Our queer children are killing themselves: You can help UPDATED

|
(35)
13-year-old Seth Walsh was taken off life support yesterday. He had been bullied for his orientation.
Photo via lgbtqnation.com

Update: According to LGBTpov.com, Gov. Schwarzenegger yesterday "signed the Mental Health Services for At-Risk Youth Act (SB 543), which will expand access to essential mental health services for youth ages 12-17. The bill, authored by openly gay State Sen. Mark Leno and sponsored by Equality California, allows teens to obtain counseling without parental consent." Unfortunately,  "Friday morning, Charles Robbins, Executive Director of The Trevor Project reported a fifth suicide -- Raymond Chase, 19, a sophomore at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island took his own life on Wednesday." Hopefully kids in California will at least have expanded access to mental health counseling services. Original post is below.

For the fourth time this month, a kid who was harassed by anti-gay bullies has taken his own life. Seth Walsh, an out gay 13-year-old in Tehachapi, in central California, had been transferred from middle school to an independent study program, reportedly because he had been teased relentlessly about his orientation. Ten days ago he was found unconscious at the base of a tree in his backyard, apparently after he had attempted to hang himself. His parents took him off life support yesterday in Bakersfield.   

Even though other kids admitted to harassing Seth -- police reported that some of them "broke down in tears" because "they had never seen this outcome," and wished they hadn't participated in the bullying -- no charges will be pressed against them: their actions do not constitute a crime

Horribly, this was no isolated incident.  

According to lgbtqnation.com:

 "On September 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, IN, hanged himself at his grandmother’s home. Friends of Lucas said that he had been tormented for years based on his perceived sexual orientation.

On September 23, 13-year old Asher Brown, a gay teen in Houston, TX, came home from school while his parents were at work. He shot himself in the head after enduring what his mother and stepfather say was constant harassment and bullying."

(Also, teen freshman Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University leaped off the George Washington bridge last Wednesday, after his roommate used a web cam to secretly and maliciously stream him "sharing a gay embrace.") 

This month, as well, saw the acclaimed launch of queer advice columnist and activist Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign (in direct response to Billy Lucas' death, as a commenter below points out). It invites LGBTQ people to record videos addressed to queer young 'uns that tell their stories of surviving school bullies and leading full lives after they graduated. I'm not sure I agree that people need to just wait to get out of school in order to survive -- many don't exactly find gay adult life a catered picnic, either, and why can't we elders make an effort to help change the world for children in school now? -- but I definitely agree that reaching out to isolated young people and letting them know there's an entire community on their side is absolutely essential. 

It's infuriatingly sad that these instances seem to be on the rise, right when the country is making progress on most gay activists' bigtime agendas: repealing DADT and legalizing same-sex marriage. Who cares about those things when our young people are in so much pain that they're taking their own lives? Yes, ending all discrimination will help people envision a brighter future -- let's just not put all our eggs in one or two baskets, and forget entire segments of our community. 

And while making an "It Gets Better" video is great, there are many fantastic community organizations in San Francisco serving the immediate counseling and housing needs of queer kids, many of whom have run away to avoid anti-gay bullying. Ignoring them only perpetuates the suffering. In a time of reduced aid, these organizations could really use your donations or time. Here are a few standouts:

Larkin Street Youth Services

Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC)

San Francisco LGBT Community Center 

Tenderloin Health

And if you know a queer or questioning young person who is dealing with depression, or seeks counseling, direct them (and donate!) to the great Trevor Project suicide prevention hotline: 1-866-488-7386

California is one of a handful of states that specifically protects kids against anti-gay harassment, but cases are still hard to prove -- if you see someone being harassed or know of someone who is being bullied, encourage them to report it to their parents, school counselor, or other professional so that it will be documented. 

*ANOTHER DEATH: Commenter Aaron Baldwin below points to the recent suicide of 15-year-old Justin Aaberg in Minnesota, who was apparently a victim of anti-gay bullying, although I haven't been able to find out much more than what's in this Queerty story.

**ANOTHER RESOURCE: Commenter Liz below reminds me about SMAAC, serving queer and questioning youth in Oakland and the East Bay. Her comment raises several great points as well about helping youth now. 

Comments

"I'm not sure I agree that people need to just wait to get out or school in order to survive (many don't exactly find gay adult life always a catered picnic, either -- and why can't we elders make an effort to help change the world for children in school now?"

I absolutely agree. The "It gets better" videos seem to me like harm reduction, which is fantastic; we need harm reduction until things change, but at the same time that we're doing harm reduction efforts, we need to simultaneously be doing things to make a big change especially for the kids.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

This weekend I rounded up as many LGBTs as I could to shoot a big local videomob "It Gets Better" video. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bnev14XfUjY

Posted by mattymatt on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

What I always wonder is how you actually improve the situation for the younger kids. >.> I was bullied a lot as a kid (for different reasons-I'm not a lesbian myself but I do consider myself mostly straight with curiousities and many of my best friends are gays and lesbians who did have this problem) despite rules against bullying that were at my schools. Rules don't change the hearts of the bigots. They will do what they do no matter what because it's what they believe, just as we all do what we believe. We can bring the bullies forward and punish them after the fact, but what can WE do to stop it from happening at all aside from give them the tools to survive it? If someone can give me an actual realistic suggestion for that I would love to hear it because I have a daughter and when she's old enough to attend school, and ends up bullied for whatever reason, I need to know what I can do to be sure things never reach the tragedies we are seeing with suicides right now. It's every parent's worst nightmare when they love their kid and their kid takes their own life for any reason. (Be it noted that the bullies I dealt with in school grew up to be in gangs and got into drugs. They were the sort the entire time that reporting them to administration escalated things. While that is not always the case, there are those kinds of people around where sometimes someone thinks they stopped the problem but made it infinitely worse. I just had the misfortune at the time of winning the lottery of having them as bullies. But hey-I'm alive and they can kiss it for all I care.)

Ultimately, bullies pick on people they percieve as weaker than them. They are society's future predators unless they are shown it is unbeneficial. The way my family handled the bullying problem was to teach each of us aspects of self defense. Once I proved I was no longer an easy mark, they couldn't touch me anymore. I at some point made it clear to one of them "I know more ways to kill a person than you have fingers and toes and many other ways to maim you for life. I just took you down with a poke. Leave me and my friends alone or I may be tempted to use those fatal ones instead of just stun you." I think that's the first step that needs to happen for these kids that are being bullied. If they want it to stop, they have to do something about it personally or they'll just do it when those doing the protecting aren't there to do anything and use scare tactics to keep the kid from talking to anyone who can help. Predators target people when they don't have a line of defense that is visible. Bullies are the same way. The kids who are subjected to these assholes need to be shown that they CAN fight back, and that things do get better. Like the video says-you don't see those jerks after graduation normally. Just gotta tough it out until then so you can laugh at their misery later.

I wish it wasn't illegal for parents and relatives to threaten the bullies within an inch of their lives. ^_^ I think many of them would piss themselves at some of the threats a protective parent or relative can pull out.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

Bullies are cowards, they go after whoever they think cannot defend themselves.
Other kids, may go along out of relief that they are not the victim or fear that they could be the next victim.
If I, as an adult, were tormented in this way, you bet that I would be getting a lawyer and documenting every incident. If an adult would never be expected to take this kind of treatment in the workplace, why should a child, who really if made by law to attend school be forced to suck it up because he or she is a teen? Aren't we supposed to protect our children?
I think that there should be consequences for the kids in Bakersfield and their parents as well. Not because I believe in an eye for an eye but because it might save the next poor kid who sees no way out of the torment but death.
And shame on the mothers and fathers for either encouraging or turning a blind eye to the burgeoning bigotry of their children. Anti gay is bigotry pure and simple.

Posted by Guest Marilyn on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

What kind of consequences do you suggest as fitting as a majority of the bullies are minors who cannot be tried as adults? I'm a firm believer that if one is to be punished it should be the one who committed it. I'm iffy about the punishment of parents for the crimes of the children as it's difficult to prove how much was the child and their environment (ie: other peers) and how much they learned from the parents themselves.

In some states I recall a few years ago being the cause of a suicide was on its way to becoming illegal and could get one arrested. My memory is a little sketchy on the details and I don't remember if it eventually made it through. The more I see of things like this though... the more I think it didn't make it through very extensively if at all because the bullies aren't being punished for one reason or another-even when the perps were adults.

I honestly believe that bullying that results in suicide should be punishable by imprisonment for a time for minors as a lesson in accountability (and how being a bigot is unbeneficial to them) and considered a murder charge for adults because they may not have pulled the trigger, but they certainly helped and should know better by then. As for the parents... the punishment should suit their level of involvement in encouraging that sort of behavior.

Bullying in general is not acceptable regardless of whether it's about orientation, religion, gender, or social roles/status. Don't anyone be like those bigots who would rejoice in the death of some kid due to differences, or we are no better than they are and on our way to becoming bigots ourselves. That's why it bugs me that everyone focuses strictly on what was caused by orientation. Would it be any better to bully a straight person, nerd, jew, pagan, or christian to that degree? I may disagree with the bigots, but I think I'd be just as sad if one of their kids died from this sort of thing because they just wasted their potential to not be like their bigot parents.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

This video's message is one of extreme passivity. I believe that telling our children to wait around for a better day while they are being harassed and possibly attacked is irresponsible. our children should be protected at all times and when they are in circumstances where society or the adults present are not doing so or are absent we have to give them tools which they can use for self preservation. many a times gay children or children perceived to be gay are picked upon for the mere reason that the bully believes he can get away with it Aside from offering psychological counseling that strengthens self esteem, i believe we need to advocate and offer practical self defense to our children and even to our adults, because things may get better but the truth is that gay adults are also targeted by predators due to the universal perception of us as a weak and passive people. It doesn't matter what kind of personality you have you can still learn to defend yourself. While we struggle to find ways of addressing the prejudice in our society these kids still have to go to school and back, telling them things will get better isn't enough.

Posted by Guest Virgil on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

Guest Virgil, if you had read Dan Savage's first posting on his project, he made the point that as open gays they aren't welcome to come into schools and speak to underage gays. It is not meant to be irresponsible. It is to go out to kids who are afraid at that age things will never get better for them.

Cleve Jones was bullied at school. Then he read about the Stonewall in the papers. Just that made him hang on thru high school in Arizona. And when he graduated he left, went to SF, and later worked for Harvey Milk. Just the msg that there was something out there helped him. So I think Savage's msg can work in the same way

Second, people act as if you can do nothing about bullying. "Oh, that's how kids are." That's crap. There are things you can do. The first is to speak out against it each and every time it happens to make people take it seriously! If the school district isn't interested keep going higher and higher, there's the internet now, the media to tap into, just don't back down. Here are some suggestions I found on other sites:

"Re: school authorities' frequent claims that they knew nothing about the bullying. Parents should take a page from the workplace-harrassment playbook. When bullying first appears as a problem, start a log or diary of incidents and actions taken. Call the school district directly and ask for the contact information for the district's legal counsel. Send letters documenting bullying, recaps of meetings with principals, teachers, etc. by certified mail to the school and the district's lawyers. If they recognize the solid foundations of a lawsuit being built, they're more likely to take effective action and less likely to try denial."

Here's another:

"As a former PTSA president, I have told many parents to DOCUMENT what you say and do. Keep a journal of dates, times, places, people you have spoken to. Yes, send a certified letter to the school AND the district AND the school Board. Be sure that ANY letter you write is cc'd to both the Superintendent and School Board.

Understand that when you request a meeting, administrators will generally (1) circle the wagons to protect themselves and (2) you will not just meet with one person. My Public Schools generally will have two-three people in the room for any meeting to protect themselves. You do the same; bring a partner or a friend so you have someone on your side.

I am sorry to say but in cases like this, most districts are just focused on protecting themselves and not the child."

Posted by Guest on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

I agree 100%. Always bring a witness & take notes. Save all emails & record conversations via phone if u can.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 7:42 pm

I was never once BULLIED for being lesbian although often suspected (im straight, although gender confused) but i was bullied for every other reason under the sun and the ONLY reasons i made it through were my mothers support and the fact that i was so afraid of adding more pain that i was unable to take my life. People say that taking a child out of school because of 'just a few bullies' is teaching them to run from their issues. NOT WHEN THEY ARE SPAT ONN AND PUSHED DOWN FLIGHTS OF STAIRS WHILE ON CRUTCHES ALREADY...sorry for caps, continuing, or being tied around a post by your shoes, or in kindergarten having someone try to burn you with your own glasses and the sun...theres more but ive tried hard to forget it.

This comes from someone not to far our of highschool: Do not shelter your children, parents, but do not push them into the tempest sea without a lifejacket either. Your child tells you they were SPAT on at school today and tries not to make a big fuss over it? Don't storm into the school like my mother did, but neither should you let it go. We only ever had one success, that was with a boy who constantly teased me. We talked with him, child to child and parent to parent, civil and direct and open. We found that he was just as 'messed up' as me (lost of the kids i was in school with including myself suffered from mental illnesses or depression or something of the sort) and outside of our peers we were actualy friends. At school he wouldnt talk to me but he left me alone.

It doesnt always work, but its worth a shot to try and not make a scene.

and as an after thought....i was the one that everyone thought would bomb or shoot up the school, even my teachers were afraid of me after the day i simply couldnt take any more...

Posted by Guest Sara on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 12:11 am

Many LGBT Outlets are talking about 4 Gay bullying suicides this school season, but sadly there have been 5 and many seem to have missed 15 year old Justin Aaberg of Cooks Head, Minnesota. http://www.queerty.com/teenager-justin-aaberg-killed-himself-over-gay-bu...

Posted by Guest Aaron Baldwin on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 7:24 am

There's a group of kids you're going to miss with this approach--

Not all kids bullied for being gay are actually gay. Some are straight but just get labeled as gay by the 'bullying establishment'--swift-boated, if you will.

A program that only addresses that 'it gets better' for gay kids will miss straight ones who also suffer from the same ridicule and gay-baiting. You may think, 'oh, well if they know they're straight it means they already know it will get better,' but that's not the way it works. At least the gay kid can hang with the other gay kids for support; while a gay-labeled straight kid can also hang with that group, they'll never really be part of it, so they're even more isolated.

It's not enough just to address the problems of the victims, or to claim 'zero tolerance' for bullies. The bullies and their parents need some psychological adjustment.

They also need to be stripped of the ability to hide behind religious dogma to claim any righteousness to what they are doing.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 7:38 am

You raise a good point. As a butch adult female who's attracted to men, I don't find much solidarity among either straight or gay people, and finding partners has been very difficult throughout my life despite lots of creative efforts on my part. I tend to platonically hang out with queers as they're less likely to write me off because of my gender presentation than heteronormative folks, but I'm definitely regarded as an outsider.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

to an extent, teens in general need an "it gets better" campaign. when i have the mental energy to spare I wander into certain internet forums where teenagers are asking for help to change themselves in all sorts of ways. the levels of doubt and self-hate are heartbreaking.

and i remember it myself, as well - me and 90% of everyone I know who went through high school at least flirted with suicide, and far too much of the adult response at the time was scolding that we should ENJOY ourselves, that childhood was the precious best time of our lives. Faced with THAT being the "best" life has to offer, is it any wonder not everyone makes it through the teenage years?

It doesn't get perfect, but it does get better, as one grows up and is no longer helplessly subject to their parents and their classmates and unable to walk away...

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 1:19 am

Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign isn't coincidental - he began it as a response to the first of these suicides, as a message to kids and teens who were in the same position as Billy Lucas.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 7:58 am

coincidentally just as he started the campaign there were more suicides. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. You're right that it started because of Billy, I've changed the wording slightly above. 

Posted by marke on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 8:33 am

If you are in the Bay Area, please also consider donating to SMAAC, the Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County, in Oakland! It is a queer youth center in Oakland that serves mostly queer youth of color and is a vital asset to our community. Many youth of color struggling in the Bay Area do not feel safe, welcome, or understood at the organizations listed above and SMAAC is an oasis for them. It is the only queer youth community and outreach space in Oakland and is always in need of support. Please call or look them up!! (510) 834-9578
http://www.myspace.com/smaacyouthcenter

And while I agree that the super happy privileged view of a queer adult life over and over again on the It Gets Better videos is passive and could be alienating for many queer youth, as well as just turn out to be downright false for many youth as they grow older (cuz we know life is fucking hard) I do believe its message can be positive and hopeful for some youth and for that I think it's a step. As a queer person, former queer youth counselor, middle school educator, and faculty advisor for a Gay Straight Alliance, I have worked with students who were teased to the extent that just knowing they weren't alone and that it does get better actually was enough to get them through. And obviously there are many youth who need way more than that. Every youth is different, has a different set of needs, experiences, and levels of resiliency, but I believe that they do need role models they can relate to, positive messages, and inspiration, and the majority of American youth look to media, especially social media to seek these things out.

That being said, all of these videos should be including strategies for dealing with the bullying NOW, including conflict strategies, reporting strategies, hotlines, legal advice and resources, self defense resources, why u need to tell someone even though you think that means you are a snitch - REAL HELP. Youth need concrete help now AND i think they also need positive messages from people who are like them. I think some of the videos people are submitting are starting to get at this more, while the original video and others were more painting a picture of happy gay life. Which, u know, good for them and all, but very few low income queer youth of color or even a middle class white goth kid (for example) are gonna look at Dan and Terry and see themselves or want the life that they have. All this rambling to say, the positive message is positive, but it isn't enough. The videos are on the right path but they need to be more about the kids - like 20% "see i'm a happy queer" and 80% "here's what u can do today to make your life better"

We have to give ALL (meaning those that don't speak English, have access to the internet, etc.) parents and kids concrete steps to ensure they make it out alive. We also have to start putting major pressure on our government and school systems to adopt anti-gay bullying laws that have adequate plans for implementation and accountability. That's another huge issue - accountability. I mean, California has anti-gay bullying laws and our queer youth are STILL killing themselves and being killed by other students (Lawrence King). If no one is making sure the laws are enforced and that the environment is safe for those in need of the law's protection to feel they can seek it out, the laws are completely useless. And they aren't enough. Schools cannot just seek to protect students from bullying, they have to address the root of the problem. San Francisco public schools mandate "Tolerance Training" K-12. When you start talking to a kid at FIVE years old about treating people with respect and dignity no matter who they are, you're going to have some different outcomes. Not that SFUSD is a bully-free zone, that's unreasonable, but people are talking and kids are talking and they see results.
So how do we as a community begin to work towards these changes for all our youth? How can we stop putting band-aids on the problems and burying our youth? How do we ensure that our youth in Arkansas have access to information and a safe adult as much as our youth in San Francisco? I'm asking, cuz I don't know.

Posted by Guest Liz on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 10:12 am

Great reminder about East Bay youth and you raise some great points and ask important questions. I've added info in the main post above. These videos should include hotline, legal, and/or at least some counseling info. And there should definitely be coordinated outreach to youth and communities outside YouTube's reach! 

 

 

Posted by marke on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am

I bullied a childhood friend while I was in a group of kids that were harassing him. Instead of standing up for him I let it happen & joined in as my way of trying to hide who I was. I learned at that moment that that was NOT the person I wanted to be. I have changed and this year I reached out to find that old friend and voice my regret over the most terrifying event in his life. I'm still ashamed of my 14 year old self.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 11:47 am

Having the courage to apologize is a very difficult and mature thing to do...many adults aren't able to do this. You've learned an important lesson and are doing what you can to make amends. You should be proud of your 14 year old self.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

Having the courage to apologize is a difficult and mature thing to do...something many adults find hard. You have learned an important lesson and doing your best to make amends. You should be proud of your 14 year old self.

Posted by Guest: Sue on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

It takes bravery to apologize to the gay friend you let down. Thank you for doing that.

Posted by Peter on Oct. 06, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

I am out -- but I'm 65 and that's not likely to help any Gay teen. When today's waist circumference was yesterday's chest measurement, it may have helped some teens.

One Gay teen group which is neglected is the Gay Jocks. When I was in high school, I honestly thought I wasn't Gay as I on Varsity from 9th Grade. Gay, homo, queer, etc didn't connect with my conscious mind. I knew I didn't like to cross dress or prance. I was friendly with the kids we thought were Gay. I just didn't think I was Gay.

well, to be accurate, my outside speaking voice and mind did not think I was Gay, but inside there was another person who knew, who always knew before he knew what it was that he was knowing.

When I was 3 1/2 and my mother told me that people thought it was OK to kill boys who were "that way," I knew she meant me.

What I needed in high school was George Michael to be out of the closet, and teens need MD and BF and LDC and a host of other people that you and I can name to be out of the closet.

How many more Gay teens will kill themselves before these and other celebrities place life before $.

Posted by Scott Zwartz on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

Bullying is a situation where the real loser is the perpetrator. Nobody really likes a bully. That is why so often it requires a group to single out a person for marginalization with regard to sexual orientation or to gender persentation. Unfortunatey, my resources over the years have shown that the longer a child delays disclosure about their sexual orientation and over all queerness, the better of they fare. There is some school of thought that encourages queer people to wait until they are out of college before they disclose.

I don't think that most of us truely know what is going on with our sexuality and identities often unil we are almost 30. When we see signs posted in offices that declare they are safe spaces with a rainow on them, that talk needs to be backed up with cultural training. Schools need to have panels, guest speakers and queer organizations go in and bring awareness. In Vermont we have an organization located in Burlington that is a statewide resource for queer and questioning youth.
Outright Vermont does trainings and has a working model for them.

I am not surprized that homophobia is rampant in the central part of California. As a California girl who has spent most of her life up and down the I-5 Corridor and US 101, I can telll you that my eyes are always peeled for the rainbow flags. A gay Episcopalian priest In Carmel told me one afternoon, "We have gays here, they are just ""nested."" they like their fine dining and walks on the beach. They don't do activism.

These suicides are an outrage, and all because these children truly had no Safespaces around adults where they could be themselves. Adults in the queer community need to stay out and visible so kids know who it is safe to be arround. LGBTQQA, some forward thinkers are changing the A to Advocate instead of Ally.

Speak out for the little gay chickens in your flocks before we loose them, what a heart break for these families and communities.

Blessings, Miss Jaqi Robertson

Posted by Guest Jaquelline A. Robertson on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

I'm not sure there's been an increase in suicides -- sadly, young queer victims of bullying have been killing themselves for years. But clearly people are suddenly, FINALLY -- noticing. And we need to use the (brief) moment that this issue's in the public spotlight to get anti-bullying laws passed and school curricula changed, and finally get grown-ups to stop teaching their kids homophobia. Because it kills.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

We can't overlook any opportunity to help our queer youth. I think the "It Gets Better" campaign is a great idea, and I think it will help a lot of kids feel better, if only until the next round of harrassment or bullying. I think it's even more important that the local organizations above are brought to our attention, as I'm sure none of them gets the level of support that they could use. But let's not forget how closely connected the DOMA and DADT are to these suicides.

They are the kind of things that legitimize in the minds of people their prejudices, their bullying, their exclusions and much more. But more importantly, in the minds of LGBTQ people of all ages, and especially our youth, it says that your sexuality is not legitimate enough to allow marriage and, worse, you are not even worth allowing you to offer your life in the service of your country. What do you think that does to our youth today.

So hurray to everyone that does something to improve, directly or indirectly, the world that our queer youth live in today. Some efforts are small and some are huge, but when you put it all together is when you will feel the power.

Posted by Bill Baker on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

I am speaking at Rutgers University on Monday Oct 4 at 7pm in the Student Center Multipurpose Room. This is free and open to the public. So many people live in fear and isolation. Let's fill this room to show them they are not alone!

http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMarcAdams?v=app_2344061033#!/event.php?eid=124225907628782&index=1

Posted by Marc Adams on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

We Are Killing LGBTQ Youth! (9/30/10)

Sleep will not find me tonight. Instead, the thoughts swirling around in my head will desperately try to find their way out. They’ve pummeled through this heart and into a need to say something…anything. I am also aware that I may create more uncertainty and confusion for myself, the more I truly listen and pay attention. Here goes…

I am in pain. My heart hurts. Seriously, I feel a heavy force upon my chest. I am sad. I am angry and outraged. During the course of one week, five queer youth across the nation have been forced to feel that committing suicide was their only option to cope with constant bullying and harassment. This is not okay. This has never been okay and yet one of the most powerful responses our community has come up with has been neatly packaged into three little words, “IT GETS BETTER.”

I have not watched every single video that was created through or inspired by the It Gets Better Project. To be completely honest, I found myself frustrated by the message. One video takes place in the Castro and most of the folks who urge lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth to “tough it out” or “hang in there”, I noticed, were white. This does not surprise me. (come on, we all know that the Castro is not the safest place for queer women and trans folks, people of color, and youth). And, the video also seemed to reinforce this notion that once they came to San Francisco, “everything changed” and “they could be themselves”. While I acknowledge that some folks have found safety here and while I find value in verbal intergenerational exchange and mentorship (the ability to imagine where you can be in ten, twenty, thirty years is powerful), it seemed to promote San Francisco tourism and continued gay safe haven sentiment however, more than actually encouraging our young folks to stay alive.

Try telling a suicidal young person that it gets better…to their face. That is one of the last things they may want to hear in that situation. They can barely see tomorrow and you’re asking them to “wait til after high school” for their dignity and confidence to magically appear? Did it ever occur to people to ask young LGBTQ folks why they feel suicidal in the first place? To ask them if there is anything we can do, actually do (not say) to prove to them that they are valuable. That their joyful existence and innate ability to question and challenge society’s oppressive forces has a direct positive impact on us and that we are all capable of healing together? Or are we already too painfully aware that we may not be able to change their circumstances…that maybe even us adults don’t have the solution? So, we say, “I know you don’t believe me now, but IT GETS BETTER.”

I am guilty of this and have said it before working with youth. In college, I created free business cards that read: ‘Tonilyn A. Sideco, committed to promoting the visibility of the queer API community.’ I knew that right after graduation I was to work with queer youth of color. It took me ten months to find it, but I was able to land my dream job working full-time as the Queer Youth Services Coordinator at a non-profit housed at a Richmond district public high school. It was amazing and heart-breaking, fulfilling and humbling. I worked with mostly children of Asian and Russian immigrants who were committed to leading and maintaining a Gay Straight Alliance on campus, who risked their personal safety everyday yet remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance and compassion. Afraid to report bullying and harassment because “it never goes anywhere” so they take that pain and talked about it during GSA meetings, ultimately finding their way into a smile with each other’s help.

Meanwhile, I am in meetings with their teachers who are desperate for tools that will help create safety and sensitivity in their classrooms. And after school, I had an open door/open couch policy. I had art supplies, board games, and even a guitar by my desk. Students and teachers would drop by for a couple minutes, while others lingered for hours. It was so apparent that all they needed was a safe space to be themselves. Their need to be seen and heard, validated, acknowledged, respected and loved has continued to inspire and fuel the work I do. It has led me to coordinating projects with queer young women that explored issues of violence through filmmaking and projects that gathered queer youth and elders to talk about the different, yet all too similar, issues they faced.

And it has led me to 5:36am September 30, 2010. I am awake wondering how the safety net for our young people can be cast wider and stronger. I am reminded of a former 15 year old, sometimes suicidal student who covered her wrists and ankles with bandanas because she was a cutter. She was comforted by self-inflicted physical pain because releasing her emotional torment through drops of blood felt way better than any other coping mechanism a book would suggest. Grabbing a fistful of ice, waiting until it melted in her palm or snapping a rubber band against her wrist just wasn’t going to suffice. I am reminded of giving her a sketch book because she was an amazing artist, thinking that would help deter her behavior. Then finally realizing that if she put the two together, she would no longer need to break skin. I made a contract with her and asked if she would try something different the next time she felt like cutting. The next day, she walked into our offices with a smile that would hold her up for the rest of the year. She rolled up her sleeves to reveal very intricate pieces of art on her forearms. They were beautiful. She was beautiful and still is…she is now 20 years old and in college.

We need to pay attention to our young people. I draw strength and energy from my interactions, conversations, and memories with and of the young people I have worked with over the past 10 years. We must actively challenge each other to be better allies. Let’s take ownership of our own learning and be engaged in increasing awareness and acceptance for ourselves and those around us. It takes more than an individual’s desire to live! It is going to take all of us. Parents, teachers, coaches, youth centers, schools, health providers, creative educators, families, community leaders…we have to step up for each other. We are telling our youth to not be afraid to ask for help, yet we ourselves can’t ask for guidance in providing support to our young folks.

I think I’ll make a video with folks who are actively questioning and practicing how to create that safety net for young people. It will be titled: “I am committed to making it better.” So, I am asking you to help. How are you committed to making it better?

Tonilyn
(tonilyn.sideco@gmail.com)

Posted by Guest on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

Excellent article on how one can help...but what this article ignores is the
rural areas that often these organizations often do not get to...this is where
everyone's personal responsibility comes into play. You see a apology is not ok,
it is just a bandaide. Telling someone it will get better, to hang in their does not stop the torment these children face, it endorses it. Donating money does not end a responsibility, working on one gay rights issues is not good enough, when one child is hurt or damaged or takes their life. Becoming engaged in these thing might not be your life, but it will be someone elses.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 2:11 am

These bullies don't just wake up one morning and think of bad things to do... They are products of their environment. The comments the parents make about gays or minorities in general are heard by their children. It spirals into them feeling like it's ok to verbally and physically abuse anyone that is different from them because it's how their parents feel. The parents need to be held accountable that is for sure! All the parents need to think about is "what if that were my child?" Would you want to lose your child because they felt displaced in society? Start with educating the parents and reprimanding their actions first.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 5:55 am

You hit on an important point. Bullies are not made in a vacuum. With the debate these days over gay marriage, it's more than likely that the opponents to this with children probably have uttered an anti-gay comment or joke or thrown around the F word in front of their children. Thereby giving their children the green light (consciously or unconsciously) that GLBT people are less than human and therefore it's ok to bully and harass them. In addition, in comparison to bullying in the past the internet enables these bullies to operate in an environment of perceived anonymity so they think they won't held accountable.

While Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" is an important step to combat this, I always believe in a good defense is a good offense. Bully the bully, since most bullies tend to be cowards they target others whom they perceive as weak and not likely fight back. Hopefully, fighting back (physically if necessary) will show these pathetic individuals the error of their ways.

Posted by Daniel von Doom on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 11:27 am

Iam a christinan woman wife and mother of 3.Let me start by saying it is very sad that anyone makes the choice to kill themself and bulling is not ok. and to reply to what you have wrote . I find it very upseting that kids are killing themself and bulling from any of my kids would never be okay but on the same note liveing a gay lifestyle is not okay and would neverbe alowed.We all need to keep in mind that he devil is real justed like God and onces you start to live a life sytle such as a gay one you open up your life to the devil and what happens happens and I do think what if these was my child and i know that I have put enougth God in them to know they would not kill themself due to bulling I was bulled as a kid for being saved and liveing for God but never onces did killing myself cross my mind so mybe if folks start keeping their life and family undren pray the world would be a better place,,,,,,I ll keep all ypou losted souls in my prays

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2010 @ 6:30 am

The Trevor Project is an outstanding organization and I'm glad it was mentioned here. I hope that people will pass their information along via their social networks so that more and more people are aware of what they do. They have a suicide and crisis line as well as other support for young people who are gay, bi, trans, OR questioning. Anyone can talk to them and get help. You are NOT alone.

There's a great collective of artists that started a shop to benefit different LGBT charities. This year they are supporting the Trevor Project - anything you buy is shipped to you free and all proceeds go directly to the Trevor Project to further their work. Check them out here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/QueerEtsyStreetTeam

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

"Our queer children are killing themselves: You can help"

Does anyone besides me find that headline a bit... less clear than it should be?

Posted by Fred Fnord on Oct. 06, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

but I think people get the general gist.

Posted by marke on Oct. 06, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

There is nothing wrong with being gay or bisexual. People shouldn't be getting bullied because their gay.

Posted by Ignorant people on Oct. 20, 2010 @ 8:28 am

Related articles

  • True House: Where to celebrate Frankie Knuckles' legacy this weekend

  • Peep peep

    Nightlife's spring has sprung: Sunset season opener, Hard French's return, star-studly Soiree, Dick Slap life, Worldly sounds, more parties

  • Hills are alive

    Sing your heart out at Musical Mondays. Plus: TT the Artist, Sweater Funk, DJ Harvey, Mr. Oizo, Lex 17, more nightlife 

  • Also from this author

  • Brilliant exodus

    Arthur Szyk's 1930s Haggadah packs fresh visual punch.

  • Ketchup

  • Saving Yosemite