Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Larry King Live

Celebrities Speak Out on Gay Bullying

Aired October 04, 2010 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, bullying. It led five young men in the span of one week to commit suicide, because they were taunted and tormented for being gay. Kathy Griffin, Wanda Sykes, Tim Gunn, Lance Bass, and Nate Berkus are here with their stories of personal pain and heartache and the drastic action one of them considered as his only escape. Next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. Wanda Sykes is an openly gay comedienne. She performs October 15th and 16th at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Kathy Griffin is a gay activist, comedienne and actress, the star of Bravo's "My life on the D-List." Tim Gunn stars in "Project Runway." Tim is gay. And he attempted suicide at age 17. And Lance Bass, openly gay, performer, former performer with N Sync. He says, get this, that in high school he made fun of gay kids to hide his own secret.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual parents -- their peers, rather. And the Trevor Project staffs a national 24-hour toll- free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth. Just remember this. 866-4U-TREVOR. 866-4U-TREVOR.

Why are they bullied? Why are gay people bullied? For what purpose?


KING: I mean, why would someone bully someone because they're gay?

SYKES: I think it stems with society. I mean, when society as a whole has told -- has basically told the kids that it's okay, that we're a group that you can pick on, that you that don't have to treat as equal. I mean, we see that in, you know, in the laws and everything else that's out here, in the churches that they preach that homophobia is wrong. You pretty much have given kids permission to disrespect and, you know, and to cause harm to the gay and lesbian community.

KING: Tim, you see that as a good reason?

TIM GUNN, "PROJECT RUNWAY": Well, Larry, I think that it's also fear-related, fear of the unknown. It stems from insecurities. I believe that there are many issues around this. I also want to add when Wanda cites the churches, the human rights campaign has a statistic, which is that there are still 33 states in this nation where one can be fired for being gay. So that puts gay people in the same category as those who are committing heinous crimes. And what does that really mean? It's a conundrum for me.

KING: Do you think, Kathy, that society, heterosexual society looks the other way?

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIENNE: Look, let's cut the crap. I think that the way that we had trickle-down economics in the '80s, this is trickle down homophobia. And I really want people to connect the dots. And that's why I believe there's a connection between Prop 8, don't ask, don't tell, and now the string of teen suicides. It's almost sanctioned to bully gay people and treat them as second-class citizens. And I get very nervous when the parents of these so-called bullies defend them saying, oh, kids will be kids, when you find out that the teen suicide rate is four times higher for a gay person. Think about how tragic suicide is, period. But why would you want to make it four times higher? And for what? These kids are just being themselves.

KING: Now Lance?

GRIFFIN: So I think a lot of the so-called religious leaders play into it. And the politicians certainly aren't doing enough. There's a lot of very right-wing conservative people that absolutely sanction this behavior. And there's a lot you can do to finally put a stop to it.

KING: Wait, you're not saying that this religious person would say it's okay to bully a gay person. They may say--

GRIFFIN: Really? Have you talked to Jim DeMint today? I mean, there's a--

KING: And he would say it's okay to bully someone?

GRIFFIN: He doesn't think there should be gay teachers. So yeah, what I'm saying is that -- when I say so-called religious leaders, I mean, because not of course all religion is bad, but there are a lot of people under the umbrella of I'm a religious leader or gee, I don't mind gay people, I just don't want them in my church, I just don't think they should marry, I don't think they should serve openly.

I did an episode of "My Life on the D-List," where I talked to a gay serviceman who said he was in the barracks with his pal in Iraq, who said you know what we should do? We should go hang a fag from a tree outside. He thought that was his friend. He was serving in Iraq. So this is all kind of sanctioned quietly at is this point.

KING: Lance -- hold it one second, Wanda. Lance, you're the member -- you were a member of N Sync, one of the most popular groups ever in this country. Now, you made fun of gay kids in high school to hide your own secret.

LANCE BASS, N SYNC: That's right. KING: Didn't you think you were harming your own kind in a sense? Did you feel bad when you did that?

BASS: You know, as a kid, you don't think of it like that. When you're 13, 14, you just go along with what the other people are doing. You just want to fit in. You want to make sure that your friends like you.

So yeah, you're going to crack jokes, you're going to laugh along with it. And when you're a teenager, you're not really thinking, oh, I'm being a bully by laughing along with it. You think okay, a bully's just someone that can physically go and harm someone for being short, for being black, white, whatever. But you know, you're also a bully by condoning the behavior and making the jokes along with them.

KING: Do you think the bullier feels better about bullying someone he thinks is less than himself? I mean, what do you get out of bullying?

SYKES: I really don't know what they get out of it. I mean, I -- I've never been a bully.

KING: Have you been bullied?

SYKES: Larry, nobody's going to bully me. Come on now. No. But--

GRIFFIN: I have.


GRIFFIN: I've been bullied. And you know what hurts? The collusion. I remember one time I was getting my butt kicked in a park when I was a little kid. And I'll never forget a guy walking by with a briefcase, just walking by. And I feel like at this time we can't be that guy anymore. We can't walk by anymore.

KING: Yes.

GRIFFIN: That's why it's important to get involved with places like the Trevor Project. And as I travel the whole country, as you do, you meet all kinds of people. And I can't believe how many people come up to me at shows and they'll say until your show I don't think I've ever sat next to a gay person before.

KING: Weird.

GRIFFIN: So the word is they're out there, we're all out there.

KING: Tim, in your book, "Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work," do you write about this at all?

GUNN: I do, Larry. I certainly talk about the bullying that I experienced and about the -- how marginalized I felt. And it was serious enough and I felt desperate enough that I wanted to end my own life. And I'm very lucky that my suicide attempt was not successful. KING: Last week, Ellen DeGeneres spoke out on her show. Take a look.


ELLEN DEGENERES, COMEDIENNE: Being a teenager and figuring out who you are is hard enough without someone attacking you. My heart is breaking for their families, for their friends and for our society that continues to let this happen. These kids needed us. And we have an obligation to change this. There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting. And we have to make it stop. We can't let intolerance and ignorance take another kid's life.

And I want anyone out there who feels different and alone to know that I know how you feel. And there is help out there. And you can find support in your community. If you need someone to talk to, or if you want to get involved, there are some really great organizations listed on our website. Things will get easier. People's minds will change. And you should -- you should be alive to see it.


KING: Five people hung themselves within a week. Seth Walsh in his California backyard, September 19th. The Rutgers university freshman Tyler Clement, 18, jumps of the George Washington bridge September 22nd. Asher Brown, 13 years old, from Houston, shot himself in the head on September 23rd. Raymond Chase, 19, hung himself in his dorm room in Rhode Island on September 29th. And on September 30th, a 14-year-old Indiana boy ended his life.

Kathy, you've been to Iraq, even talked with gay soldiers who were bullied in the military--


KING: Let's take a look at that.


GRIFFIN: Are there certain people in your unit that you feel like would be the type of person that would tend to out you and you kind of stay away from them?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm more worried about the violence and possible gay bashing because there is so much just accepted hate because of like the whole policy. Because I would become like really good friends with this one person. And he wouldn't know that I was gay. And when we were in our corps school, he just out of nowhere said "I think we should hang gay people out in front of the trees so they know they're not welcome here." And I was like, what?

GRIFFIN: Wow. How do you respond to someone saying that to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't say anything. Like -- I was -- that killed me.


GRIFFIN: And later on off camera, he said he didn't use the expression "gay person."

KING: By the way, Kathy's going to have a special announcement. It's coming up next. Don't go away.


TIME STAMP: 2112:21

KING: there you see Lance Bass's "no hate" photo. He and Kathy have both posed for no hate. No hate supports equality and gay rights. And Kathy's involved with the Trevor Project. Tell us why it's important. And I understand you've got an announcement.

GRIFFIN: Well, yeah, because I think that in situations like this, people want to know what they can do. And the great thing about the Trevor Project, as you said, it's 1-866-4-U-TREVOR. You can call 24 hours a day. It's a confidential help line if you're depressed. You can go to their website, And I have -- you know, tour all the time like you do. And so my December 16th show at the Gibson Universal Amphitheater here in L.A., I'm going to give my entire salary to them. So none of this portions of the proceeds BS. But I can't give like the union money for the rental and stuff like that. But what I want to do is let people know it's a regular show. I'm still going to be as offensive as always, but the actual money will benefit the Trevor Project. But also, you can join a phone bank. You can volunteer in your neighborhood. You can help many ways. Also, you can help by maybe reaching out to someone in your school that you might think is gay or know is gay and just be their friend. Just talk to them.

KING: Yes. Lance, I don't know how to relate -- I'll start with you and then we'll go around. Boyd Packer, he's I think the second highest leader in the Mormon church. He delivered a sermon called "Same-sex Attraction," and he called it impure and unnatural and against God's law and nature. And apparently, he said that after learning of some of these suicides. Now, I know many, many Mormons. I'm married to a Mormon. They're some of the most wonderful people I know. I've never seen them say prejudiced things. Do you think those kind of things spoken from their own bible could lead to violence?

BASS: I mean, it does. You know, it's very confusing. I grew up in the bible belt, you know, here in America. And you know, I grew up Southern Baptist. And you know, it's very scary as a kid, because you're always taught, you know, that oh, gay is wrong, you're going to hell.

So you know, you're basically scared into believing those thoughts. And it's all what you're taught. You know, these kids don't learn it themselves. It's all what they're taught from the older generations, your older brothers, your sisters, your parents. It's passed down generation to generation. You know, those thoughts. KING: But they also teach, Wanda, love the sinner, hate the sin.

SYKES: They don't teach that enough. You know. I mean, and it's -- they don't teach the love part. I'll put it that way. They don't teach the love part enough. And it's all driven on by fear. You know, it's -- and I believe a lot of people -- like if it were my own family. You know, I believe that the big problem that my family had with me is that, you know, it's the superstition and it's the fear that if I accept you, then I'm accountable and then I'm going to go to hell, which is -- it's crazy.

KING: Is it -- did you make a conscious decision, Tim, to be gay?

GUNN: Oh, certainly not, Larry. As a matter of fact, growing up, I didn't really know who I was when it came to my sexuality. But I knew who I wasn't. And there just weren't a lot of positive role models for me growing up, gay role models. I mean, when I reflect on it, Paul Lindh running around "Bewitched" as Uncle Arthur. And you had gay decorators in the Doris Day movies sort of flitting about. And I thought, I'm not like that. That isn't who I am.

So I knew who I wasn't. And it was very difficult to come to terms with.

KING: Yes, I would imagine, Kathy -- and you're of this four- person panel, you are not gay.

GRIFFIN: I'm not gay.

KING: But you didn't -- did you choose to be heterosexual? Did you one day say gay, not gay?

GRIFFIN: I didn't choose to be heterosexual any more than Wanda chose to be gay or Tim or Lance. And that's what's so simple about this.

KING: So why are they (inaudible), why are they beaten? Why are they--

GRIFFIN: Because they're not sinning. You know, I'm sorry, but I want to connect the dots once again, because I feel that there's something happening now more than ever where it's all sanctioned to bully a little bit, and gay bash a little bit. And I am sorry, but I hold the White House accountable and like I said, these so-called religious leaders.

And that's why Prop 8 is tied to the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. It is tied to the bullying and these suicides. Remember, Matthew Sheppard wasn't a suicide, but he was bullied to death, to death.

KING: Correct.

GRIFFIN: And a lot of young people don't even know the name Matthew Sheppard. Look it up. Look up the name Tyler Clementi. Spend five minutes online and look up this person's story. And you'll see this is something that is preventable. It is a preventable--

KING: That's the kid who jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

GRIFFIN: Yes. And what a way, because someone surreptitiously videotaped him. Do you think that if it was a man and a woman being videotaped, that one of these people would have committed suicide? No.

KING: We'll be right back after this. Don't go away.


TIME STAMP: 2120:10

KING: We're back with our panel. Wanda, a mega preacher in Atlanta, Eddie Long, who denounces homosexuality, is being accused of gay sexual misconduct. Now, we hear a lot of this. Congressmen, preachers. What do you make of that, when you see hypocrisy run rampant?

SYKES: Well, it -- you know, it goes back to, you know, the saying of, you know, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I guess in this case it's, you know, the squeaky wheel gets the ballerina slippers. It's just crazy that he is -- you know, he's in the church. And he said, you know, if gay people are in my church, he asked them to leave. And here we hear -- exactly. And here we find out, you know, he's taking these young boys and flying around the country. And I can't believe that he's still in the pulpit.

KING: Is it your church?

SYKES: What was that?

KING: It's your church?

SYKES: It's my church? No, no, no, no.

KING: Do you know people who go there?

SYKES: No, no. Do I know people who go to that church? I know people who are affiliated with that church.

GRIFFIN: I know people who've been to many churches who have had priests who were Hippocratic to them -- sorry. You know, church in a big way.

SYKES: What I would like to know is what message are we sending to the kids if he's still standing in the pulpit, you know, and the leader of the church? I mean, you're telling your kids that it doesn't matter if you speak up. The person who's in power is going to win. You know, what you say, it doesn't matter. I mean, I'm not saying he's guilty or not. I don't know this man.

KING: Right, Tim?

SYKES: But he should step down.

KING: Tim's book, by the way, we mentioned earlier, we'll show it to you, is "Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work." Tim, do you know why -- has anybody studied why a bully bullies? Okay, you may not like them, you may think they're a sinner. Why do you hit them? Why do you goad them?

GUNN: You know, Larry--

KING: Why that?

GUNN: --it's so against my very inner being and my soul. I fundamentally don't understand it. I've never been a bully. And it's largely because -- I shouldn't speculate in this way. But I suspect it's because I was always the object of bullying. And it was just a horrible way to grow up, and to live in fear of going into a playground behind the school or walking home from school. It's an awful way to live every day. And--

KING: Do you think a bully is a chicken really? Do you think a bully is just--

GRIFFIN: Oh, you bet they are. Especially when they're alone.

GUNN: I agree with Wanda. I believe a bully is a chicken. If you really are secure in who you are as a person, you don't need to behave that way. So I think it stems from insecurities and fear.

KING: Right.

BASS: And you have something to hide.

KING: By the way, Neil Patrick Harris has made a public service announcement for the It Gets Better campaign. Watch.


NEIL PATRCIK HARRIS: There's no need to harm yourself if something's going bad. You can act with strength. You can act with courage. You can act with class. And stand tall. Be proud of who you are. This is a good time that we live in. And we're being granted more and more rights. And that's awesome. And it will continue in that direction. And -- yeah. Be proud.


KING: Lance, 9 out of 10 LGBT students, that's lesbian and gay, bisexual students, experience harassment at school. And over 160,000 kids stay home from school every day, 160,000, for fear of being bullied.

BASS: Yeah.

KING: What kind of existence is that?

BASS: It's a terrible one, you know. And it goes back to our leaders, I think. You know, once we finally get rid of don't ask, don't tell, when everyone is equal and being able to get married, that's what's teaching our younger generation, you know, what is right and what is wrong. And until that is like -- that is done, these kids aren't going to really, you know, respect their own opinions. They're going to be thinking, oh, this is what the government's telling me to think. And obviously, they're treating us like second-class citizens. So that's how they're going to grow up thinking.

KING: We'll be right back. Don't go away.


TIME STAMP: 2127:14


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dude, what would happen if one of us was a bully?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, and you bullied one of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We decided to do a bully situation and figure out what would be the best thing to do about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I played the bully and hated it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going on, little guy?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You haven't grown at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was the one getting bullied. And that didn't feel so good either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I was just watching it all go down. I had to do something. And the best thing to do is to get an adult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's enough. That's enough. Back up, Jackson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Together we can make a difference. Stop bullying. Speak up. Go to stop bullyingspeak to find out more.


KING: That was a PSA from the stars of Cartoon Network's "Dude, What Would Happen?"

Still to come, Nate Berkus and country star Shelly Wright.

What -- a memorial was held over the weekend for Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student. He jumped from the George Washington Bridge after a video of him having sex with another male was put on the Internet. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not a video he made himself. That's what's key.

KING: No, of course. Do you think people have any knowledge of what they're doing, what the harm it causes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to think that they don't at the time. I think a lot of bullies do it because it makes them feel bigger. But I can't imagine someone thinking this person's going to write a simple line that says "jumping off the GW bridge." how can you live with that? And by the way, I would say that the blood is on the hands of several people who have participated in those kinds of bullyings. The blood's on their hands, as well as a lot of our leaders, our so-called leaders.

KING: What do you say to someone who bullies, Wanda?

SYKES: What do you say to someone?

KING: Yes, what do you say to someone?

SYKES: Why? What's the purpose? What do you hope to accomplish? Do you really think that little of yourself that, you know, you need to pump yourself up by being in control trying to ruin someone else? I mean, basically, get a life. Get a life. Try to be, you know -- make something of yourself.

KING: How could you live, Tim, if you knew that you bullied someone and then they killed themselves? I mean, how could you live with yourself?

GUNN: Larry, I can't even comprehend it. It's simply impossible to even understand. And I couldn't live with myself. That's for certain.

KING: Do you understand it, Lance, how -- what do they get out of it? Are they somehow extolled by their friends because they bully? Do friends encourage the bullying person to go on?

BASS: Yeah. I mean, I don't know what it is. I mean, it's definitely to impress your friends. I mean, I think that's the main reason people do bully, is to look cool in front of your friends. But you've just got to realize you're not being cool at all. I mean, it's the stupidest thing to do. And a lot of these kids also that are getting bullied, they don't realize because when you're in high school or junior high, that is your world. You don't think anything beyond that. And they don't realize that in a few years that all goes away. It all gets so much better. And you won't even -- you will leave those people behind and they won't have anything to do with you why life. Like life gets so much better.

KING: What advice do you give, Kathy, to a kid who's struggling?

GRIFFIN: Well, first of all, I think reaching out is really important. What's great is that when I was a kid, there weren't organizations like the Trevor Project. And no matter where you go, you can give them -- wherever you are, you can give them a call.

But also I just think like -- I remember when I was a kid and there was like a frail kid being picked on, I just befriended him. So I think just human to human friendship can be a buoying thing. And also I thought the PSA was really great, saying get an adult. So not that everyone is trustworthy or perfect or going to do the right thing, but I would say in a school situation, yeah, you'd probably have better luck getting an adult to help intervene than one of the jocks or cheerleaders.

KING: Tim, I thought things were getting better, that we had more acceptance, that there was more love and harmony. So are we just hearing about it more? Were there always suicides?

GUNN: Larry, I'd like to think that we're just hearing more about it also. At the same time, I do believe that there is -- that this represents an escalation in incidents. And of course owing to the new dimensions of the media, we hear more about it and we hear it louder and more profoundly.

It's very unsettling. And it's not a good message to send to anyone, that this is happening. And I agree with Kathy. You're not going to do this alone. You need to enlist resources, the people who love you, the people who care about you and who can nurture you definitely, and definitely adults.


BASS: I'm sorry. I just wanted to say I'm just so glad that you're really promoting this Trevor Project. There are so many great organizations out there. Brittany Snow has a Love is Louder Campaign with the Jet Foundation and Trevor. Where I come from, like in Mississippi, those are the places that never -- they never get to talk to someone. So, you know, phone lines like this are just so important to get out there to the smaller cities out there, because we kind of get used to living in New York and L.A. It's a lot easier to have acceptance. But when you're from a very small town, you feel like the only lonely person in town.

KING: Wanda, you agree with Kathy that there are links to this, like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that they're all part of leading up to this increase in bullying?

SYKES: I believe that it is assisting. You know, I'm not going to say that that's the -- you know, the crux of it, because this has been going on for decades. But I think maybe what's making people a little more vocal and -- is because of issues that -- like Don't Ask, Don't Tell and Prop 8. They're so much in the forefront right now of politics that maybe that's, you know, causing people to do more harm.

But, you know, this just goes back to discrimination, prejudice, fear, hatred. I mean, just as a black person, Larry -- I mean, I know things have gotten a lot better, but there's parts of the United States that I would be afraid to go to as a black person. I mean, it's just something that we're born with, innate. When I go to a place, I check it out, I look around, and I go, OK, is it cool for me to be here?

And then as a gay person, I have to do the same thing. I mean, it's -- until we have laws and until there is a strong presence that says hey, this is not right, we're not going to put up with it, and it's just taught down to the kids, then it's not going to change.

KING: Tim and Lance are going to leave us, and two panelists will replace them. Wanda and Kathy remain. Thank you both very much. We're going to meet a mother whose teenage son killed himself after being bullied. Her story is next.


KING: Tammy Aaberg's son Justin was 15 years old when he committed suicide in July, after being bullied at school. Justin was gay. His mother, Tammy, joins us from Minneapolis. How long did you know that your son was gay, Tammy?

TAMMY AABERG, GAY SON COMMITTED SUICIDE AFTER BEING BULLIED: I found out January of 2009, when he had hurt himself. I brought him to the hospital.

KING: He was how old, 13 then?

AABERG: Thirteen, yes.

KING: Did he tell you he was bullied at school?

AABERG: He only mentioned one incident that was a month before he died. And he said that that kid was gay as well, so he blew it off. That was the only time I've heard about.

KING: Did you know he was tormented?

AABERG: No. He always was smiley, happy kid, had many friends, loved playing his cello. I had no idea.

KING: Why did he kill himself?

AABERG: I'm guessing things added up, especially some of the things that I've been hearing and one event in particular. And I don't know what was the last thing that day that made him go over to take the -- make that decision. But -- but it had to be pretty significant.

KING: Was -- did he leave you any note?

AABERG: No. I only found something that said -- it was like he was starting to write a song or something. And it said -- it was back in his closet, something about ending his pain. So I don't know if he had thought about this in the past or not.

KING: How did you learn of it?

AABERG: Learn of?

KING: His death.

AABERG: Learn of what?

KING: His death.

AABERG: Oh. Me and my oldest son, Andrew, and my youngest, Anthony, who's eight, we found him in the bedroom hanging from his futon frame.

KING: Did you talk to people at the school?

AABERG: Yes. When I found out Justin was bullied -- one of his friends had texted me, actually, and asked me if I was going to speak at the school board meeting, and I wondered why. And she called me then and told me that he was bullied and told me the stories that she had went through as well. And she also went to the school board.

And so I addressed them on August 23rd. And then I've been speaking about his death since then. And I've been talking to kids all over the country that have come to me and feel that they're not alone now. And I guess me speaking out has helped them to some extent.

KING: We -- for the record, here's part of a statement we received from a spokesperson for Justin's school district.


KING: "The Annica Hennepin" -- that's the district -- "was the first district in the state of Minnesota to adopt a specific anti- bullying policy. Did that in 2003. This current school year, we are providing specific training to all middle and high school teachers on how to recognize and intervene when there is harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students. Any district employee who fails to stop harassment during the course of their duties will be held accountable."

Did you know that that district was on record on this long ago, Tammy?

AABERG: No. No. According to the policy that I see out there, they don't have gay or lesbian or gender identity language in their harassment policy at all. And the one that they have now too with curriculum is a neutrality policy. So teachers don't even know how to intervene in a lot of issues when kids are being bullied or called names.

A lot of teachers don't even intervene at all. And they're -- actually, as far as this past Saturday, from an article in the "Star Tribune" paper, which is the Minneapolis-St. Paul paper, Tom Heidemann (ph), who is the board chair, says regarding the policy, "we picked a position that we're not going to deal with it. These are issues that can be dealt with outside the classroom."

So it doesn't sound like they are planning on changing any of the policies right now. KING: Tammy, we'll be calling on you again. I salute you. I know you're out there trying to help others like Justin. And we know how sad this -- there's no way. We don't know what to say. Thank you, Tammy.

AABERG: Thank you.

KING: Tammy Aaberg. Nate Berkus and country star Chely Wright are next.


KING: We're back with Wanda Sykes and Kathy Griffin. Joining us now, Chely Wright, singer-songwriter. In May, she became the first major country music performer to announce that she's gay. She's a spokesperson for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Also with us is Nate Berkus, host of "The Nate Berkus Show." He hopes that his own experiences with coming out can help others.

Chely came out recently and talked about her sexual orientation in an upcoming documentary. Watch.


CHELY WRIGHT, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: Country music has been described as being about God and family and country. And for some reason, people think that you can't be gay and have those beliefs. And that's why I have to do this. I have to be one to step forward to say, really? You think you know what gay is? Well, I'm your -- I'm your "People Magazine's" 50 most beautiful. I'm your American Legion Woman of the Year.

I was the first artist of any genre to play in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. I was the first. And I'm gay.


KING: Chely, do you think it's tougher being a lesbian in the country music field?

WRIGHT: Well, I think it's tough for every American who's gay and lesbian. I think it's tough for a junior high math teacher to be a lesbian, Larry. But certainly with never having an openly gay or lesbian country music singer, yes, it's been tough.

KING: Have you ever been bullied?

WRIGHT: Since my coming out, I've been bullied. I was bullied in school, of course not for being gay, because I hid until May of this year the fact that I'm gay. But since my coming out, yes, I have been bullied. And it doesn't feel good.

KING: Nate, you wrote about the challenges of being young and gay in a book called "Crisis." You wrote that from age 13 to 17 growing up in the suburbs of Minnesota "I was in a crisis mode." That mother we just had on, her son killed himself in a suburb of Minneapolis. What do you mean by a crisis mode?

NATE BERKUS, "THE NATE BERKUS SHOW": Well, I think, Larry, what I meant by that -- first of all, my heart goes out to all of the parents right now who have lost their children. This is a call to arms. I'm very grateful to be part of the show tonight, because we have to come together as a country and as a society to keep this from happening. The gay suicides have to end.

Crisis mode for me was -- you know, when any child is 13, 14 years old, it doesn't matter, you -- and you are trying to hide a fundamental part of yourself, what happens is that you cannot focus on anything else. Please understand, too, there was no Youtube. There were no -- there was no Internet, nothing like that, when I was growing up.

So when I was a young teen and I was in the closet, there was no -- you know, the bullying went on constantly, but it wasn't on a national scale. So there's many things going on right now. And the crisis that I was in literally doesn't hold a candle to the crisis that we are putting the gay youth in today.

KING: The Trevor Project staffs a toll-free confidential suicide hotline: 866-4-U-TREVOR. We'll have an exclusive look at a new announcement from Wanda, Elton John, Ricky Martin, and Lea Michelle from "Glee." More of our whole panel. Stay with us.



KING: Wanda, is there advice you can give -- this is for the whole panel -- to a young man who, tomorrow, is going to be bullied in school?

SYKES: Talk to your parents. Let your parents know what's going on. And, also, know that things are going to get better. It won't always be that way.

GRIFFIN: It could be any relative. It could be an aunt or uncle or a good buddy.

SYKES: Find that person. And also, there's organizations. You know, hopefully, maybe there's an LGPT center in their community. Get in contact with them. Of course, the Trevor Project.

KING: Talk to your teachers?

GRIFFIN: I think it depends, frankly. I think there are schools in parts of the country -- I'm from a Catholic background. I wouldn't have gone to those nuns. I think it's all about being sensitive to who you think the person is that is safe for you.

KING: This subject has galvanized people everywhere. Here's a new public service announcement premiering here. It's from Watch.


ELTON JOHN, SINGER: Whenever I hear about a hate crime, I'm shocked and saddened.

RICKY MARTIN, SINGER: One of these acts of violence and intimidation occurs approximately every hour of every day in this country.

SYKES: Imagine walking down the street and wondering if this is the day that you'll get beaten up or even killed simply because of who you are?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gay, lesbian, buy sexual and transgender people constantly face this fear. Sometimes, with devastating results.

MARTIN: It is time for things to change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's time we all stand together and say "enough is enough." We will not tolerate hate any longer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all have to get involved.

SYKES: We all have to give a damn.

JOHN: I give a damn.


MARTIN: I give a damn. Do you? Join us at to learn more.


KING: We said Lea Michele. That's Idina Menzel on that PSA. You think that helps, Chely?

WRIGHT: I do. I'm proud to say that I'm part of the Give a Damn campaign. You mentioned earlier, Larry, that I'm the national spokesperson for Glisten. You know, something -- school is everything. As Lance mentioned earlier, that is the center of a young person's world. I'm proud to say that next week, Glisten is rolling out a national safe space campaign that will help ensure that every kid at school gets the same learning environment. We have a safe space kit and a sticker that an educator can put in their classroom or at the window of -- the door of their classroom. And it identifies the educator, the teacher or the administrator as a safe space.

And what we're learning from students is that if a teacher, an adult identifies themselves as someone who will show respect and concern, it makes all the difference. And you can go to for that information.

KING: We'll be back with more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Let's go around the panel. Nate Berkus, do you think it is going to get better?

BERKUS: Larry, it absolutely has to get better. The truth is it takes one adult -- one adult to intervene. We can do this from New York and L.A. and be on television. But in the towns across America, where the bullying is happening and the kids feel like they have no one to go to, it takes one adult to notice.

Where are our heroes? You be that hero. We have to intervene. On the ground, boots on the ground. The intervention has to happen in the schools, on the playground, in the sports, whatever is going on. Bring you kids home and ask them -- it's -- everyone knows how the bullies are, Larry. Every teacher every parent, every kid -- walk into a third grade class, it takes you two minutes to identify who is bullying who. Literally, two minutes.

So say to your kids tonight, who is bullying who in this school? Empower your children to stand up for them. Drive to school tomorrow morning and be the one that intervenes. Be the one that can save the lives of all these people. We saw the mother from Minnesota.

KING: Kathy, you think this can change?

GRIFFIN: Yes. If you're watching this at home and you feel enraged but helpless, you can help. All right, come see me at the Gibson Theater. Make a monetary donation. Come get a pamphlet. Sign up for the Trevor Project. Sign up for Give a Damn. Go talk to somebody. Like he said, you can see those bullies. And you can probably see the more frail kids, too. Go say "hi." Talk to them. Listen to them.

KING: Do you think it can change, Wanda? Do you think it gets better?

SYKES: Definitely, definitely, because we're having this conversation now and more people are talking about it. So I think the awareness --

KING: It's Bully Awareness Week.

SYKES: Yes, it is Bully Awareness Week. And I think until things do get better, that we're -- I'm going to continue to talk about it. We're going to do our part.

KING: Chely, are you optimistic?

WRIGHT: I am optimistic. But we all have to be paying attention. Everyone should get the same shot. And you know what, this is the way I was born. I'm a Christian and I'm gay. And everyone should get the same shot, and including these kids in school. Schools have to start paying attention to anti-LGBT bullying now.

KING: We're almost out of time. Nate, don't schools see it more than home? BERKUS: Absolutely schools see it more than home. Parents want to send their kids to school. School has to be a safe place. Gay, black, whatever the issue is, it doesn't matter; the discrimination has no place in the public school system or private school system. It has no place and it has to end.

WRIGHT: We have bullies in Congress. We've got bullies in churches. We have bullies -- we have adult bullies, too. We've got to start -- our adults --

GRIFFIN: And you can ignore them, too. In other words, you can come from a family that may feel that way, but you don't have to 2350e8 that way yourself.

KING: Thanks to all of you. We hope we helped a little. The Trevor Project, toll free, confidential suicide hotline, 866-4-U- TREVOR.

Liza Minnelli is here tomorrow night. I didn't have to say the last name, did I? Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" is next.