Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas: Four teenage boys that committed suicide last month after being incessantly bullied and abused by their classmates and peers.
Billy and Seth both died by hanging, Asher shot himself and most recently Tyler jumped off the George Washington bridge after a freshman-year sexual encounter was secretly taped and posted on the Web.
Four teenage boys committing suicide in a month is shocking as is, but the fact that all four were gay or bisexual (Asher had just come out, and Tyler’s evening was spent with another boy), shows a blindingly clear pattern.
Young people develop throughout their teens on a number of fronts: intellectually, morally and sexually. In a society that is predominantly heterosexual (greater than 90% ), coming to terms that one is different from friends and family makes for a very isolating time.
Most gays have some idea of their sexuality in early adolescence, but it can sometimes take years to accept their orientation and even longer to come out to the world. During this transition they are very unlikely to seek support or advice from other gays or lesbians. When compounded with the normal trials and tribulations of being an adolescent: wanting to fit in, worrying about perception, the pressure to keep a secret adds a burden. Throw incessant bullying on top of their sense of isolation and difference; add night-and-day ridicule at school by text, Twitter, Facebook and phone calls, and you can see why some of these kids eventually feel life is not worth living.
So, what lessons can we learn from this?
1. To those young people questioning, hiding, or struggling to defend your sexuality: Please know that there are resources in every community available to help you and the Internet is the place to start.
2. To the parents of the bullied: Speak out. Ask your child questions. If your child comes out to you, let them know you love them. If you have no idea what they are going through, ask and educate yourself on what it means to be gay in America.
3. To the teachers, officials, and administrators: Take charge. It is your responsibility to teach this new diversity in your schools. Education, understanding and acceptance are the ultimate keys in ending this tragic new bullying trend.
4. To the parents of the bullies: This is not an easy topic for most parents, but you must teach your children about sexuality and that it’s OK to be different. Also, that it is NEVER OK to harm another human being, to invade their privacy, or to make another person feel less than normal. Research shows that current adolescents show significantly less empathy for their peers than 30 years ago. This concerning trend must be addressed by parents if it is to be reversed.
5. Finally to the bullies themselves: Understand that just because someone is different than you are doesn’t mean that they are any less of a person or any less valued.
Human rights are rights for all humans. We have struggled and overcome diversity in this country for the last 200 years, dealing with discrimination against women, minorities and physical and mental disabilities. Human sexuality is now the new frontier, but ALL diversity issues are valid in this point.
We are all different in many ways and this is what made America great; accepting and embracing diversity in all its many forms.
Remember the saying "live and let live?" It’s a good motto to live by.