It.Gets.Better – National Coming Out Day October 11

Billy Lucas, Indiana, committed suicide at 15

 

A couple of days ago, in honour of Coming Out Day I did a post with pictures of gay celebrities that was inspired by TJ, one of the reviewers on the site, and everyone who dropped by had a great time reminiscing about their favourite singers, professional athletes, movie stars etc.

Several months ago I wrote a different type of  post, one that I consider my best to date. This was also about coming out but was much more serious in tone, and it included the stories of a few gay men telling what it was like to be out, or not. In case you have never seen this post and the poignant stories, here’s a link.

However, there’s another, darker side to coming out or being outed and it involves teens being bullied. This year many young men and women will come out on October 11, National Coming Out Day in the US and Canada. In Britain the day is celebrated on October 12. This is a good thing – right? But many teenagers won’t be here to come out or anything else because they are no longer with us – sadly they will have ended their own lives. The majority of these deaths were avoidable and preventable. These teens took their lives because they were bullied or outed by another person who got their kicks harassing someone who may already be struggling with coming to terms with their being gay, and these kids were either too devastated or they didn’t know where to go for help.

Unfortunately we live in a society where we only recognize how much pressure, teenagers especially, are under –  from their peers, churches, parents, friends and others who are supposed to be supportive and love them –  when an item makes the news like Rutgers College student  Tyler Clementi’s suicide. We pay attention, momentarily, but then the news becomes old, we forget, and it fades away for tomorrow’s headlines, until someone else (usually another teenager) commits suicide because life has become unbearable. There are many teens whose deaths by their own hands do not merit even a paragraph in their local newspaper because they don’t consider it newsworthy, so this vicious cycle of bullying in schools, cyber bullying and every other kind, goes around and around like a hamster’s wheel. Another gay teenager in Indiana—Billy Lucas— killed himself after being taunted by his classmates. Now his Facebook memorial page is being defaced by people posting homophobic comments. Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. Many of them live outside the large cities, in rural areas or other places with no gay support groups or services. Is there anything that can be done to stop or at least reduce the awful numbers of teen suicides? Yes!

First, I would ask that you be accepting and supportive of all of the young people in your lives. Often the signs are there when someone is having trouble, but they are easy to overlook; withdrawing from family and friends (sometimes to the point of not wanting to leave the house), grades that start slipping for a normally good student, cutting classes, faking sickness, mysterious bruises that they won’t explain, or sometimes even more serious issues. Granted these could be indicators of many problems or may just be teenage angst, but having a support network, people who they can count on, tell anything to, without judgment could make all the difference. Certainly don’t ask them if they are gay, but try to convey to them that you accept them no matter what and will always be there.

Projects like It.Gets.Better, was started by Dan Savage, a gay advocate and author. Dan recorded a PSA with his husband Terry on the channel he launched on Youtube for gay kids on bullying —www ­.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject—to host these videos in order to talk directly to kids, and he invited everyone to make a video. In case you have been living under a rock and don’t know who Dan is, he writes a syndicated sex advice column Savage Love in newspapers across the US and Canada and more recently in Europe and Asia. He is making a difference and has been since his column started in The Onion almost 20 years ago, but it’s an uphill battle. Here’s the PSA:

Rick Reed’s post last week about It Gets Better was very moving and gave us all a glimpse of what he suffered by being bullied as a teenager. Rick’s heartfelt post was my inspiration for writing  this essay.

I asked Buda, a reviewer on the site, a gay man who has way more experience than I ever will in this area, to write his own thoughts and hopefully give some inspiration and help to a teen who may be contemplating suicide. Buda was a moderator on an adult site that created a site called emptyclosets.com which is a safe space for teens.

*********************

Buda

I often say, only half-jokingly, that my childhood was not Disney-approved. I grew up in a very small town in the wide open spaces of Western Kansas. (To give you an idea of just how small and isolated the town was, there were 39 people in my graduating class. As a teenager, if my friends and I wanted to go to the nearest McDonald’s for fries and a shake, we would drive an hour each direction.)

I remember being called names and being branded a “fag” long before I even knew what the words meant, as I’m sure my tormentors didn’t really know either. My 7th through 10th grade years were sheer hell. Not because I was being stuffed into lockers or beaten after school (I was much too big for that, though there were threats and the occasional shove into the wall), but mostly because, no matter what the children’s rhyme says, words do hurt. It wasn’t only my schoolmates; it was the tenor of the times. It was the mid-to-late 1980s, a time long before the internet. I remember that the only gay men and women I saw on television then were ACT-UP activists, fighting Ronald Reagan’s government for more money for AIDS research. Those people petrified me even more than the rednecks I had grown up around!

Eventually, I moved four hours away, to a town 25 times larger. It got better. I met other gay people, came out first to those new gay friends, then to my family. And I started making a new family out of the gay men and lesbians I met. I fell in love and flat on my face in heartbreak. And even through all that, it got better. I started to like me more, to believe less of the venom that had been spewed at me in high school, by classmates and an extremely homophobic and AIDS-panic-stricken media.

Cody J. Barker, 17, Wisconsin

 

Many years later, I became involved with the adult site Wave mentioned, moderating the forums there. Because it was an adult site, no one under 18 was allowed membership. We actively searched through new members and turned them away in droves out of self-preservation. One of my proudest moments was when the owners of the site launched a safe website for teens called emptyclosets.com. It was slow going at first and sometimes very difficult to read the pain-filled posts these teens left. But much sooner than later, it became apparent that Empty Closets was making a difference to those kids. They were talking to each other about their fears, hopes, dreams, in a safe place where no one would judge them or hurt them. That site now has over 8000 members and the topics are mind-blowingly diverse for a site called what it is. But it fills a needed place for these people. Many of the original members are now well over 18, but they still come to hang out and lend a virtual helping hand.

I wish Eric Mohat, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Cody Barker, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Raymond Chase and Tyler Clementi had found reassurance,

Raymond Chase 19, a university student from Rhode Island

 

help and belonging at Empty Closets–or anywhere. They might still be with us. As would Zach Harrington, a 19-year-old Oklahoman who, we learned Sunday, despite all the attention to the bullying problem and the promises that it gets better, committed suicide October 5. How many others are we not hearing about? Our teens (and I’m not just talking to my fellow LGBTers here because your son/daughter/niece/nephew/dog Spot might be struggling with his/her sexuality right this very minute) are killing themselves at a rate four times higher than heterosexual teens. And I swear that every time this happens, not only does an angel lose his wings and a remarkable human lose his or her precious life, but a self-loathing, gay-hating bigot stands a little prouder, thinking he’s winning something.

So listen to me now: It. Gets. Better. Not all at once, not even necessarily when you desperately need it to. But this is just as important to know: You are not alone. Someone truly does care, even if you think it’s impossible or you’re not worth it. Trust and believe in me: you are worth it! So please, before you do anything permanent that lets the bigots who are only in your life temporarily win, log on to emptyclosets.com or call the Trevor Project. It will get enough better right then to see you through another day, to help you win a little bit more each time.

*************
The Trevor Project is a help line for teens who are suicidal. According to the website, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 – 24 year olds. Here is the information to contact the Trevor Project:
The Trevor Project website: Toll free: 1-866-488 7386
 
Suicide/Kids Helpline: 1-800-668-6868
Every large city in North America has a Kids Helpline

Raymond Chase and Cody Barker were two of 6 teens who were known to have committed suicide in September.

If this post saves just one teen’s life by directing him or her to a help line, or a sympathetic and non judgmental adult who can provide support, that’s all I can ask.

 

Thanks to TJ for editing my post and adding an important paragraph. Also, a huge “thank you” to Buda for letting us into his life. 🙂

Rolly
Rolly
4 years 4 months ago

A gay teen commited suicide last fall in Ottawa Canada. His name was Jamie, a beautiful person, with many friends, and probably just as many homofobic enemies. I think what angered me the most is that NO mention is ever made about who the tormentors are in these cases. So the bullying goes on, because those that get off on picking on others just keep on with their lives 🙁

Kendall
Kendall
5 years 8 months ago

Thanks you writing this post, Wave & Budajsguy! 🙂 Fantastic what y’all do. It’s sad that we need things like this, It Gets Better, Empty Closets, the Trevor Project, etc.–but it’s awesome that they do exist, since they are needed.

Small correction: The Stranger is a Seattle newspaper, not Dan’s web site (though it is home to his syndicated Savage Love column, his Savage Lovecast podcast, and his blogging [part of Slog, the paper’s group blog]).

Kim W.
5 years 8 months ago

It’s sad to see so many kids pushed to such drastic measures. I believe there is a movement on October 20 for people to wear purple for gay abuse awareness. Will anyone else participate?

AJ Llewellyn
5 years 8 months ago

Great post, Wave. This problem has gone on for so long I am glad it’s finally getting some attention. Dan Savage did a wonderful thing creating the Trevor Project. My family being Greek Orthodox thought being gay was a terrible thing but I had one gay friend who was going through the same thing. it helped although his struggle with his parents was unbelievable. All the PSA’s taped the last couple of weeks brought back memories both good and bad. Tim Gunn’s admission of a suicide attempt made me cry.

ElaineG
5 years 8 months ago
Hi Wave and Buda…..I am a bit late, but wanted to chime in and tell you what a wonderful article….it gives me hope that publicity will continue, not fade away and all the boys who thought there was no help will not have died for no reason. I continue to mourn the loss of Eric, Seth, Asher, Cody, Justin, Billy, Raymond, Tyler and the (unfortunately) countless other young people that have taken their own lives because someone (or many someones) decided it was ok to bully. In the last week, I have watched many of the videos on It. Gets.… Read more »
edenwinters
edenwinters
5 years 8 months ago
What a poignant post that I’ll not soon forget. Every time I see the images of these young men it breaks my heart that their lives were cut short because they felt they had no other choice. Thank you all for sharing your personal stories. They are a reminder of how much love and understanding are needed in this world. We should all have a zero tolerance policy toward bullying, be it a direct physical threat to another, or the coworker who tells offensive jokes and makes slurring comments. Sometimes it takes your pointing it out for others to realize… Read more »
SherryF
SherryF
5 years 8 months ago

The loss of life is incredibly sad and the lack of remorse from some of the bullies frightening.

While technology today is a wonderful and amazing thing, it certainly has its dark side. Kids (and adults) can torment other people 24/7; it’s vicious, relentless, and neverending. Those who are bullied don’t have a chance to escape.

I came from a small town in SW Iowa (graduated w/ 78 other kids!) and saw some of the things Buda experienced. Kids can be incredibly mean.

Thanks for the heartwrenching and wonderful post today!

Tj
5 years 8 months ago
Very moving post Wave and thank you Buda for sharing your experiences. As someone who also was harassed throughout elementary and high school for being gay, I know full well how devastating it can be. And I agree that words can and do hurt, especially hateful words to a person who is not yet fully realized, and perhaps still trying to figure out just who they are. There were many times that I didn’t know how I would get through another day of taunts and name calling and being spit on and shoved, and the appeal of ending it all… Read more »
budajsguy
budajsguy
5 years 8 months ago
TJ – For me, it was my English and History classes. I had an amazing English Lit teacher who encouraged me constantly, even through all the BS. I wasn’t as strong as you were, however. I tried to let the bullies win; between their taunts and my own self-hatred, we convinced me that life would be better without me in it. Imagine how horrific it felt to wake up and realize I couldn’t even kill myself correctly. Luckily, my parents got me a terrific therapist who helped me see how wrong my tormentors and I were. I still wasn’t strong… Read more »
Ally Blue
5 years 8 months ago
Wave, thank you for posting this today. And special thanks to Budajsguy and Tish for sharing their own stories, and to Rick for his post last week sharing his story. It takes so much courage to share that much of yourself, but it makes such a huge difference to people who need to see first-hand that it really can get better. All these deaths are especially tragic because they could’ve been prevented. As a mom, I could only imagine how devastated all these families must have felt. Can you imagine being Billy Lucas’s mother and finding his body? I had… Read more »
Lilli
5 years 8 months ago
Wave and Buda, thank you for this post. Thanks Buda for sharing your story. These sad events have been all over the internet these last weeks, they also made it into the German media. It’s so terribly sad and horrible. 🙁 I’m close to tears every time I read another post or story about it and it leaves me angry and speechless. In Germany, too, gay teens are 4 to 7 times more likely to commit suicide and the climate in lots of schools seems to be very homophobic. Which is very unsettling. These projects and posts are a wonderful… Read more »
rickrreed
5 years 8 months ago

Thanks so much for this blog, Wave. It says something that can never be said too much–how we are all human beings and should be accorded respect, regardless of our sexual orientation. As someone who knows first-hand how painful bullying and teasing can be (especially over something as intrinsic as our sexual orientation), I applaud you for calling your readership’s attention to the problem and helping raise awareness about it.

Larissa
Larissa
5 years 8 months ago

Holey moley this is some post. *hugs* Budajsguy. Thank you for telling us your story and I think it is very brave what you did and what you do.

I won’t say that I’ve been through the same or even came close to even contemplating suicide. It’s not at all the same, but it is true that it does get better. I like who I am now, but 10 years ago I never would have thought that.

This makes me wonder if we have something like The Trevor Project in Holland.

L.C. Chase
5 years 8 months ago

I really can’t put into words what I’m feeling right now – it saddens and angers me that so many beautiful people have been lost. I don’t have my own kids, but I do have two wonderful nephews and hope they will grow up strong and confident and know they are loved, no matter what. I’m just glad there are people and groups out there reaching out and trying to make things better.

Tam
5 years 8 months ago

Gee, thanks for making me tear up in the morning. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing and it does break your heart. I have a teenager, I watch, I listen, I worry. I wish I could do something more concrete, I’m just not sure how.

Thanks Tish for sharing your story too. Hugs to everyone who needs that little extra bit of support who wants to take that big step today. It’s not easy but there are people who love you no matter what.

suzi
suzi
5 years 8 months ago

This makes me so angry and scares me too, as a parent of a teenager. On the other hand it was a reminder to have a talk about bullying and to stand up for kids who are being bullied or just different in school.
When leaders and politicians, churces and parents are vocally homophobic, kids listen and bullying is the result.
Sad.

Tish
Tish
5 years 8 months ago
Thank you to all who have made PSA’s. I want to say it does get better. I am living proof. I was never bullied but I did fall in love with my best friend and she with me when we were teens. After my parents found out I was sent to all sorts of doctors and was filled full of drugs to the point I don’t remember much after I turned 18. I still had ‘one night stands’ and the self loathing I felt afterwards would make me take another pill. I tried to kill myself at least 3 times… Read more »
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