Gay teen suicide.
I hate that phrase. Those words in combination suck. I hate it. I hate hearing it, I hate reading about it, I hate seeing it on every episode of Oprah, Maury, Dr Oz, and Ellen that I watch (the only shows that I can watch in the break room at work). So you know what? It’s gotta stop.
But it’s not going to, because people are dicks. People hurt other people because they can, because they want to, because it’s fun. Because people are small-minded and lash out at others to hide their own fears and inadequacies. Because . . . because that’s just what they do.
Take the case of Cody Barker, a seventeen year old kid from Wisconsin. This kid was the kind of gay kid that any school should be proud to have. He was an active student who was planning to start a gay-straight alliance at his school, because he knew that it wasn’t just his own life that sucked. He wanted to make high school better for all gay students.
He never got that chance.
Neither did Asher Brown or Seth Walsh, thirteen-year-olds from Texas and California. Asher was bullied at school for two years for being gay. He came out to his stepfather after he and his mother had told the school about the problem numerous times. That same day, he shot himself. Seth tried to hang himself in his backyard and later died in the hospital.
These kids were thirteen. The only thing a thirteen year old boy should be thinking about is Pokemon and Pogs, for godssake. Or whatever the current relevant pop culture thing is. Silly Bandz or whatever. Thirteen. I don’t know how anyone can look at the picture of a smiling thirteen year old kid and think that he deserved to live through hell, that he deserved to die, because he was different than other kids.
But the one that really gets me mad is one of the one that kinda sparked this public outcry. His name was Tyler Clementi. He was eighteen years old, a college student. He asked his roommate, Dharun Ravi, to give him some alone time in their shared room. Ravi cleared out – and then accessed his webcam wirelessly, catching Tyler on camera with another boy.
Now, this could just be me. Maybe I’m weird. But if I saw my roommate on cam doing something I knew he didn’t want to get out, I would have turned the damn thing off. No. Ravi showed the video to friends, then when it happened again set up a live feed that was broadcast to pretty much the entire student body. Tyler was outed, to everyone, against his will. And the only way he knew how to handle it was to jump off a bridge.
The worst part is that Ravi didn’t do it because he was homophobic (which, yeah, he probably was). Not because he hated Tyler or because he hated gays. He did it because he thought it was funny. He thought it was hilarious. He as good as killed another student for shits and giggles. The maximum sentence he will get is five years. Maximum.
One of these kids sucks. Two is a tragedy. This many? Not just the four I’ve mentioned. More. This is a goddamn crisis. For every one of these cases that makes the local news, five more go unreported. And that’s just the kids who succeed. For every one of those kids, dozens more are harassed and bullied daily. Their lives are a hell because of a difference they can neither control nor hide.
Gay kids don’t deserve this bullshit. No kid deserves this bullshit. We’re not talking hypotheticals here. In his latest column, columnist Dan Savage said that we’re talking about “Real gay and lesbian children. Not political abstractions, not “sinners.” Gay and lesbian children.”
And it’s not just gay kids. They’re the ones who are easy to target, because according to both the law and some religions, gay kids are less than straight kids. Less than human. But when this kind of environment exist, when an environment of tacit approval to let kids be kids, when bullying is ignored by authorities figures, any child who is different, in any way, is a target.
So what can you do? All the stuff teachers and educators say about handling bullying is crap. It doesn’t work. One thing will work.
Don’t be a dick.
Don’t be the guy pushing the other guy into a locker. And if you’re friends with that guy, don’t let him do it either. Tell your friends not to be dicks. Tell your kids not to be dicks. Stand up to the dickery of others. Spread the gospel of non-dick-tude.
And keep your secrets. If you know someone is gay, don’t take it on yourself to out them. You have become a trusted secret-keeper. That knowledge could turn that kid in your science lecture into that kid on the six o’clock news.
This is my advice, solicited or unsolicited, to all the victims of others’ dickery. Gay or straight, kid or teen: it gets better. High school sucks. College can suck. But it does get better. Dozens of celebrities and regular people have added their own evidence to this message by joining the It Gets Better Project as a rallying point for gay youth. Dan Savage started the project with his own video version of the message, and hundreds of people – from celebrities to average people – added their own words. Gay teens don’t usually have access to adults who can give them information about living a happy and fulfilling life as gay person, and the Project is aimed at circumventing the school boards and parents who are trying to keep that information from reaching their kids. I added my own contribution, and you can view it here. I wasn’t out in high school, and I spent college afraid of ostracism by my own queer community. But I’m married, I’m out, I’m happy.
So believe me. It gets better.
Share your stories with me. Has your life gotten better? Do you know someone who needs to hear this message?