Coming Out Day Marked by More Gay Teen Suicides
For GLBTs, Oct. 11 was something of a holiday. Every year, the day is marked as National Coming Out Day, an occasion for support and acknowledgement of GLBTs who struggle not only for full legal and social equality, but also often for the wherewithal simply to acknowledge who they really are.
But the pressures on teens--gay teens especially--are unrelenting, and in recent weeks an ongoing crisis of teen suicides has shaken the country. News of still more teen suicides reached the media even as those observing National Coming Out Day were dedicating the occasion to the memory of young victims who had killed themselves after enduring anti-gay abuse at school.
In Marin County, Calif., a second teen suicide in two weeks was reported by local newspaper the Marin Independent Journal. The Oct. 11 news article noted the apparent suicide of an eighth-grade student at Miller Creek Middle School in San Rafael. The boy was found dead in "an exposed public area along... a street in Marinwood," said Lt. Barry Heyong, with the sheriff's department. "Investigators have not found a note or determined a motive," Heyong added. The cause of the boy's death had not yet been determined when the article was written, but it appeared to be the case that he died Sunday night or early Monday morning.
The boy's death happened only a week after a 14-year-old student at another area school, Terra Linda High. The article did not specify whether either of the two students were GLBT.
"There may be students who are aware of things, but are not moving forward to an adult," Assistant Marin County Superintendent of Schools Luke McCann said. "Teachers, administrators and parents need to be paying attention. We need to make sure there is good communication, and that people know what's going on."
News channel KTVU reported on Oct. 12 that the youth was spotted hanging from a tree by a passerby on the morning of Oct. 11. Though no motives are as yet known, the article said, residents feared that bullying might have played a part in the boy's death.
Elsewhere in California, a transgender teen took her own life, reported Fresno talk radio station KMJN. Chloe Lacey was born Justin Lacey and seemed to her parents to be "all boy" until, at age 16, she announced to her family that she was transgendered. Though it was not evident to those around her, Chloe explained that even in kindergarten she had identified as a girl, the article said.
Chloe kept her identity a closely held secret while attending Buchanan High School, the article said. "Justin did not allow 'Chloe' to come out at Buchanan at all," said Chloe's mother, Allison Murphy, who described her child's "feeling like you don't... can't talk about it to anybody because nobody will understand."
The article said that Chloe was not bullied, but that she suffered depression and anxiety because of pressure to "fit in" according to preexisting social expectations. Chloe sought treatment from mental health professionals, but refused the drugs that her therapists recommended.
After high school, Chloe found a measure of acceptance and happiness, her stepfather, Sean Dempsey, told the media. "There was friendship, there was peace, there some happiness, and she loved that."
But Chloe began to despair that she would never fully realize her own identity, feeling "like there is no way this is ever going to happen for me, so why am I here," Murphy said. Chloe committed suicide on Sept. 24.
Though the image of teens that are suicidal centers around high school, younger children have also been known to kill themselves. In 2009, several pre-teens committed suicide after suffering anti-gay abuse at school--and not all victims of anti-gay harassment are actually gay.
But it's also the case that GLBT college students suffer harassment and struggle with suicidal impulses. An Oct. 11 article at LezGetReal memorialized 19-year-old Aiyisha Hassan, a lesbian who had been a student at Howard College before taking her own life. College acquaintance Lauren Morris recalled of Hassan, "She was having a lot of trouble with a lot of different things," Morris says, "but mainly her sexual identity and just trying to express that."
Howard College students observed a vigil for Hassan on Oct. 7, reported student publication The Hilltop on the following day.
Sterling Washington, who co-founded Howard's GLBT group CASCADE, told the media that anti-gay messaged in the general culture--such as the ban on openly gay soldiers in the military--contribute to the suicides of GLBT youths, even if they have not been personally bullied or harassed. "What happens in a large group trickles down to the junior members," Washington said, "so in this case it's members of society so it affects youth in general.
"Those straight-identified youth who already had a proclivity, who already had from their parents, their socialization, this idea that gays are less than, it sort of gives them permission and facilities this whole bullying thing so that those that are most vulnerable to it sometimes see suicide as an out," Washington added.
Aiyisha was the daughter of Makini Hassan, who serves as the executive director at Marin City Community Development Corporation.