Society can aid gay youth by creating awareness and normalizing all sexual orientations.
From the outside, it’s easy to dismiss depressed or suicidal individuals as “going through a phase,” or victims of typical teenage angst.
But for some people, such mental anguish and intense emotion is not about passing through a common phase or being in need of a pick-me-up. It’s about dealing with a reality they may face for the rest of their lives – their sexual orientation.
According to a 2009 study in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, GLBT youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide. This is coupled with statistics from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network that show a whopping 86.2 percent of GLBT students report harassment in school.
More alarming than these statistics is the extreme lack of action by school administrators across the United States. In the last month alone, five GLBT youth or college-aged individuals committed suicide within a three-week period, with little justice following in the wake of their tragic deaths.
This issue certainly can’t be fixed with a slap on the wrist for bullies, but at what point do we as a society acknowledge that enough is enough and finally reject the idea that “bullies will be bullies”?
“Sitting a room of high school students down and saying, ‘Don’t bully each other,’ just doesn’t work very well,” said Margaux Cowden, director of LGBT studies.
Cowden emphasized the need for awareness and acceptance of the GLBT community in order to promote positive change.
“Normalizing all kinds of sexual options is key,” Cowden said. “Otherwise, bullying is going to continue.”
And indeed it has. In a Washington Post education blog post, Kevin G. Welner reported 20 percent of GLBT students indicated that bullies have physically attacked them, and that more often than not, faculty would remain complacent about such outrageous behaviors. This distinct lack of support among people who are supposed to be role models directly contributes to tragedies like those U.S. citizens have witnessed in the last few weeks.
“[For GLBT Youth] to come into school and see such public stigmatization can have such profound consequences,” Cowden said.
Thankfully, as society slowly begins to take a more progressive stance on the issue, more positive celebrity role models are stepping forward. Since news broke of the horribly unnecessary suicides of these five students, some public figures have rushed to promote life with inspiring campaigns, such as “It Gets Better,” and the Give a Damn Campaign, led by pop-singer and gay-rights activist Cyndi Lauper. Other big-name celebrities, including talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, have supported the cause of living for a better day.
Students who fall victim to bullying or who may experience any form of depression are urged to use local resources, including Tuttleman Counseling Services, or more discrete ones, such as the Trevor Project, which offers a toll-free hotline to those in need.
“This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone that teen bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing,” DeGeneres said in a video on her website in response to the suicides.
But even among the current tragedies, these statistics are going to get better before they get worse. Regardless of the hate that bullies continue to spew, the GLBT community will continue to strengthen its stance against these heinous crimes. The GLBT community is deeply rooted in social injustice and inequality, and the barriers between homosexuals and their heterosexual counterparts will continue to be lifted.
But before activists can tackle the controversial topics of same-sex marriage and employee discrimination, they must prioritize the immediate issues that face the community and lift political blinders that may prevent them from seeing that a gay man can never marry his partner if he has no life to even experience such joys.
Do not allow yourself to become another nationally headlined victory for the bullies and bigots of America.
After all, one life lost to homophobia and ignorance is one life too many.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.