Bullying…an evil epidemic in our midst
Published Thursday, 07-Oct-2010 in issue 1189
In the last two months there has been a public outcry over the number of GLBT youth who have committed suicide. It is not only brought the issue back into focus for our community but for the world. With celebrities speaking out on the issue and vigils being held across the country we collectively must do all we can to ensure that not only GLBT youth but all youth are not bullied and brought to feeling so hopeless that they feel the only way out is to take their own lives.
Statistically nine out of ten GLBT youth say they have been bullied and GLBT youth are four times more likely to take their own lives than heterosexual youth according to the Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey. In a study led by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and conducted as part of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University GLBT youth who are rejected by their families were 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide. More than one-third (36 percent) of GLBT undergraduate students have experienced harassment within the past year, as have 29 percent of all respondents. Those who experienced harassment reported that derogatory remarks were the most common form (89 percent) and that students were most often the source of harassment (79 percent). 20 percent of all respondents feared for their physical safety because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and 51 percent concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation. 84 percent of respondents identified as GLBT.16 percent of respondents identified as heterosexual or uncertain. 71 percent felt that transgender people were likely to suffer harassment, and 61 percent felt that gay men and lesbians were likely to be harassed. 43 percent of the respondents rated the overall campus climate as homophobic.
Every two years the Massachusetts Department of Education conducts a version (MYRBS) of the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, exploring the health-related attitudes and behaviors of high school students. The 2003 survey found that GLBT students, when compared with their heterosexual peers, were over five times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year; over three times more likely to have skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe at or en route to school; and over three times more likely to have been threatened or injured with a weapon at school in the past year. This information was taken from the Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People 2003, The Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Crimes committed in 2002 due to bias against the victim’s perceived sexual orientation represent 16.7 percent of reported hate crime incidents – the highest level in the twelve years since the agency began collecting these statistics—according to data released Oct. 27 in the FBI report “Crime in the United States in 2002.” Sexual orientation bias represents the third highest category of reported hate crimes.
It is important to know what our San Diego schools have in place for our youth and how they are addressing their needs. We contacted The San Diego Unified School District and this is what they had to say about this issue:
Rodolfo Parra, District Counselor, Race Human Relations, San Diego Unified School District:
“The SDUSD takes the matter of bullying in all its forms very seriously. We provide training for counselors at school level on how to deal with these situations at regular intervals. We feel we are very proactive in dealing with incidents of this nature and have many different programs in place, including classroom presentations to students at all levels. The training we give our counselors and the extra resources we provide the schools counseling departments are comprehensive and we are quick to react to any given situations.”
At the start of October Charles Robbins, Executive Director of The Trevor Project asked for a moment of silence for all the youth that had taken their lives. He stated:
“Words do not adequately describe the tragic loss felt across the country for the promising young individuals who were so isolated and felt so alone and cut off from their peers and society that suicide became an option…
To help stop the cycle that leads young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning people to feel they are alone, connect them to The Trevor Project. There is a place that’s free of bullying and judgment online, where young LGBTQ people, their friends and allies ages 13-24 can connect safely and be themselves. More than 13,000 young people already belong to TrevorSpace.org, and more youth join every day. If you or someone you care about shows warning signs for suicide, please do not hesitate to call The Trevor Lifeline at: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). The call is free and confidential.
We mourn the loss of these young people, and today we will stand in silent solidarity for an end to the unnecessary loss of young lives.”
John R. Cepek, national president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) issued an open letter to youth in light of the mounting reports of bullying, harassment, and suicide among youth. It is a heartwarming message from a parent who cares deeply. It is a message of hope and an extract is reproduced below.
“There have been a lot of people out there sending some important messages your way. They’ve been telling you that there are people who can help, and that it is going to get better, and your job is to be strong and stick it out. You should listen to them, because they’re right.
But as a dad, I want to send you one more message. Here it is: there are people who love you and accept you for who you are right now. Whether you’re gay or straight, it doesn’t matter.
I hope that your parents are among these people. I hope that in the same way I’m proud of both my sons, someone is proud of you just because you’re there and because you’re alive. You deserve that, no matter who you are or how different you feel.
But if for some reason you don’t feel like you’ve got that support, I want you to know that there are parents and families who love you. Maybe they’re people you already know. Or maybe they are people like me who you haven’t met yet, and the other parents who belong to a group that I’m a member of called PFLAG – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
So if you’re reading this and feel like no one loves you for you who are today and who you’re becoming, I want you to do something for me. I want you to go online to www.pflag.org and find a PFLAG chapter near you. Contact them and tell them your story. Ask them for help. Tell them what you’re experiencing, and tell them what you need. These are families who understand what is happening and who want to support you.”
Those youth who recently took their lives due to GLBT related bullying were:
Tyler Clementi was said to be a good student who loved to play the violin and was considered a very accomplished student and musician at Rutgers University. That all came crashing down for Clementi when his roommate Dharun Ravi realized he was being intimate with another man and set up a camera to stream the video on the internet. Ravi was charged with two additional counts for attempting to stream another feed of Clementi on September 21st. On September 22nd 2010 Clementi took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River below. He was only eighteen.
We were hit yet again with another suicide on September 23rd 2010 when a thirteen year old boy named Asher Brown took is own life after the bullying and harassment over his religion and sexual orientation became to much for him to cope with. On September 23rd at his families home Asher Brown shot himself in the head with his stepfathers hand gun. Browns parents stated they had tried to get the school to help do something for their son, however help came too late for Brown.
Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California was an eleven year old boy tried to take his life by hanging himself. He was taunted and bullied relentlessly over his perceived sexual orientation. Seth Walsh died after spending ten days on life support after being found unconscious in his back yard. A memorial was held for Walsh where five hundred people attended to remember his life.
Billy Lucas of Indiana hung himself on September 9th 2010 at his home after years of torment and harassment by those at school who thought he was gay. Billy Lucas was only fifteen years old.
15, Anoka , Minnesota freshman and talented cello player.
Justin Aaberg came out as gay when he was 13 and, as his mom found out only after he hanged himself, suffered tremendously inside. His friends told her he had been bullied and had recently broken up with his boyfriend.
19, Johnson & Wales University sophomore and culinary student. Raymond Chase was an outgoing, popular and openly gay teenager who suddenly decided to kill himself last week. Chase, 19 years old, wrote a note to his loved ones—filled with praise and deep affection for them, but no explanation for his actions—and proceeded to hang himself in his dorm room. According to the Providence, Rhode Island, police, a standard investigation is open, but will shortly be closed.