Recognizing the signs to prevent gay teen suicide
As I write this column, I have to depart from my favored style of humor and perform an inventory of memories that I prefer to suppress. The trending headlines lately are becoming far too routine regarding gay teenagers who are committing suicide because they were bullied or because they felt they had nowhere to turn for support. Rejection and violence wait for them at school, in public and even at home. The only thing many of them know is isolation. If you couple this with living in a constant state of fear, it’s not difficult to understand how despair takes over and these young lives end. Each of these stories in the news not only overwhelm me with sadness, they also take me back to my teen years and I am silently sitting beside each one of them in school and I understand their pain.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for gay and lesbian youth. All too often, there are no indicators of a problem until it is too late. Grieving parents, friends and other family members are left in a stupor because these children never reached out for help. How could they when there was no support system in place for them? These teens exist in a world where there is a relentless bombardment of taunts and abuse at the hands of their peers.
I understand where these youth are in life because I have walked this path before them and I am painfully familiar with that deserted, confined space where they live their daily lives. As a teen I hated to go to school because I knew what was waiting for me as soon as I walked onto the campus. Jeers, slurs, and physical assaults were my daily curriculum. This was in a time where the only guidance I could receive from my counselors was on which math class I should take next semester.
I remember an incident at school one day after the final bell. I stayed late to work on an art project. I was suddenly surrounded by a sea of letterman jackets and there was no escape route available. I was literally dragged into the gym and deposited in one of the workout rooms with wrestling mats on the floor and medicine balls line up against the walls. I was stood up against the opposing wall and pelted with these and a host of hecklings until my glasses were broken and I was crumpled on the floor. After that, the school’s star athletes quickly disappeared and I was left alone. I went to the office to look for help and the principal actually said that if I had left school when I was supposed to, this would never have happened. Though it was completely unspoken, I know that he knew the reason behind this hazing and he was definitely not on my side.
Teens are subjected to far too much peer pressure on a daily basis under the best of circumstances. When you add in the sexuality factor, life can seem unbearable. Walking daily through a minefield of fear can affect the strongest person and destroy their self-image. If you add in the condemnation some teens hear from the pulpit and the inability to confide in anyone, where do we really expect these stories to end? Parents would not knowingly send their children into a war zone, yet for some teens that is exactly what they do.
I know the harsh reality of being taunted by all of the other students on a bus and of having to pretend that you didn’t hear the words “faggot” or “queer” when you walked through the halls. I also know the fear that even your circle of friends would abandon you if you came out to them. Despair is difficult state to escape from when your options are so severely limited.
We are losing far too many bright and talented children like Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who killed himself after cyber bullying by his roommate, and Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old who hanged himself after being bullied by classmates, on a regular basis because of this problem. Being unaware that there is a problem is one matter but ignoring it and hoping it will go away is another. Imagine making your way through your day and seeing everyone you encounter as a potential threat. Physical abuse hurts but the toll bullying takes on your mental faculties is also more of a burden than some children can endure.
I do not know how or why I managed to make it through this sort of tribulation with little or no support. I am certainly not exceptional in any way. As a teenager, I was certainly not a tower of strength and I had no significant support system. I was merely fortunate. Perhaps some of the bullying I experienced can be used to help someone who is struggling to survive today.
There are resources and initiatives out there such as PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and the It Gets Better Project but they are only as effective as getting these kids to one of them for help and support. As a community, we need to rescue these innocent victims and support them in any possible way. The best advice I can think of is not to teach our children to hate others for any reason and to be more mindful of those around us. Reaching out to someone you believe may be in pain is never a wasted effort. Try it. Peace.
Micki Strickland, Owner of the Rainbow House, reports that the 5th Annual Gay It Forward Christmas Party raised an unprecedented $4,894 to provide gifts for special needs children in the care of Horry County DSS.
OUT & ABOUT
Friday, Jan. 18 – Pulse Ultra Club will host the Miss Pulse 2013 Pageant along with Mistress of Ceremonies Breonna Tenae. Categories include Evening Gown, Onstage Question and talent. The Entry Fee is $25. The winner will receive $150 and the Crown. The First Runner-Up will receive $75 and Second Runner Up will receive $50. Pulse Ultra Club is at 803 Main St. in Myrtle Beach. For additional information, contact Ken Phillips at 803-315-0019.
Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Drew Levy-Neal an e-mail to Drew.Levy.Neal@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Drew_Levy_Neal.