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.
"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:
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.