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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.

By Jonathan Capehart  | October 3, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Comments

The nation's schools SHOULD openly, forcefully, promote homosexuality, as it does heterosexuality. No "ruse" should be required.

It's been sixty years since Kinsey showed us how prevalent homosexuality is in America, almost forty since it was no longer declared an illness, and twenty years since 300,000 gay men, denied a suitable context for their very ordinary human sexual desires, died of AIDS.

When will we ever learn, and start teaching children that's it's wonderful to love someone of the same sex?

Posted by: tomhenning | October 3, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

I've learned that a gay kid will jump off a bridge because he's not sure if simply going to an RA will get his roommate in sufficient trouble.

I believe you people call this "direct action."

Posted by: pcannady | October 4, 2010 7:49 AM | Report abuse

What's with the "you people" snipe? We're all of us humans, aren't we? Why are some so determined to set some apart, exclude some, minimize the harm done by the "we are we and you are they" attitude?

It betrays our primate roots, doesn't it? Someone is in the troupe, or outside. If any of us want to consider ourselves special, maybe we ought to consider all of us special.

Posted by: Palladia1 | October 4, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

Read the link to the article on Focus on the Family's objections. Those objections hardly deserve to be dismissed as "nonsense." It seems that from the perspective of Capehart and GLSEN, any suggestion that gay sex is morally wrong is inherently hateful.

Posted by: sthoffmann1 | October 4, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

The reprehensible actions of these two people directly caused this young man to take his own life. Did it ever occur to them that their invasion of his privacy would live on in cyperspace and possibly affect his future opportunities?

We should all be raising our children to respect differences in people.

Posted by: zzishate@yahoo.com | October 4, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I was really confused to read this above:
It is now "almost forty (years) since it was no longer declared an illness, and twenty years since 300,000 gay men, denied a suitable context for their very ordinary human sexual desires, died of AIDS.
When will we ever learn, and start teaching children that's it's wonderful to love someone of the same sex?" - ? - ? - ?
WAIT A MINUTE: It's WONDERFUL TO love someone of the same sex - and DIE OF AIDS? Has someone gone mad here?
Of course, that is NOT GOOD. And neither is it good that youngsters kill themselves - whether it is because they are homosexual - or because they have been touched or raped by a homosexual (whether priest or regular "gay": the effect is the same).
But nobody wants to see these victims. They're just "bigots", if they get sick from the mere thought of THAT "loving" touch, just because they are truly normal, because nature has a reason for men and women.

Posted by: jboost45 | October 4, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

If Capehart posted his shopping list, the homophobes would come crawling to the comment pages. Such insecurities.

Posted by: craigjjs | October 4, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

We have had bullies forever. We have had bigots and bias forever. One of the key elements to this trend (suicides rates are increasing for the first time in a decade and there are more suicides than homicides in the US) is that we are failing to prepare our children for the "cruelties" of the world. We stifle competition from the earliest years seeking to not damage a child's self esteem, sacrificing their ability to cope with the harsh realities in the name of self-preception. Children are not introduced to reality until they arrive on their own at the completition of high school where they move out from under the protection of their adult parents. It is sad to think that the child was not taught to ignore the ravings and rants of the idiots that possess these bullying and bigoted behaviors. Along with a resulting pitiful education system we are coddling our children to the point they cannot survive in the world...we had better adjust our upbringing and our education system because there will always be people who consider themselves superior and possess biases.

Posted by: staterighter | October 4, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

What's with the "you people" snipe? We're all of us humans, aren't we? Why are some so determined to set some apart, exclude some, minimize the harm done by the "we are we and you are they" attitude?

It betrays our primate roots, doesn't it? Someone is in the troupe, or outside. If any of us want to consider ourselves special, maybe we ought to consider all of us special.

Posted by: Palladia1 | October 4, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

pcannady said: I've learned that a gay kid will jump off a bridge because he's not sure if simply going to an RA will get his roommate in sufficient trouble.

I believe you people call this "direct action."

Posted by: pcannady | October 4, 2010 7:49 AM
-------------------------------------------

Do you love anyone? Does anyone love you?

Posted by: seabelly1 | October 4, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I am angry, I am saddened, and I am without hope for the human race. I hear over and over from heterosexuals that "things are getting better, the younger generation is not as bigoted as their elders." Well to that I say BUNK! Things are not getting better. Not at all. We are raising a generation of punks who have no understanding that actions have consequences. This belief system that other people don't count and that we have no responsibility for our own actions is juvenile at best. It is easy to remain mentally 6 years old, so why bother with growing up intellectually or emotionally? That's just too much work. Bunch of sissies if you ask me. Afraid to crawl out of their own thick skulls and look around. It is exactly the attitude that brought our economic system down. It's all about me me me, and to hell with civic duty and watching my brother's back.

I have learned that for some, compassion is a difficult trait to foster. For many, it is impossible. Where do these children come from?

Posted by: pastol | October 4, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

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