Coming Out of the Closet and Bullying – part II

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18 months ago I wrote an essay called Coming Out of the Closet, and included the coming out stories of 7 gay men.  Those stories gave us a brief glimpse of their lives and personal experiences and showed how their individual decisions to come out (or not) affected them. Here’s a link to the post.

Coming out is probably one of the most important and critical personal decisions any gay person will make in his/her lifetime since it affects who they are and will eventually become. Many gay teens struggle with self image, even those who are not bullied, because they are made to feel that being gay is somehow not acceptable. While I can empathize with them I can’t convince them that they can accomplish whatever they choose to do, but I can tell them that gay men and women are just as successful as straights in any profession – medicine, science, architecture, engineering, law, politics, entertaining, writing, etc. A host of other professions teem with gay men and women, and the playing field is wide open except professional sports where gay players rarely come out and we don’t know who they are until they retire, because they are afraid of the impact coming out could have on their careers and incomes. One of the few athletes who came out while still in the game was Brendan Burke, (pictured above) son of Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, who unfortunately died in a car crash last year at 21. Brendan was not playing at the time but he was the manager of the Miami University (Ohio) Redhawks hockey team. Hopefully Brendan and others like him will change the landscape of professional sports in the future.

This year I again asked a few gay men if they would tell their coming out stories so they could reach a teen who is being bullied; they all agreed without hesitation. The poignant stories of these brave men are as diverse and unique as they are. Today they are doing something important by paying it forward, opening their hearts and letting us into their lives. Their hope is that by doing so they will help a teen who is in crisis right now and may be considering suicide due to bullying, which still is occurring despite the great strides made in GBLT acceptance. They want to make a difference by telling gay teens that their lives are valuable, and the best revenge on the bullies is to not give up – “things will change and your lives will improve.”  l hope that these stories will help a few of the GBLT teens coming out today, so that they will stick it out and not be pushed into making a decision to end their lives prematurely because of bullying.

I salute and thank Thorny, Josh Aterovis, Ethan Stone, Reno MacLeod, Jaye Valentine, Buda, Brian and Damon Suede for opening their hearts and sharing their stories so that gay teens will be optimistic that the world can be a better place. These men are here today because they stuck it out and decided that, as Jaye Valentine put it, “living well is the best revenge.” Guys, I love you for doing this!

Here are their stories in a PDF file.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day in North America. Today many gay teens will come out and some of them will be bullied. Our goal here is to help avoid any further tragedies where the world will have lost another brilliant, diverse voice that never had a chance to be heard because of bigots and bullies. These teens could and would have made valuable contributions to society if only they had lived long enough to make a difference. We have to give those remaining teens who are on the brink new hope for a better day by helping them to see that suicide is not an option they should consider.

On National Coming Out Day 1 year ago I wrote an essay with Buda, one of our guest reviewers (who had himself been bullied at school) about the deadly impact bullying was having on teens, and its direct connection to teen suicides. I hope that at least one teen was saved by contacting the telephone help numbers in the post. This post is linked.

I’m sure you have read about Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old gay teen from upstate New York who took his own life last month because of relentless bullying on social networks and in school. Jamey had just started his freshman year at Williamsville North High School outside Buffalo, N.Y.  The bullying began during middle school according to his parents – he had told family and friends about the hateful comments he had endured in school and online, mostly related to his sexual orientation. Here is one of the hate messages posted by other students on his account just before Jamey took his own life by hanging himself on the swing set he had been playing on since he was 3 years old:

“I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it. It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

Jamey left a message that said, in part: “I always say how bullied I am but no one listens.”

There are many more teens who are being bullied every day and they don’t bother to report it because their schools, friends and families fail to support them, and when it gets to be overwhelming some may consider ending their lives. Kids and teens need to feel safe and know that we support them, but unfortunately many of them feel abandoned by the people closest to them who are supposed to have their welfare at heart.

It was just one year ago that 18 year old Tyler Clemente took his own life because of being publicly outed by his college roommate. His suicide raised public awareness to the problem of teens being bullied to the point of committing suicide, but it didn’t stop the bullying. The It.Gets.Better project started by Dan Savage and his husband Terry has been a positive beacon of light to gay teens that life does indeed get better, but in view of recent events more work obviously needs to be done. Jamey had only months ago taken part in the project by posting a message, but tragically we will never get to see what wonderful things he could have accomplished

Here’s Jamey’s It.Gets.Better recording, sadly done just a few months before he took his life.

 

The latest statistics available show that 40% of American 6th graders report being bullied, many of them gay male teens.

90% more gay teens report being bullied than their straight counterparts and gay males are 5 times more likely to kill themselves because they are taunted and bullied, sometimes as much as 26 times a day, and it appears that teen boys are subjected to even more vicious cyber attacks on social networks.

Some experts say the bigger story is that hundreds of suicides go unreported or underreported every year.

In Canada, suicide is the second highest cause of death for youth aged 10-24. Each year, on average, 294 youths die from suicide. These are just the reported numbers. Many more attempt suicide. Aboriginal and gay and lesbian teens are at particularly high risk, depending on the community they live in and their own self esteem.

Many gay teens run the risk of losing their friends or being thrown out of their homes if they either come out or are inadvertently outed.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-to-24 year olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-to-14 year olds according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Studies consistently show that a high percentage of gay and lesbian youth (25-30%) attempt suicide and most of the males succeed.

Younger kids and teens are bullied for reasons other than being gay. Last month 11 year old Mitchell Wilson from Ontario, Canada who suffered from multiple sclerosis, took his own life because of cruel bullying and physical attacks by a 12 year old. Many teens are also taking their lives because of mental health issues, but the highest number of teen suicides, by far, is still gay teen males.

What can you do? We can all help. You can become a mentor to a teen in crisis or just be accepting and supportive of all of the young people in your lives. Having a support network, people who they can count on, tell anything to without judgment, could make all the difference and even save a life. 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.Adults are modeling bullying behaviour, sometimes without realizing it, and the key is to start with your own kids so that they are not the cause of a teen committing suicide a few years down the road.

If you are a teen who is considering suicide there’s help. I urge you to contact any of the numbers below:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273 TALK (1-800-273-8255)

1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

The Trevor Project is a help line for teens who are suicidal.
The Trevor Project website: Toll free: 1-866-488 7386

Stop Bullying – http://stopbullying.gov/topics/get_help/index.html

Suicide/Kids Helpline: 1-800-668-6868

Kids Helpline Website:

Every large city in North America has a Kids Helpline.

Canada Suicide and Crisis Helplines/website:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Empty closets is a safe website for gay teens where they can figure out who they are. The site welcomes teens from 13 upwards. Here’s the link

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 a win-win. I know you all share our concern today and every day about the impact of bullying on gay teens, the most at-risk group, whether they come out of the closet or stay in because the pressure is too much for them.

We (you and I) have to try harder to help gay teens and make them believe that the world is not a cold, unfeeling place!! We all have to try our best to make them believe that things will indeed get better.

If you know of a teen who is in difficulties please direct him/her to the help lines in the post.

Thanks to Tj who edited this post. You rock babe!

 

Wave

 

47 thoughts on “Coming Out of the Closet and Bullying – part II

  1. Sirius

    Thank you so much for this post Wave, and thank you so much for sharing your stories guys. I am so glad you all survived asnd keep making this world a better place. I so agree that if this helps just one teen in pain, it is all worth it.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Sirius
      This was a labour of love like the last 2 posts. I only hope that the kids/teens who need help will read the inspiring stories of these men and call a help line.

    1. Wave Post author

      Helena
      My thanks also to these brave men who shared their stories in the hope that they will be able to help a teen in crisis.

  2. Thorny

    Thank you so much for doing this, Wave. I’m really proud to be among the guys sharing their stories and showing that it really does get better. I very much hope news like this makes it to those who need it most.

    1. Wave Post author

      Thorny
      You’re an inspiration. You’re doing your part to help other teens and I hope that the joint efforts of all the guys will be a positive force today and every day in the life of a teen who needs help.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi jayhjay
      Thank you for stopping by. The stories are indeed inspiring and I hope at least one story inspires a teen who may be on the brink.

  3. K. Z. Snow

    If only it were possible to protect and encourage every single young person going through the coming-out experience. Thank you, Wave, and all you guys who shared your stories. (Thorny, give Jazz a hug for us.) :sendoutlove:

    1. Wave Post author

      We can only do what we can and hope that at least one teen is listening and will call a help line when/if they need one.

  4. brian

    Wave, thank you for writing this post. It saddens me that there has been so much tragedy over the past year with teen suicides, and it scares me that there are so many more we potentially haven’t heard about. People like you make a difference. Stories like these make a difference. And, our community loves you for your support.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Brian

      As you know, this site is devoted to gay men and issues relating to them. I write a lot of fun posts and we review M/M books, but this post is my homage to gay teens and I hope to shine a small light on a problem that we all know exists and is getting bigger. We’re all trying in a small way to provide a lifeline to a teen in crisis. The number of unreported teen suicides is scary and I hope that these numbers and reported teen suicides will be reduced significantly in future years.

      Your story and those of the other guys are what will make a difference to teens in crisis by showing them that there is another way. I hope they will choose that way.

      Thanks again Brian – you rock.

  5. Ethan Stone

    I was honored to be included in this post. I hope my story, and every one else’s, helps someone out there.

    1. Wave Post author

      Ethan
      We are the ones who are honored that you and the other guys opened your lives and your hearts to help a teen who may be considering suicide. Hopefully these stories will make a difference and I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

  6. Raine

    Thank you for this very moving post Wave.

    The guys who contributed their coming out stories are brave and wonderful. I read them with so much admiration for you all as you try to make a difference for other people. Thank you.

    1. Wave Post author

      Raine
      Thank you for reading the post. I know it’s long but I think it’s important and I hope that perhaps it will connect a teen with a help line and maybe save a life.

      The guys are all heroes in my eyes because they opened their hearts and lives for someone else. I applaud them.

  7. Maya

    Thanks for this post, Wave. Things HAVE gotten better but there is still much to do!

    And thank you all for your amazing coming-out stories. Your courage and strength is inspiring!

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Maya

      Thanks for commenting

      You mentioned that things have gotten better but a couple of nights ago I watched a CNN Town Hall on Bullying which took place at Rutgers University and was hosted by Anderson Cooper.

      This show indicates that the problem is getting worse rather than getting better, and in most cases the bullying goes unreported or the schools are ignoring it. “The Bully Project”, a documentary on bullying, shows actual scenes where kids are being attacked, and instead of the school officials taking the aggressors to task they are telling the kids who are victimized to suck it up. In one school (Wheatley in N.Y) over 80% of bullying incidents are not reported to school officials because they failed the kids who no longer trust them.

      Some of these kids are barely in their teens and are peed on in washrooms and beaten on school buses and no one comes to their aid, and the other kids are actually egging the bullies on just like a mob mentality.

      There’s so much that needs to be done to help the victims, and we need to intervene even in a small way, before these teens see the bullying as a situation that will never stop and when they can’t take it anymore they take their own lives.

      I hope that the stories attached to this post will help at least one teen to choose another path.

  8. Charming

    Good post, but I think some of your statistics are off. If 40% of 6th graders are bullied, I don’t think most of them can be gay males. That would make more than half of the boys gay.

    Also, if gay teens are 90% more likely to be bullied than straights, that’s less than twice as likely. That could be right, but it doesn’t seem to match up with the rest of your post.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Charming

      Sometime tomorrow (I have to finish a review for tomorrow so my time is short) I will try to find the sources for my stats, but one was the US Department of Justice which, while it didn’t extrapolate the number of gay teens who were bullied, did confirm that -

      “Rates of bullying are higher among younger students; almost 43 percent of 6th graders report being bullied, compared to about 24 percent of 12th graders. -U.S. Dept. of Justice.”

      I haven’t found my original sources but here’s an article published by the University of Illinois three weeks ago (the study is linked http://tinyurl.com/3ntgbfm) which says that “According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 39 percent of sixth graders reported being bullied whereas only 20 percent of high school seniors reported this act. The numbers are quite a bit larger for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth — 90 percent are bullied according to the National Climate Survey.”

  9. Angelia Sparrow

    My daughter came out at the age of 13. The bullying she received in our notch of the Bible Belt for being both a witch and queer was so extreme she opened her wrists half a dozen times before the age of 15 and spent her entire freshman year of HS is a residential mental hospital.

    And she was one of the lucky ones, with supportive parents, a supportive youth group and friends who loved her regardless. Can you imagine how horrible it is when the parents are the primary abusers in this situation?

    (one of the reasons I never came out to my mother is that I am unsure her love for me would outweigh her generalized hatred of lesbians)

    I was listening to the Morning Jolt on OutQ, the gay radio station, and was struck by the similarity of stories: we were all bullied, but we coped by planning our escape from the bullies, our escape from the little towns and into colleges and the cities.

    Now, the kids don’t have an escape. The internet is forever, and if they’re still making Jane Fonda pay for misdeeds from the 60s what hope do we have? So without hope and without escape, the kids opt out.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Angel

      Now, the kids don’t have an escape. The internet is forever, and if they’re still making Jane Fonda pay for misdeeds from the 60s what hope do we have? So without hope and without escape, the kids opt out.

      I think that’s what is heartbreaking for these kids. There’s no escape and many of these sites allow anonymous messages so no one can trace who the sender is.

      Your daughter was lucky to have you in her corner. Can you imagine where she could have been with a different kind of mother? That’s why is so important that we support these kids whenever we can and show them that there’s another way other than killing themselves.

  10. Damon

    Thank you Wave for asking me to jump in and share my story. I didn’t suffer anywhere near the abuse and neglect visited upon most LGBT kids and I love reading the other guys’ stories of strength and transformation. It DOES get better.

    Truth is the simplest, hardest, strongest thing in the world…a force that nothing can deny. Amazing that so many folks grow up in families and communities that encourage them to lie in order to survive… Bigots live in terror of truth and clarity because it doesn’t serve their agendas. Every time I drive through a small town I ask myself… how many kids are in hell here? How many kids are beaten or abandoned because they don’t fit the mold? How many kids are being snuffed out by bigots determined to whittle the world into narrow beige strips modeled after their own lack of imagination?

    A million thank yous to everyone who lives out loud and helps other people stand in the light. If even ONE kid finds these stories and draws the courage to face another day, take another step, bear another insult in calm strength…then it’s all worth it.

    Burn bright! Joy and truth can only be hidden; they cannot be extinguished.

    1. Wave Post author

      Damon

      Thank YOU for sharing your story.

      I hope that a teen somewhere will read these stories and realize that there is hope, and if they are in distress that they will call one of the numbers in the post.

  11. LadyM

    Thank you, Thorny, Josh, Ethan, Reno, Jaye, Buda, Brian and Damon, for sharing your stories. I hope they’ll reach those who need encouragement.

    Thorny, your grandma rocks! Brian – I’m glad that horrors of bad spelling and bigotry did not destroy the beautiful, funny person that you are. Reno & Jaye – Talk about different experiences! I am glad you found each other. Buda – I listened to you and put my soda away. Good call, that, lol.

    1. Wave Post author

      You’re now taking advice from Buda LadyM? lol

      On a more serious note, thanks for checking out the post and the guys’ stories.

  12. Jaye Valentine

    Thanks for this post, Wave. Only by talking openly about these problems is there any hope for them to go away. Greater numbers of youth are coming out at earlier ages than ever before, and although that experience can be rightly empowering for them, it can also be fraught with danger and very isolating.

    Think globally, act locally. Finding out what your nearest LGBT youth center might be needing in order to better serve their community is a great place to start.

    1. Wave Post author

      Jaye

      When I read your story my respect for you grew exponentially. You are a shining example of how not to let the system win.

      You are absolutely correct that teens are coming out a lot sooner, and because there is not enough of a support network some of them fall through the cracks.

      Organizations like the ones mentioned in the post as well as those referred to in your story are excellent places for them to start and I hope that they seek them out. As you said, think globally and act locally.

      Thanks again Jaye for sharing your experience and for trying to help someone who may be in crisis.

  13. Dianne T.

    I want to thank Thorny, Brian, Reno, Jaye, Josh, Buda, Ethan and Damon for sharing their experiences and also Wave and TJ for the posts. Over time I have heard and read so many descriptions of people’s realizations that they are gay and then their coming out process. Their stories of the reactions of those around them never cease to boggle my mind – mostly in a negative way, but sometimes, thankfully, in a positive. I’ve witnessed some of each within my own extended family.

    The news about teen suicides and the bullying statistics is so disheartening, but knowing there are strong people out there who, as Damon said, are helping others to “stand in the light”, is so very encouraging. We all need to stand strong.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Dianne
      Thank you for reading the post and the accompanying stories from the guys. Tj loves to slap me around – he calls it editing. :)

      While the news about the suicides is disheartening, there’s always a ray of light, and I hope that as Damon said we can help more teens to stand in the light.

  14. Buda

    Wave, I’ve just arrived home from work and am slowly catching up. First, I want to say thank you for your continued attention to this problem. As difficult as it is to think of your young ones in this much pain, just ignoring it won’t make it stop. I’m proud of you for lending your voice to the cause.

    Second, I just wanted so share that there have been an additional 3400 members join emptyclosets.com since our post last year. That gives me hope that at least some of those are kids getting help, love and support.

    Third, I want to thank the guys who shared their stories. It’s such an intensely personal time in our lives that sometimes it’s extremely uncomfortable thinking about it. I’m honored to be among you. …And now I’m off to read what you’ve all shared.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hey Buda

      First, thank you so much for always answering when I call and I loved your story. I forgot to mention http://emptyclosets.com in the post but I will correct that right away.

      Only by continuing to shine a light on teen suicide will some people realize what a huge problem it continues to be, and maybe they will even try to help.

      When you read the other guys’ stories you’ll see how unique each one is. They reflect the different experiences in each person’s life.

      Thanks again Buda for yourcontribution.

  15. Jordie

    Thanks for all the stories everyone.

    I’m 20 and gay and grew up in a rural area with only 30 kids in my graduating class in high school. My plan was to just go on with my life and never tell anyone that I was gay. Well, then I moved to a bigger place, am in college and I have told some people including my family. I told my brother and sister, and the short version of the story is, that they love me and are on my side:). They went with me to tell my parents. My mom cried, my dad walked out. My parents are still speaking to me but things just feel tense. But, I do know how lucky I am and that a lot of people that have come out have it a lot worse than me, so I’m grateful. It’s just reassuring to know that other people have been where you are.

    1. Buda

      Congratulations, Jordie. I’m glad you had such a great reception from your siblings. Give your parents time to adjust. I think one of the mistakes we often make is wanting them to be okay with it instantly. Just because we’ve known this about ourselves since we were X and have worked through it all, we want the instant “it’s okay.” We forget that we had to work through it, too. Good luck. I’m proud of you.

    2. Wave Post author

      Jordie

      Thank you for stopping by.

      Like Buda said, acceptance takes time but you jumped over the first hurdle and every day can only get better.

      There are many GBLT support organizations where you can meet other youth like yourself – maybe you could even mentor someone much younger, and this way pay it forward. I would also recommend that you check out http://www.emptyclosets.com/ a safe website for youths and teens.

      Give your parents a chance, I’m sure they will come around. Take care.

  16. L.C. Chase

    Thorny, Josh, Ethan, Reno, Jaye, Buda, Brian and Damon, you guys are all amazing people. It is so wonderful of you to share a part of your lives in hopes it will help someone out there who feels lost, alone, at ends. Big hugs to you all.

  17. Kaje Harper

    Thanks to all the guys who shared their stories. And hugs to Jordie. Best wishes to everyone who reads this post and is helping to make the future brighter for those who don’t fit the majority mold. (Can I prove I’m a geek and quote Spock? Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations should be a goal, not a problem.)

  18. clovermax

    I wanted to add my thanks to you Wave for the column and the guys – Thorny, Brian, Josh, Reno, Jay and Buda for sharing your stories. The best hope we have is that we can help someone else survive bullying- living life is a way of showing bullies that they don’t win that in fact they are minor roadbumps in life.

    1. Wave Post author

      The best hope we have is that we can help someone else survive bullying- living life is a way of showing bullies that they don’t win that in fact they are minor roadbumps in life.

      We all hope that anyone needing help will seek it and thwart the bullies.

  19. monica

    Thank you for sharing your stories with us here. It is pretty enlightening how suck life can be…not just in USA but also across the world like mine.

    Bullies are everywhere, regardless of age,with internet – it’s pretty bad.

    I hope your stories would reach out to those in need of them.

  20. Cleon

    Thorny, Josh, Reno, Jaye, Damon, Brian, & Buda, your stories are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing them.

    I’m planning to have a heart to heart with my best friend, who’s also a conservative Christian. She’s getting her Phd in Psychology and a prominent figure in her church. I want to talk to her about homosexuality in hope of opening her mind. I hope your stories will move her to reconsider her position about this issue.

    1. Wave Post author

      Hi Monica

      I hope you’re successful in convincing your friend that there’s another way and that gays/lesbians are not the enemy. An open mind is one that looks at issues from different perspectives.

  21. hannah

    Thanks for sharing your amazing stories/histories. I know it happens but I cant imagine turning my flesh and blood out to fend for themselves based upon their sexuality. I carried you for 9 months, endured unimaginable pains….Im keeping you.

    A co-worker and I were talking about bullying the other day. We both agreed that High school kids, heck all school levels, need to know, that it does get better.

  22. A.B. Gayle

    Thank you, Wave, and all the contributors. I don’t have close friends who are gay. I grew up in an era where being gay was an anathema and well remember the AIDS epidemic and the fear and loathing. Sure I have acquaintances who are gay, but none who could teach me or share with me what it’s been like for them, so I really appreciate hearing your stories. It’s made me a lot more knowledgeable and hence better able to do my bit to make it “better”.

    And Damon, I do love the way you write. This summed your situation up brilliantly: “I lived in one of the most repressive, hostile environments in America, buffered by a weird bubble of liberalism that was shrinking with every coffin I carried.”

    Please guys, keep playing safe….

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