Last week Americans were reminded of the terrible impact of bullying when 14 year Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life after being incessantly bullied by classmates. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth all across America face daily taunts and threats in their schools and in church, and this had led to the tragic consequences that we have all seen.
Jamey was a 14 year old high school student in New York who often blogged about his experiences being bullied at school. In fact, according to his parents, Jamey had been bullied since the 5th grade, both at school, and online. His mother stated that he had begun questioning his sexuality, which led to students making malicious comments toward him. However, in the past year the attacks began to increase in intensity and in vehemence: Jeremy began receiving vile comments on his Formspring account, a blog that allows anonymous postings, such as: "JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!" and “I wouldn't care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!"
Unfortunately, Jamey’s story is not a rarity: he is only the latest in a tragic string of suicides among bullied LGBT youth. Last year we learned about: Tyler Clementi (age 19), Billy Lucas (age 15), Seth Walsh (age 13), Asher Brown (age 13), Raymond Chase (age 19), and Cody Barker (age 17) who are just a few of the many LGBT teens who committed suicide after incessant bullying and torment from their peers.
Anti-LGBT bullying in this nation is unfortunately at epidemic levels among teens. According to GlSEN, 9 in 10 LGBT students report being bullied at school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This ranges from slurs to threats, to actual beatings. Even more startling, LGBT youth are 300 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. Clearly there is a problem, and it is absolutely shameful that it has taken this long for America to realize it.
Thankfully, there are many advocates pushing for LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying protections. Both Illinois and New Jersey have passed tough new anti-bulling laws with specific protections for LGBT youth, with many other states looking into such measures. President Obama held an anti-bullying conference in March, and the Federal government has an anti-bulling website. Many school districts adopted newer measures to more adequately address bullying as well. Groups such as GLSEN have stepped in to help with LGBT-bullying education. However, currently less than a quarter of all states have LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies, and many states have policies that demand that teachers remain neutral on LGBT issues- effectively tying their hands.
Outside of schools, there have been many efforts made by celebrities and philanthropists to combat this problem. The Trevor Project, a 24-hour nonprofit LGBTQ suicide-prevention hotline created in 1998, has recently been endorsed and supported by several celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe and Chris in order to raise awareness. Seattle Stranger Columnist Dan Savage created the It Gets Better Project, which features powerful videos from individuals and celebrities all sharing stories about how life gets better after high school, and that if they hold on, they will see it. These often emotional videos have been made by everyone from Hollywood celebrities, to sports teams, to politicians (no Republicans though.)
Not surprisingly, the pro-gay-bullying lobby has decried those anti-bullying measures as part of the “gay agenda.” These organizations claim that educating students on LGBT bullying and working to prevent it will amount to gay sex being taught in schools as well as a moral decline. Many are even pushing back against the notion that anti-LGBT is a problem. Maggie Gallagher, former spokeswoman for the virulently anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) claimed that, “Nothing in the press accounts suggest the kids [who committed suicide] who did this were motivated by homophobia.” Robert Newman, the head of the California Christian Coalition founded by Pat Robertson, claimed that bullying is not a problem in schools, and that being bullied is simply “part of the maturation process…there’s no reason to have a special bill for say three percent of the population, period.”
Dan Savage claims that these religious/political organizations have blood on their hands. He is especially accusatory of religious leaders who use anti-gay rhetoric in their sermons. “The problem is that kids are being exposed to this rhetoric, and then they go to the school and there’s this gay kid,” Savage said. “And how are they going to treat this gay kid who they’ve been told is trying to destroy their family? They’re going to abuse him.”
It would seem that many Americans agree with Savage: A Public Religion Research Institute Poll found that about 40% of Americans feel that churches spread negative messages about LGBTs, and 2/3rds felt that these messages were at least partly to blame in LGBT suicides. Additionally, it has been found that youth living in more conservative areas were much more likely to commit suicide.
Imagine how hard it is for LGBT teens, who facing bullying in school, turn on the news and see that many of our nation’s leaders are ant-gay bullies as well. Try to step in their shoes when they see modern-day Crusades against gays and lesbians. Wonder how they feel when they read about North Carolina and Minnesota trying to change their state constitution for the express purpose of prohibiting gays from marrying. Imagine how they feel when they see an openly-gay soldier in Iraq loudly booed. Now wonder why so many teens don’t believe it when we say It Gets Better.
It is time for America to grow up. These tragedies, the result of religious and political prejudice, are a shame to our country and to our humanity. In order to keep a tragedy like Jamey’s from happening again, let’s try having freedom and justice for all- even if they are LGBT.
If you (or anyone you know) are thinking about taking your own life, know that you are not alone and that there are people you can help. Call the Trevor Project anytime at (866) 488 7386.
Update 9/27/11: The vile nature of Jamey's bullying is more hateful than appears and goes beyond his tragic suicide. His parents told the hosts of the Today Show on Tuesday that they let their daughter attend a homecoming event that Jamey was looking forward to. When a song came on dedicated to Jamey, his bullies chanted "You're better off dead, we're glad you're dead." The school district has yet to comment on the matter, and it seems they have neglected to deal with a problem that is obviously entrenched and likely is affecting other youths besides Jamey.