Tzabaco's Safe Schools Initiative.

Other circumstances surrounding his death are unknown. Jacob was slated to become the next president of the East High School Gay-Straight Alliance. The Alliance gained public attention in 1996 when its straightforward quest to provide support to kids in need was met by a wave of homophobia in the Utah State Legislature. Effectively condemning these kids, the Salt Lake City School District banned the meeting of ALL extra-curricular activity groups during public school hours rather than permit the Gay-Straight Alliance to meet.

"The Memorial Fund is a simple way for anyone gay or lesbian and their supporters everywhere to express their concern over this young man's senseless death," said Harrison. Funds raised will be distributed to gay-straight student alliances around the country to help them meet the financial burdens that often are associated with their formation and continued existence. It is estimated that less than 1% of schools in the U.S. have support groups for gay students.

A recent study indicates that high school students hear anti-gay epithets like "faggot" and "dyke" an average of nearly 30 times a day (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1994). According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in six gay and lesbian teenagers is beaten up so badly during high school that they require medical attention. Nationwide, gay and lesbian youth are four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989 and later studies).

In addition to Tzabaco's contribution, PlanetOut, the AOL- and Web-based gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender online community and XY Magazine, the nation's leading publication for young gay men, have also announced their support for the Memorial Fund. To donate, call 1-800-856-1667, reference Jacob.

The Tzabaco Catalog Safe Schools Initiative supports advocacy, programming and outreach projects to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. It is the principal sponsor of the GLSEN/Tzabaco Back to School Campaign, which encourages gay adults to return to their school systems to help create change in the climate for today's gay students. The Initiative is funded in part by the Tzabaco Catalog Lesbian and Gay Community Fund of the Tides Foundation.

The Tzabaco Catalog is your complete how-to guide for relaxed living and your source for just about anything you put on your back or add to your nest. The largest direct marketer to lesbians, gay men and their families and friends, Tzabaco will mail over one million copies of its catalog to American homes this Holiday season. For a free subscription, call 800-857-1667. www.tzabaco.com.

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