Rash of Youth Suicides Spurs Outrage, Response
Rash of Gay Youth Suicides Continues
On Sept. 9--two months to the day after Tammy Aaberg found her son dead in his bedroom--a mother in Indiana found her 15-year-old son, Billy Lucas, dead in the family's barn, where he had hanged himself. Billy had suffered ongoing--and worsening--anti-gay harassment, even though he never said he was gay. But other students assumed that he was, and taunted him for it, reported Fox news station WXIN in Indianapolis on Sept. 13.
"People would call him 'fag' and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he's different basically," said Dillen Swingo, a fellow student at Greensburg High School. "They said stuff like 'you're like a piece of crap' and 'you don't deserve to live.' Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever."
Some students reportedly told the Billy to kill himself on the day he hung himself, the report said. Moreover, whereas the school's administration claimed ignorance about the harassment Billy faced, the students all seemed to know about it. "We were not aware of that situation," Principal Phil Chappel told the news station.
But anti-gay harassment and violence are nothing new at Greensburg High School. The news report quoted one alumnus--who asked to remain unnamed--as saying, "I was bullied several times because I was gay. I was called fag, queer. I was thrown up against lockers. I would tell the school officials about it and they would dismiss it." Added the former student, ""I can't help but take it personally because when all of this was happening to me I was the same age he was. I also attempted to commit suicide."
In Texas, Asher Brown, 13, was bullied at two different schools before he shot himself with his stepfather's gun on Sept. 23. His parents said that despite their efforts to get school administrators to intervene, their son suffered "relentless" bullying because he dressed differently. Asher's parents said that he came out to them as gay shortly before he killed himself.
California youth Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself from a tree in his family's back yard on Sept. 19. He was taken to the hospital where he spent over a week in intensive care before dying on Sept. 27. According to his friends, Seth had been targeted for bullying and harassment because he was gay. The boy's friends also told the news channel that the school's staff and administration had not intervened on behalf of the boy.
A spate of suicides claimed victims as young as eleven last year. Georgia fifth-grader Jeheem Herrera hanged himself in April of 2009 after enduring anti-gay abuse at school. Herrera's mother told the media that when she asked a friend of her son's about the suicide, the friend said to her, "He told me that he's tired of everybody always messing with him in school." The friend added, "He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself."
Herrera's death followed the April 6, 2009, hanging death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in Massachusetts. Walker-Hoover suffered anti-gay taunts at school despite his mother's reported "weekly" attempts to get the school's administration to intervene.
The rate of suicides among teenagers is higher for GLBT youths, according to a U. S. Department of Health and Human Services website. Recent efforts to counter the higher rate of LGBT youth suicide include "It Gets Better," a project launched by gay writer Dan Savage that collects videos of gay adults addressing teens with a message of hope: no matter how miserable high school may be, it's worth surviving into adulthood, when gay youths can claim their full potential and thrive in happy relationships.
GLSEN and GLBT-supportive national organization Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have recently launched a new initiative, the Claim Your Rights campaign, described at GLSEN's website as "a historic effort to empower students and their allies to report incidences of bullying, harassment, or discrimination to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Education Department."
"The campaign launch coincides with the release of GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, which found that nearly 9 out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students report being harassed in school in the past year due to their sexual orientation or how masculine or feminine they are in appearance or behavior," text at the GLSEN site said.
"With fewer than 1 in 5 LGBT students saying their school specifically protects students from anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, it comes as no surprise that nearly two-thirds of LGBT students who experience harassment do not report the incident to school staff," Eliza Byard, the head of GLSEN, said. "The Claim Your Rights campaign provides students a safe way to report bullying and harassment."