Round-up: Responses to the gay teen suicides, bullying and It Gets Better campaign

It’s been a tough few weeks for queer youth. We’ve had five (at least that we know of and have gotten media attention) gay youth take their lives as a direct result of bullying or harassment based on their sexual orientation.

It reveals a truth we all know–it’s really hard to be different, especially as a young person. Middle and High School are hard as hell for anyone, let alone someone who is singled out for being different–especially being gay. While I was never bullied about my sexuality growing up (I wasn’t out after all, although that didn’t stop a few people from calling out my queerness way before I ever admitted it) I suppressed it for the very same reason–I knew that it wasn’t okay. I knew it wasn’t okay that I had a crush on my math tutor and thought about kissing her sometimes. So I went through the motions of trying on heterosexuality–all the way until three years into college when I finally felt safe enough to be real to myself.

This kind of self-protection isn’t accessible to everyone. Some folks are just too different to pass under the radar. Some choose not to pass, and have to deal with the completely unsafe environment created by many of our schools and communities for queer kids. I think it’s important to note that all of the kids who’ve passed in this recent weeks were male-assigned. That’s not because it isn’t difficult to be a female-assigned LGBT person, but there is a different (and often more brutal) policing that happens to young boys and male-assigned kids. Any hint of femininity is targeted, where as girls can get away with being a bit of a tomboy, at least sometimes. Homophobia is also related to sexism folks.

Every time a kid feels unsafe, gets physically hurt, takes their own life, is a win for the homophobes and bigots who use fear and intimidation to get what they want.

We’re fighting back because our lives depend on it.

Possibly the only good news about these recent events is the media attention (and resultant activism) that they are generating.

LGBT teen suicide is not a new problem. According to the Trevor Project, “Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey 2007).”

Here is a round up of recent responses, videos and action taken in response what’s happened.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke out:

“This week, we sadly lost two young men who took their own lives for one unacceptable reason: they were being bullied and harassed because they were openly gay or believed to be gay. These unnecessary tragedies come on the heels of at least three other young people taking their own lives because the trauma of being bullied and harassed for their actual or perceived sexual orientation was too much to bear.

“This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether it’s students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the President of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.”

Hopefully he’ll follow his words with concrete actions from the Administration.

The openly gay University of Michigan student body president who is being bullied by a staffer in the state Attorney General’s office that Vanessa wrote about last week breaks the silence.

In response to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, some people have been saying that it’s not enough.

Author S. Bear Bergman:

“It Gets Better”? Swell. No disrespect to the people who have contributed video to that project in with great and loving hearts, but it’s simply not enough. What about the “It Sucks Now” project?

Give your videocamera to a student; let them film what life is like for someone tagged as queer or trans or gender-nonconforming at their school. Then fill YouTube with those videos. Send them to principals, PTAs, school boards, legislators, religious leaders and let them see the physical and emotional brutality some of their students are suffering, and others are meting out. Demand to know why this behavior is tolerated, why nothing is being done for these students.

Dan responds:

There’s nothing about this project—nothing about participating in this project—that prevents people from doing more. Indeed, I would hope that participating in this raises awareness and leaves people feeling obligated to do more.

And finally, one of the many inspirational videos coming out of the It Gets Better Project:

And the always awesome gender rebel Kate Bornstein:

Join the Conversation

  • James

    This kind of self-protection is accessible to everyone.

    Did you mean to say that it isn’t accessible to everyone? The rest of the paragraph seems to imply that you did and that this is a typo.

    • Vanessa

      Thanks for the heads up, James! Change made.

  • devoted_toucan

    My concern with this project is whether many of the people it’s aimed at will actually view it. Without this, there’s still a lot of videos on YouTube, and even channels, where LGBT people discuss their experiences and show that it’s OK. So, I’ve been wondering, “Are these young people even looking on YouTube for this kind of thing?” And it’s not like (unfortunately) a lot of youngsters come across sites such as this, where the project and other sources of support are advertised. I disagree with the people claiming that it’s rubbish due to it not actually stopping the bullying, because I believe that any support is better than none, but I can’t help feel that we’re not reaching out to who we’re actually attempting to support. I’m thinking about emailing schools here about the project (UK) to ask them to give an assembly discussing it, but a lot of the videos seem to have swearing in. I still wanna work something out if I can fit it in.

    Has anyone from Feministing uploaded a video to the itgetsbetter channel? I didn’t see any.

  • john

    I have launched a new website that is designed to stop bullying and abuse. – Humanity Against Local Terrorism – HALT.

    The more of our voices that say HALT; the more of our children we can save. This new website offers education, prevention, support and services to abused and bullied victims as well as hopefully finding a solution to stop this local terrorism of bullying, abuse and domestic violence within our communities. Please help us stop these senseless acts. Please take time to visit this site, become a member and add your voice.