Today I am not writing to entertain, but to educate. Not to be funny, but to facilitate understanding and compassion. There are thousands of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender youth in America, and sadly…there are fewer of them than there were only weeks ago.
The recent epidemic of LGBT teen suicides is both shocking and heartbreaking. One has to wonder why, when we have come so far as a nation (albeit with miles to go still), did these children think that death was their only option?
Some will say it was just typical youth, being overdramatic and attention-starved, trying to make a statement and not realizing the ‘forever’ consequences, and that it has only made headlines because they are gay. To those people I would say you have not been paying attention.
A 2009 study by Dr. Caitlyn Ryan of the San Francisco State University showed that LGBT teens who were rejected by their families for simply being themselves were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide. 8.4 times. And this is a year ago, before this new rash of incidents and ignorance engulfed our media.
This has risen disturbingly from the 1999 study done by Dr. Robert Garafalo of Harvard Medical School, which stated that suicide attempts of LGBT teens were 3 times more likely than those of heterosexual teens.
I am not dismissing the horror of heterosexual teen suicides, or trying to push that issue to the wayside. But looking at the trends in today’s society, and seeing that there has been an over 5 point jump in the incidence of LGBT suicides, anyone can see that there is a problem, and that problem needs to be addressed. Now.
Try and remember your middle school and high school days. Looking at it from an adult’s perspective, you can see how childish and short-sighted we all were, living in that little microcosm of society. But if you can put yourself back there, you will recall how it seemed that your life would end with every friend’s betrayal, with every breakup, with every bad report card. But it didn’t. For anyone reading this, we got past it, got through it, and made a life for ourselves devoid of that near-sighted drama. But these children who have taken their own lives do not get that chance.
They will never know what it is to find someone who loves you enough to share the rest of their lives with you. To hold their child, rock them to sleep at night, commiserate with their partner over having to do 3rd grade math again. They will never be able to grow into themselves and serve as a voice in the community for rights, or fairness, or education. And it is because of ignorance, plain and simple. And I say it stops now.
Talk to your children, talk to your neighbors. Understand the difference between tolerance and hate; between believing in the right to a ‘lifestyle’, and being actively supportive of it.
You do not have to like what we are. We are not asking for your approval. We are only asking that you allow us to live our lives the way we believe is right, and to see that we are mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives and partners and lovers and neighbors and PTA members and soccer moms and human beings. And children.
We do not all of a sudden ‘turn’ this way as we get older. We may become more aware as we age, but most of us would tell you that looking back we knew something was different. These children who have chosen death were the bravest of us all – they knew what they were, and they didn’t try to hide it. And it cost them their lives.
Enough with the hate. Enough with the judgment. If you don’t like gay people, then don’t be gay. But leave those who are alone to live their lives the best they can. Talk to your children about bullying, talk to them about the repercussions of spouting rhetoric at their gay classmates that they, in all likelihood, don’t even understand and are just repeating. There is an awesome YouTube video out right now that addresses the issue of “choosing” to be gay. The link is here, and I think you should watch it and discuss it with your friends and family. Whether or not you agree with what it is saying, it brings up an interesting point.
And to that end, learn to watch your own mouths. Even a seemingly innocent joke can push an eavesdropping emotional teenager over the edge, and any kind of nonchalance about LGBT issues can send the wrong message to your own children. And I am not saying we have to be serious all the time. Gay people make fun of themselves quite often. Hey, we’re funny, and we do stupid stuff like everyone else. But now is not the time for off-color humor – too much is at stake. No life is worth losing over someone else’s ignorance. Ever.
We need to grow a generation that sees what lies inside of us all is the same color, the same orientation, the same human-ness, and that it needs to be respected, regardless of what package it is presented in. Educate yourselves; educate your children, your neighbors, your family and friends. Help them to cultivate a spirit of compassion. They may not understand or support what LGBT students are going through, but they can always choose to just say nothing at all, and let them go on with their lives.
Because that is the goal here – to let them go on living, not dangling from a tree or overdosing on pills. We want them to grow up and out of high school, to form loving partnerships and circles of friends and family who support them, to become contributing members of society and continue the cycle of education and awareness.
Please, talk to your kids, talk to your students, talk to your friends and family. There is a saying on many LGBT campaigns that has always put it best to me:
“Be careful who you hate, it just might be someone you love.”
You can never know what someone is struggling with, you can never know what kind of battle they are facing within themselves. So let us be a compassionate and educated people, allowing all to live a full and purposeful life. That is a goal we can all achieve, if we only take the time to reach for it.
**If you know of an at-risk LGBT teen, please tell them to call The Trevor Project. It is a 24 hour rescue hotline for suicide prevention. 1-866-4-U-Trevor (1-866-488-7386)**