The tragic story of Tyler Clementi has made national headlines this morning, everywhere from ABC to CBS to CNN. I personally counted nine people reading about Tyler’s story in four different newspapers on my train ride to work this morning.
This was at least the fourth suicide of an LGBT young man in the last month alone, and the first to involve a college student. Tyler’s story is a sad reminder that the environment for LGBT young people in college isn’t always friendly and welcoming, a fact proven by a Campus Pride study earlier this month.
Tyler’s suicide, and those of Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and Billy Lucas, also add extra significance to the start of National Bullying Prevention Month. CNN’s Anderson Cooper will be hosting a Town Hall on the issue next week, and CNN’s Turner Network neighbors Cartoon Network will launch its own bullying prevention efforts. We’ve so far been encouraged by the media’s coverage of these tragedies, and we’ll continue to closely monitor all reports to make sure they are accurately portraying the real harm that is caused when bullying goes unchecked.
We’d also like to remind the media of the fact that these tragedies did not happen in a vacuum.
Seth Walsh was from Kern County, California - which is of the most anti-gay areas of the state, and which refused to allow gay men and lesbians to marry, even during the window when such marriages were allowed. Billy Lucas was from Indiana, one of the ten states that just filed a brief arguing that marriage is not a fundamental right in the Proposition 8 case, and several people left anti-gay messages on a memorial page for him.
Asher Brown went to Cy-Fair High School in Texas; the same school where nine students brutally beat an openly gay 16-year-old just one year ago – and the same community that ranked near the top of the list for banning books with gay content. And Tyler Clementi was from New Jersey, where Senators earlier this year voted to reject a marriage bill and where voters elected a governor who used fear of marriage equality as a campaign tactic.
The Trevor Project released this statement:
“It is true that the beginning of the school year can be especially challenging for youth. As young people struggle to establish their position among their peers and to gain popularity, they often volley for position at the expense of other students who are perceived to be different. They pick on each other, and in some cases target certain individuals for ongoing bullying and harassment. In the cases of Tyler Clementi in New Jersey, Seth Walsh in California, Billy Lucas in Indiana and Asher Brown in Texas, we know this to be true. For the seven youth in Minnesota who have taken their lives in the past year, the ongoing and unchecked harassment by their peers led to isolation and increased depression, further increasing their risk eventually leading to suicide.
“These horrific stories of youth taking their own lives reflect on school bullying culture in this country. To be clear, they do not point to a contagion of teen or youth suicide, but that the media, parents, teachers and friends are more in-tune to speaking up about the causes.”
One last thing the media needs to be aware of: Its audience includes not just parents, educators, and community leaders who could make a difference in the way youth treat their classmates who are (or are perceived to be) LGBT. The audience includes the kids themselves – the ones who are the victims of constant bullying and harassment, day-in and day-out at their schools. Journalists can and must provide resources in their reports to help young people in crisis.