This has been a tragic week of news:
Four young boys killed themselves after enduring anti-gay bullying from school classmates. Seth Walsh, 13 (pictured above); Asher Brown, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15; Billy Lucas, 15 could not face another day of relentless cruelty at the hands of their peers.
Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old college freshman at Rutgers University jumped off the GW bridge after his roommate of three weeks and a friend placed hidden cameras in Tyler’s dorm room and broadcast on the internet a video of Tyler kissing a man.
Tyler Wilson, an 11 year old, who, because he chose to be a cheerleader for a community sports league, had his arm broken by bullies from the football team who assaulted him because they didn’t approve of a boy cheerleader.
After the incident received media attention, bullies have threatened to break Tyler’s other arm because he “told on them.”
Chris Armstrong, a gay man, was elected president of the student body at the University of Michigan is being harassed and defamed at his home and on the internet by a Michigan assistant District Attorney and Michigan alum who claims to be a “concerned Christian.”
I am speechless with despair over the senselessness of these news stories.
The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network 2009 School Climate Survey reports that almost 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience some kind of harassment at school because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This tells me that what these students experienced is not out of the ordinary.
Dan Savage has put up a web site on youtube called the It Gets Better Project where young and older adult LGBT people have posted videos talking to LGBT youth telling them that life does get better. I hope that these videos do provide some hope for young people who are experiencing harassment in schools or who are experiencing such despair and loneliness that they are contemplating taking their own lives. It is a good emergency intervention.
But why do young people have to wait for it to get better? Every young person should be able to go to school and feel safe and be treated with respect by teachers, coaches and classmates. It seems to me that this is a basic human right all children and young people should have.
It is a national shame that we are not demanding that schools and communities take the steps necessary to make this happen. It appears that we have, in fact, left lots of children behind.
If you are a teacher, a coach, a parent, a teammate, a classmate – what are you doing to make the schools in your community safe and respectful places? I want you to consider that, if you are doing nothing, you are complicit in the deaths of some young people and the psychological terrorizing of others that will affect them the rest of their lives.
This is a problem that requires all of us to pay attention and act. Go to the GLSEN web site if you are not sure what you can do. We are all part of this.