Gay Times December 10 - Issue 387
Americans talk a lot. They talk a lot about gays. But rarely do they talk about gay teenagers. And, hardly ever, do they talk about gay teenagers committing suicide. This autumn, suddenly, everybody’s talking.
The statistics have been grim for more than a decade: suicide is a major cause of death among young people in the United States.
Out of the thousands of victims each year, queer and questioning youths are four times more likely than their straight counterparts to attempt suicide – and, depressingly, more likely to succeed.
They report higher rates of depression, isolation, rejection and anxiety, while almost every student surveyed reports verbal or physical harassment and feels unsafe in school.
Now, people around the world can’t talk about these figures enough. There’s an international conversation about what can be done to change them. And it’s being driven by the recent deaths of several young American teens: Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Asher brown, Billy Lucas and Seth Walsh.
Thanks to the internet, responses to these have developed quickly. It’s been only a few weeks since advice columnist Dan Savage featured the catalytic letter about Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old in Indiana who took his life after homophobic bullying. The letter-writer, signing off as ‘Gay Bullying Victim Who Survived,’ noted that hate messages had appeared in an online memorial to the teen and asked Savage one question: “What the hell can we do?”
Almost immediately, Savage set up a YouTube channel to host a video of him and his husband talking directly to gay adolescents – and encouraged others to add their own. Readers swiftly posted links to the column, the channel or the video as Facebook, gmail or Twitter updates.
“I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better,” said Savage. “I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better... Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”
Rapidly, what Savage had called the It Gets Better Project was being discussed widely. Meanwhile, newspaper and television stations were starting to collate other reports of suicides.
A day before Savage’s column was posted, an 18-year-old college freshman, Tyler Clementi, jumped from a bridge connecting New York and New Jersey after his roommate was alleged to have secretly streamed a viral video of him having gay sex.
After that, every national daily newspaper and major television network ran features on gay youth suicide, ranging from special reports by CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Larry King, to day-time
television discussions by Ellen DeGeneres and Dr. Phil, a clinical psychologist who previously sparked controversy for his treatment of gay issues. Many other networks ran multiple stories, including pieces acknowledging National Coming Out Day, Safe Schools Week and Anti-Bullying Month, all of which take place annually in October.
The full feature appears in the current issue of GT out now and available on iPad and iPhone
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