We are all born with the innate capacity to love and be loved. We were given it the moment we breathed air or perhaps even earlier, when we rested inside our mother’s stomach. As human beings, we love and need love. However, for many L.G.B.T. (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth, trying to give and get love comes at an enormous price.
In late September and early October (which, coincidentally, was Coming Out Month), within the course of three weeks, four L.G.B.T.-related suicides occurred around the United States, each the result of anti-gay bullying. Seth Walsh, a 13 year old from California, died after nine days on life support after hanging himself. Billy Lucas, a 15 year old from Indiana, also hanged himself. Asher Brown, another 13 year old, shot himself in the head. And one of the most publicized—and disturbing—instances was Tyler Clementi, 18, a freshman at Rutgers and a gifted musician, who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate placed a Webcam in his room and proceeded to post video of Tyler with another man on the Internet. By mid-October, the number of suicides had jumped to 11. And it’s still rising.
Bullying has become an epidemic in this country and it is killing our gay youth. We have given these kids no resources, no persons in authority to look up to, no hope. It is our duty to let them know that it does get better.
In the last year the gay community has had some great wins. In California, Prop 8, a ban on gay marriage, was deemed unconstitutional. Last month, a landmark decision to allow openly gay recruits into the U.S. military was stalled by a federal appeals court, leaving the fate of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law uncertain. Equality in general is becoming something much more tangible. But take a look at what is being fought for: marriage, the right to be open in the armed forces, job equality, health care, etc. These are all “adult” issues that no 13-year-old has to deal with. So what about those still in middle or high school, those struggling to come to terms with their sexuality—particularly in a religious context—and those just entering college, where they thought life might get easier? Who is fighting for them? In our fight for equality we have left out an entire generation and they in turn are dying, feeling as though no one is paying attention. According to G.L.S.E.N. (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), L.G.B.T. students hear anti-gay slurs 25 times a day, and teachers fail to respond to these comments 97 percent of the time; more than 64 percent of L.G.B.T. students say they feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. The New York Times reports that gay students are four times more likely than heterosexuals to attempt suicide. If the bullying trend in our society continues on its current course, those numbers will probably rise.
We have a duty as human beings to help. Our generation especially can be the one to stop this. For so many teenagers, everything they have heard their entire lives—from parents, teachers, and clergy—has been an assault against their very nature. They’ve been made to feel wrong, embarrassed, and ashamed for feeling exactly what they should be allowed to feel. They see homophobic politicians on TV, and their parents tell them if they go to church they’re to be “reformed.” And, as if life couldn’t get any more difficult, they encounter bullies at school every single day. What they need is to know that it gets better, and we have to be the ones to tell them. If you’re gay, straight, anything in between—even if you are against homosexuality—it doesn’t matter, because no one deserves to die by their own hand at 13 years of age. We can step up and out, share our coming out stories, or ally stories, and put a stop to the voices telling these struggling young people that life will never get any better, because it does. It has to. We must let them know that things can always get better; to never, ever give up.
Sometimes it takes tragedy to bind people together. In the wake of the current crisis, YouTube has a channel dedicated to “It Gets Better” stories; celebrities are speaking out against bullying; and California has donated $13 million to the Los Angeles Center for L.G.B.T. youth. There are plenty of resources in the New York City area that can help. The Trevor Project is a suicide prevention hotline ready with answers to questions and links to other resources: visit thetrevorproject.org or call (866) 488-7386. The New York chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has many wonderful members willing to give their love to someone in need: go to pflagnyc.org, or call (646) 240-4288. There are always places to go, people to talk to.
We must keep up the effort to stop the bullying that is driving young men and women to suicide. Even as we continue with our daily lives and move on from these tragedies, we have to remember those who might need a little more help to get through the day. Be an open vessel. Listen, be caring, and above all, be loving.