Recent Suicides Casts Light On Bullying
BY KAYLA LOKEINSKY
With some reluctance, Robert recalls an incident from seventh grade that is typical of the middle school experience, but shouldn’t be. He remembers the disgust he felt emanating off of his fellow middle school students. He could still feel his hands trembling and his heart racing at the prospect of running into another homophobe stalking the halls. Robert remembers a shove from behind sending him flying into the cold metal lockers, and his face hit the ground before he could catch himself. As if the bloody nose that resulted weren’t punishment enough for being himself, his massive eighth grade attacker knelt down besides him and sneered, “Why don’t you just go kill yourself, f****t,” leaving him to wonder that day why he ever came out of the closet in the first place.
While trying to deal with all the challenges of being a teenager, homosexual teens, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders, additionally have to deal with harassment, threats, and violence. Anti-gay slurs are directed at them and they are targeted because their sexual orientation is different from the norm. Today’s teens may have been born in a time where homosexuality is not as frowned upon as it once was, yet most find that the term “gay” is still considered to be taboo.
“More people are coming out of the closet now than they have in the past,” sophomore Kristen Becker said. “Even though this is true, because of the way teens are raised by their parents, who were born during a time when being gay wasn’t as accepted, they don’t understand why gays and straights are equal.”
The recent spate of gay teen suicides has captured the attention of the entire nation. In September 2010 alone, at least six gay teens, all of who were harassed for their sexual orientation by their peers, ended their lives, literally bullied to death. The most publicized of these deaths was that of Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after learning that a intimate act he had with another gay student was broadcast on the Internet. However, what most don’t understand is that these teens didn’t end their lives because they were ashamed off being gay, but rather because they were constantly harassed and tormented for being something that they couldn’t control and they felt that there was no one they could relate to.
“At this age students are subjected to the influence of their peers,” Cooper City High School Family Counselor Roberto Rea said. “When their peers turn against them, it leads to feeling pressure and not feeling wanted.”
Bullying takes on many forms, it can be centered race, religion, gender, or even physical appearance. And while these cases are all prevalent in high schools, the harassment that students receive because of their sexual orientation has reached an all time high. This specific type of bullying has become highly publicized because numerous teens have gone to extremes to end the pain of this hate and prejudice. A study by the U.S. Department of Health revealed that homosexual teens are six times more likely to have attempted suicide than straight teens. This statistic is directed correlated to the bullying they experience. A survey done by the Boston Children’s Hospital revealed that homosexual teens are three times more likely then heterosexual teens to report having been bullied and it is something they largely deal with in silence.
“Students are afraid to say that they are being bullied because they don’t want to be known as a snitch,” Rea said. “It is a sensitive issue, and most victims don’t want to reach out for help.”
The constant bulling takes a tremendous toll not only on their mental health, but their education as well. Gay teens in U.S. schools are often unable to receive an adequate education due to feeling embarrassed for being targeted and failing to report the abuse. In a survey conducted by the National Mental Health Association, 22% of homosexual respondents had skipped school in a single month because they did not feel safe there, and 28% of gay students drop out of school each year. This is more than three times the national average for heterosexual students.
“I used skip school because everyday I would be bullied for being gay,” one CCHS Gay-Straight Alliance member said.
Homosexual bullying can be physical or verbal. Victims have reported being punched, beaten up, and even raped to “turn them straight.” For example, in New York City, an “ultra-macho” street gang, driven by an extreme hatred for gays, went on a homophobic rampage in October. They brutally beat and sodomized four homosexual teens before being apprehended by the police. Also, this bullying comes in the form of gossip, verbal threats, and rumor spreading, just as most high school drama comes about.
The main reason behind the targeting of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens is a lack of understanding. In recent years, school officials in the U.S. have tried adjusting their anti-harassment policies with lessons in tolerance. Educators and rights advocates feel that prohibiting anti-gay slurs and taunts are better understood with lessons on acceptance. They are in no way trying to persuade students that homosexuality is the way to go; they are simply trying to teach acceptance of gay people.
However, controversies have arisen over these teachings from conservatives and religious groups. In October 2010, the Federal Department of Education enforced a new policy that requires, under civil rights laws, to prevent harassment in schools, including those based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While some school districts have adopted this policy with little protest, it has extreme opposition in others.
“Of course we’re all against bullying,” Helena, Oregon pastor Rick DeMato said in an interview with the New York Times. “But the Bible says very clearly that homosexuality is wrong and Christians don’t want the schools to teach subjects that are repulsive to their values.”
Despite this resistance, schools are beginning to implement new policies to make sure that no student is harassed because of their sexual orientation. The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a federal anti-bullying bill that is in the process of being approved by the U.S. Senate. The Act will create standard anti-bullying policies which for the first time will protections regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Another act introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives is the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which will prohibit discrimination against public school students due to their sexual orientation and gender identity. These acts are not designed to push a homosexual agenda. They are being proposed merely to teach and enforce tolerance. Despite what some may believe, LGBT youth are just like other students and deserve to be treated equally. Many people do not realize the harassment and pain that homosexual teens have to endure from people who believe that being gay is wrong.
However, the recent suicides have opened the world’s eyes to this pressing issue, and from students to celebrities, more people are getting involved to prevent teens from killing themselves for being unaccepted by society. For too long, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders have had to struggle through their adolescent years without any sort of support system to provide them with help; until now.
The It Gets Better Project is a website where LGBT adults can show adolescent teens that although right now being out as a homosexual may be tough, it really does get better. Created by the noted writer Dan Savage in September 2010, it is a unique way for supporters everywhere to tell gay teens that it is possible to overcome bullying and find happiness. ItGetsBetterProject.com is a place where LGBT adults can share the stories of their lives, and straight allies can add their names in solidarity and help spread the message of hope.
Also, the rash of teen suicides has prompted numerous celebrities to speak out and launch a campaign in order to raise awareness and stop this kind of bullying before another innocent life is lost. Stars such as Dr. Phil McGraw, Adam Lambert, Ke$ha, and Lady GaGa have all spoken up to try to convince teens that this type of bullying cannot continue and that everyone deserves the same amount respect regardless of who they love. Some celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Perez Hilton, and “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy, who have had first-hand experience with having being bullied in their youth, are sharing their stories to show LGBT teens that they are not alone in their battle to fit in.
Even at our very own Cooper City High School, efforts are being made in order to provide gay students with a safe place to promote equality among the student body. Last year CCHS students formed the Gay-Straight Alliance as a safe haven where they can go without being judged. In GSA, both gay and straight teens can get together and express their daily struggles as well as have a safe place where they can get advice and reach out to peers with similar issues.
“Right now we are trying to make the club a safe place for everyone,” GSA President Jonathan Cohen said. “Maybe one day we will try to reach out to the school and raise awareness, but right now we’re just not ready.”
After finishing his story, Robert snaps back into the present. After years of bullying, he has finally accepted that he is proud of who he is. Being gay is not voluntary, but hate is, and the hate that was directed towards him is the direct result of ignorance and intolerance. Even though he may get still get teased sometimes, this innocent adolescent knows that he is not alone, and that things really do get better.