Four names, four suicides, one month. ETA: And to bring in October, we have a fifth: Raymond Chase.
We keep thinking that the world is improving for queer folk, and in some ways, it is. The percentage of people who approve of (or at least won’t stand in the way of) gay marriage is growing. Acceptance and the ability to raise non-traditional families in places that are not New York City or San Francisco is growing. Movies about queer people that do not end in the gay character dying from disease or in a fire are increasingly common (good job, Hollywood).
But we can’t take progress for granted. We cannot assume that just because things are getting better for some, that they are getting better for all. Let’s take a look at those names again:
Seth Walsh: 13 years old.
Asher Brown: 13 years old.
Billy Lucas: 15 years old.
Tyler Clementi: 18 years old.
Raymond Chase: 19 years old.
We still live in a world where for some, being perceived as a homosexual is more horrifying than taking one’s own life. Where some of our children think that it is okay to taunt others for being gay (regardless of actual orientation), because being gay is bad. Where some of our children are dying because nobody thought to tell them that it is okay. That being perceived as gay is not the end of the world. That potentially being gay is not the end of the world.
These five young men are not the only teenagers who have taken their own lives over being homosexual or being perceived as homosexual. In fact, it is estimated that 1/3 of teen suicides every year are queer. But these five illustrate something that is very important: we are really, really not doing enough for today’s youth. Queer and otherwise.
And this is not just about finding your neighborhood gay kid, slapping him or her on the shoulder and saying, “hey, you’re okay.” (Although, if that’s all you’ve got, then please do it.) This is about teaching your own children, regardless of their leanings, that bullying is not okay. That being queer (or otherwise different) is okay. That if they see somebody being bullied for being different, the best possible thing they can do is be a friend to that person or quietly find some way to show some support.
We need to be people that these young men and women can trust, that they can come talk to. We need to be people who will not judge, and who will help. We need to be people who can show love and care even when our own belief systems are being challenged. And we need to teach our children to do the same.
Junior high and high school are brutal social arenas. We all forget that when we escape. They are holding pens for people who are at their most socially, hormonally and sexually volatile–and in competition with one another. We either need to give them swords and let them have at it–or teach them tolerance, understanding, and kindness.
Let’s not add any more names to this list.