It’s a troubling phenomenon: several gay teens have killed themselves in recent weeks after being harassed because of their sexuality.
On Sunday, nearly 1,000 mourners gathered at Rutgers University in New Jersey to remember Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman who threw himself from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate broadcast a romantic moment between Clementi and another man over the internet.
Here are five things everyone needs to know about this sad trend, and what you can do to help make it better.
Six Teens Have Killed Themselves in the Past Three Weeks
They were from every part of the country. On September 9, Billy Lucas, a 15-year old from Greensburg, Indiana, hanged himself after a constant barrage of bullying at school. In Shiocton, Wisconsin, Cody J. Barker, a 17-year-old openly gay teen, took his life on September 13.
Two weeks later, Asher Brown, 13, shot himself after coming out in his Houston suburb. On September 28, Seth Walsh died after spending a week on life support in Tehachapi, California. The 13-year-old hanged himself in his backyard after suffering relentless taunting and abuse at school. That same day, Clementi jumped to his death. And the next day, Raymond Chase, an openly gay 19-year-old at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, hanged himself in his dorm room.
LGBT Youth Are at Much Greater Risk of Suicide Than Straight Teens
Gay teens are four times as likely as their straight peers to attempt to take their own lives. More than 1/3 of gay youth have reported a suicide attempt. LGBT youth who come from more conservative families, or families that are “highly rejecting” of them, are eight times as likely as other gay youth to attempt suicide.
School Is Tough for Everyone; It’s Especially Hard for Gay Youth
Nine out of ten gay teens reported being bullied, harassed, teased or taunted at school, and 1/3 said they skipped a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe. Almost anyone can be bullied at school, but gay teens are three times more likely to say they feel unsafe on campus.
Adults Can Be Part of the Problem (and Part of the Solution)
Anoka High School’s 15-year-old Justin Aaberg hanged himself in his Minnesota bedroom in July. His mother is now trying to get the Anoka-Hennepin school district to change its official policy, which states:
“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.”
Tammy Aaberg and her supporters believe that the policy ill equips teachers to help gay students who are struggling with bullying and taunts. In Texas, Asher Brown’s family says that school administrators were non-responsive when they complained about the harassment he faced on campus. It’s an oft-repeated complaint against school officials, who in the interest of “remaining neutral” and trying to “respect all families,” develop policies that can give tacit approval to anti-gay bullying.
Adults are also proving to be part of the solution. Advice columnist Dan Savage was moved by Billy Lucas’s death to start an online video campaign that encourages bullied gay teens to tough it out because, “it gets better.” Savage wrote:
“I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
The It Gets Better Project has collected YouTube videos from hundreds of people telling their stories, and assuring gay teens that it does, indeed, get better. The project’s YouTube channel has already been viewed by nearly 950,000 people.
Even Hollywood is spreading the message. Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Ciara, Nicki Minaj, Lance Bass, Perez Hilton, Sarah Silverman, Eve, and Jason DeRulo have all recorded messages of support and encouragement.
Bullying and Suicide Are Preventable
The AP has a pretty comprehensive rundown of the resources and support services available to gay and lesbian youth. But here are some of our favorites:
Anyone can help bring this tragic phenomenon to an end. It can be as simple as supporting organizations like The Trevor Project, the nation’s only 24/7 crisis and support organization for LGBT youth. The Trevor Project staffs a toll-free hotline for teens in trouble, and is the leading resource for spotting the signs of someone contemplating suicide.
Support the Trevor Project by texting TREVOR to 85944 to donate $5 to the organization.
Or log on to the It Gets Better Project and share your own message of support.
Parents can visit Stop Bullying Now for ways to teach their kids about the harm caused by taunting and teasing.
And the Southern Poverty Law Center has premiered a new documentary called Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History. The film follows the story of one young man from Ashland, Wisconsin, who went to the courts with his fight to be protected from bullies. Schools can order copies of the film, plus an educational kit put together by the SPLC to help build new anti-bullying lessons on campus.