A couple of days ago, in honour of Coming Out Day I did a post with pictures of gay celebrities that was inspired by TJ, one of the reviewers on the site, and everyone who dropped by had a great time reminiscing about their favourite singers, professional athletes, movie stars etc.
Several months ago I wrote a different type of post, one that I consider my best to date. This was also about coming out but was much more serious in tone, and it included the stories of a few gay men telling what it was like to be out, or not. In case you have never seen this post and the poignant stories, here’s a link.
However, there’s another, darker side to coming out or being outed and it involves teens being bullied. This year many young men and women will come out on October 11, National Coming Out Day in the US and Canada. In Britain the day is celebrated on October 12. This is a good thing – right? But many teenagers won’t be here to come out or anything else because they are no longer with us – sadly they will have ended their own lives. The majority of these deaths were avoidable and preventable. These teens took their lives because they were bullied or outed by another person who got their kicks harassing someone who may already be struggling with coming to terms with their being gay, and these kids were either too devastated or they didn’t know where to go for help.
Unfortunately we live in a society where we only recognize how much pressure, teenagers especially, are under – from their peers, churches, parents, friends and others who are supposed to be supportive and love them – when an item makes the news like Rutgers College student Tyler Clementi’s suicide. We pay attention, momentarily, but then the news becomes old, we forget, and it fades away for tomorrow’s headlines, until someone else (usually another teenager) commits suicide because life has become unbearable. There are many teens whose deaths by their own hands do not merit even a paragraph in their local newspaper because they don’t consider it newsworthy, so this vicious cycle of bullying in schools, cyber bullying and every other kind, goes around and around like a hamster’s wheel. Another gay teenager in Indiana—Billy Lucas— killed himself after being taunted by his classmates. Now his Facebook memorial page is being defaced by people posting homophobic comments. Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Many of them live outside the large cities, in rural areas or other places with no gay support groups or services. Is there anything that can be done to stop or at least reduce the awful numbers of teen suicides? Yes!
First, I would ask that you be accepting and supportive of all of the young people in your lives. Often the signs are there when someone is having trouble, but they are easy to overlook; withdrawing from family and friends (sometimes to the point of not wanting to leave the house), grades that start slipping for a normally good student, cutting classes, faking sickness, mysterious bruises that they won’t explain, or sometimes even more serious issues. Granted these could be indicators of many problems or may just be teenage angst, but having a support network, people who they can count on, tell anything to, without judgment could make all the difference. Certainly don’t ask them if they are gay, but try to convey to them that you accept them no matter what and will always be there.
Projects like It.Gets.Better, was started by Dan Savage, a gay advocate and author. Dan recorded a PSA with his husband Terry on the channel he launched on Youtube for gay kids on bullying —www .youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject—to host these videos in order to talk directly to kids, and he invited everyone to make a video. In case you have been living under a rock and don’t know who Dan is, he writes a syndicated sex advice column Savage Love in newspapers across the US and Canada and more recently in Europe and Asia. He is making a difference and has been since his column started in The Onion almost 20 years ago, but it’s an uphill battle. Here’s the PSA:
I asked Buda, a reviewer on the site, a gay man who has way more experience than I ever will in this area, to write his own thoughts and hopefully give some inspiration and help to a teen who may be contemplating suicide. Buda was a moderator on an adult site that created a site called emptyclosets.com which is a safe space for teens.
I often say, only half-jokingly, that my childhood was not Disney-approved. I grew up in a very small town in the wide open spaces of Western Kansas. (To give you an idea of just how small and isolated the town was, there were 39 people in my graduating class. As a teenager, if my friends and I wanted to go to the nearest McDonald’s for fries and a shake, we would drive an hour each direction.)
I remember being called names and being branded a “fag” long before I even knew what the words meant, as I’m sure my tormentors didn’t really know either. My 7th through 10th grade years were sheer hell. Not because I was being stuffed into lockers or beaten after school (I was much too big for that, though there were threats and the occasional shove into the wall), but mostly because, no matter what the children’s rhyme says, words do hurt. It wasn’t only my schoolmates; it was the tenor of the times. It was the mid-to-late 1980s, a time long before the internet. I remember that the only gay men and women I saw on television then were ACT-UP activists, fighting Ronald Reagan’s government for more money for AIDS research. Those people petrified me even more than the rednecks I had grown up around!
Eventually, I moved four hours away, to a town 25 times larger. It got better. I met other gay people, came out first to those new gay friends, then to my family. And I started making a new family out of the gay men and lesbians I met. I fell in love and flat on my face in heartbreak. And even through all that, it got better. I started to like me more, to believe less of the venom that had been spewed at me in high school, by classmates and an extremely homophobic and AIDS-panic-stricken media.
Many years later, I became involved with the adult site Wave mentioned, moderating the forums there. Because it was an adult site, no one under 18 was allowed membership. We actively searched through new members and turned them away in droves out of self-preservation. One of my proudest moments was when the owners of the site launched a safe website for teens called emptyclosets.com. It was slow going at first and sometimes very difficult to read the pain-filled posts these teens left. But much sooner than later, it became apparent that Empty Closets was making a difference to those kids. They were talking to each other about their fears, hopes, dreams, in a safe place where no one would judge them or hurt them. That site now has over 8000 members and the topics are mind-blowingly diverse for a site called what it is. But it fills a needed place for these people. Many of the original members are now well over 18, but they still come to hang out and lend a virtual helping hand.
I wish Eric Mohat, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Cody Barker, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Raymond Chase and Tyler Clementi had found reassurance,
help and belonging at Empty Closets–or anywhere. They might still be with us. As would Zach Harrington, a 19-year-old Oklahoman who, we learned Sunday, despite all the attention to the bullying problem and the promises that it gets better, committed suicide October 5. How many others are we not hearing about? Our teens (and I’m not just talking to my fellow LGBTers here because your son/daughter/niece/nephew/dog Spot might be struggling with his/her sexuality right this very minute) are killing themselves at a rate four times higher than heterosexual teens. And I swear that every time this happens, not only does an angel lose his wings and a remarkable human lose his or her precious life, but a self-loathing, gay-hating bigot stands a little prouder, thinking he’s winning something.
So listen to me now: It. Gets. Better. Not all at once, not even necessarily when you desperately need it to. But this is just as important to know: You are not alone. Someone truly does care, even if you think it’s impossible or you’re not worth it. Trust and believe in me: you are worth it! So please, before you do anything permanent that lets the bigots who are only in your life temporarily win, log on to emptyclosets.com or call the Trevor Project. It will get enough better right then to see you through another day, to help you win a little bit more each time.
Raymond Chase and Cody Barker were two of 6 teens who were known to have committed suicide in September.
If this post saves just one teen’s life by directing him or her to a help line, or a sympathetic and non judgmental adult who can provide support, that’s all I can ask.
Thanks to TJ for editing my post and adding an important paragraph. Also, a huge “thank you” to Buda for letting us into his life.