18 months ago I wrote an essay called Coming Out of the Closet, and included the coming out stories of 7 gay men. Those stories gave us a brief glimpse of their lives and personal experiences and showed how their individual decisions to come out (or not) affected them. Here’s a link to the post.
Coming out is probably one of the most important and critical personal decisions any gay person will make in his/her lifetime since it affects who they are and will eventually become. Many gay teens struggle with self image, even those who are not bullied, because they are made to feel that being gay is somehow not acceptable. While I can empathize with them I can’t convince them that they can accomplish whatever they choose to do, but I can tell them that gay men and women are just as successful as straights in any profession – medicine, science, architecture, engineering, law, politics, entertaining, writing, etc. A host of other professions teem with gay men and women, and the playing field is wide open except professional sports where gay players rarely come out and we don’t know who they are until they retire, because they are afraid of the impact coming out could have on their careers and incomes. One of the few athletes who came out while still in the game was Brendan Burke, (pictured above) son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, who unfortunately died in a car crash last year at 21. Brendan was not playing at the time but he was the manager of the Miami University (Ohio) Redhawks hockey team. Hopefully Brendan and others like him will change the landscape of professional sports in the future.
This year I again asked a few gay men if they would tell their coming out stories so they could reach a teen who is being bullied; they all agreed without hesitation. The poignant stories of these brave men are as diverse and unique as they are. Today they are doing something important by paying it forward, opening their hearts and letting us into their lives. Their hope is that by doing so they will help a teen who is in crisis right now and may be considering suicide due to bullying, which still is occurring despite the great strides made in GBLT acceptance. They want to make a difference by telling gay teens that their lives are valuable, and the best revenge on the bullies is to not give up – “things will change and your lives will improve.” l hope that these stories will help a few of the GBLT teens coming out today, so that they will stick it out and not be pushed into making a decision to end their lives prematurely because of bullying.
I salute and thank Thorny, Josh Aterovis, Ethan Stone, Reno MacLeod, Jaye Valentine, Buda, Brian and Damon Suede for opening their hearts and sharing their stories so that gay teens will be optimistic that the world can be a better place. These men are here today because they stuck it out and decided that, as Jaye Valentine put it, “living well is the best revenge.” Guys, I love you for doing this!
October 11 is National Coming Out Day in North America. Today many gay teens will come out and some of them will be bullied. Our goal here is to help avoid any further tragedies where the world will have lost another brilliant, diverse voice that never had a chance to be heard because of bigots and bullies. These teens could and would have made valuable contributions to society if only they had lived long enough to make a difference. We have to give those remaining teens who are on the brink new hope for a better day by helping them to see that suicide is not an option they should consider.
On National Coming Out Day 1 year ago I wrote an essay with Buda, one of our guest reviewers (who had himself been bullied at school) about the deadly impact bullying was having on teens, and its direct connection to teen suicides. I hope that at least one teen was saved by contacting the telephone help numbers in the post. This post is linked.
I’m sure you have read about Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old gay teen from upstate New York who took his own life last month because of relentless bullying on social networks and in school. Jamey had just started his freshman year at Williamsville North High School outside Buffalo, N.Y. The bullying began during middle school according to his parents – he had told family and friends about the hateful comments he had endured in school and online, mostly related to his sexual orientation. Here is one of the hate messages posted by other students on his account just before Jamey took his own life by hanging himself on the swing set he had been playing on since he was 3 years old:
“I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it. It would make everyone WAY more happier!”
Jamey left a message that said, in part: “I always say how bullied I am but no one listens.”
There are many more teens who are being bullied every day and they don’t bother to report it because their schools, friends and families fail to support them, and when it gets to be overwhelming some may consider ending their lives. Kids and teens need to feel safe and know that we support them, but unfortunately many of them feel abandoned by the people closest to them who are supposed to have their welfare at heart.
It was just one year ago that 18 year old Tyler Clemente took his own life because of being publicly outed by his college roommate. His suicide raised public awareness to the problem of teens being bullied to the point of committing suicide, but it didn’t stop the bullying. The It.Gets.Better project started by Dan Savage and his husband Terry has been a positive beacon of light to gay teens that life does indeed get better, but in view of recent events more work obviously needs to be done. Jamey had only months ago taken part in the project by posting a message, but tragically we will never get to see what wonderful things he could have accomplished
Here’s Jamey’s It.Gets.Better recording, sadly done just a few months before he took his life.
The latest statistics available show that 40% of American 6th graders report being bullied, many of them gay male teens.
90% more gay teens report being bullied than their straight counterparts and gay males are 5 times more likely to kill themselves because they are taunted and bullied, sometimes as much as 26 times a day, and it appears that teen boys are subjected to even more vicious cyber attacks on social networks.
Some experts say the bigger story is that hundreds of suicides go unreported or underreported every year.
In Canada, suicide is the second highest cause of death for youth aged 10-24. Each year, on average, 294 youths die from suicide. These are just the reported numbers. Many more attempt suicide. Aboriginal and gay and lesbian teens are at particularly high risk, depending on the community they live in and their own self esteem.
Many gay teens run the risk of losing their friends or being thrown out of their homes if they either come out or are inadvertently outed.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24 year olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14 year olds according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Studies consistently show that a high percentage of gay and lesbian youth (25-30%) attempt suicide and most of the males succeed.
Younger kids and teens are bullied for reasons other than being gay. Last month 11 year old Mitchell Wilson from Ontario, Canada who suffered from multiple sclerosis, took his own life because of cruel bullying and physical attacks by a 12 year old. Many teens are also taking their lives because of mental health issues, but the highest number of teen suicides, by far, is still gay teen males.
If you are a teen who is considering suicide there’s help. I urge you to contact any of the numbers below:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273 TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Stop Bullying – http://stopbullying.gov/topics/get_help/index.html
Suicide/Kids Helpline: 1-800-668-6868
Canada Suicide and Crisis Helplines/website:
Empty closets is a safe website for gay teens where they can figure out who they are. The site welcomes teens from 13 upwards. Here’s the link
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 a win-win. I know you all share our concern today and every day about the impact of bullying on gay teens, the most at-risk group, whether they come out of the closet or stay in because the pressure is too much for them.
We (you and I) have to try harder to help gay teens and make them believe that the world is not a cold, unfeeling place!! We all have to try our best to make them believe that things will indeed get better.
If you know of a teen who is in difficulties please direct him/her to the help lines in the post.
Thanks to Tj who edited this post. You rock babe!