Learning from suicides of gay youths
Last month was one of the darkest in recent memory for the gay community. In one week came reports of five -- five -- suicides of young men and boys who felt they had no other way to end the bullying, harassment or invasion of privacy they endured because they were gay or perceived to be gay.
Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself in his California back yard on Sept. 19. Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22. Asher Brown, 13, from Houston shot himself in the head on Sept. 23. Raymond Chase, 19, from New York hanged himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island on Sept. 29. The circumstances surrounding the Sept. 30 death of a 14-year-old Indiana boy remain unclear, but he has been included in reports on this sad issue. David Badash, my old neighbor in New York and creator of the New Civil Rights Movement blog on gay issues, has posted the more complete and troubling list.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued a forceful statement Friday. "This is a moment where every one of us - parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience - needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms," Duncan said. "Whether it's students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the President of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop."
Bullying and harassment have always been part of human society and will never be fully eradicated. But such behavior can be unlearned through lessons of love, understanding, empathy and tolerance. That those five youths felt bereft enough to end their lives is heartbreaking. That they felt there was no alternative, no resource or person they could turn to for help is an indictment of our society, much of which still views such bullying and harassment as a rite of passage. The suicides, particularly that of Clementi, have dredged up awful memories for many gays and lesbians.
Yet the problem of bullying is acute for all children, so much so that the Education Department held an inaugural summit on the issue in August. A federal interagency Web site offers information and links to resources for those in need. Other organizations, such as GLSEN and the Trevor Project, have for years grappled with this issue for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Yet such efforts are aggressively derided by anti-gay groups, such as Focus on the Family, which has called attempts to bring civility to schools through inclusive anti-bullying policies a ruse to promote homosexuality to children. This is nonsense.
I pray that the parents, friends and other loved ones of these lost souls find a modicum of comfort in the outpouring of grief for their loss. I also pray that these deaths awaken more people to the unbelievable strain on children and young adults who are, or are perceived to be, different. We cannot belittle or ignore such pain; young people are ending their lives before they have even had a chance to live.
| October 3, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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