Rash of Youth Suicides Spurs Outrage, Response

(Continued from Page 1)
by Kilian Melloy

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."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • Lyndon Evans, 2010-09-30 15:26:28

    And many of us in the LGBT blogoshere have expressed outrage and in my case utter contempt for all the "feel good" ideas and "help" websites in less than delicate terms.

  • BB, 2010-09-30 17:59:44

    Yes, fine, rage, rage, rage. That’s mostly what we do - a lot of outrage and very little substantive solutions. What solutions are offered usually involve shunting responsibility on others: more laws, more prisons, more prosecutions of people who don’t like us. Please. That is the whine of the impotent. Better to take some of the less bellicose suggestions such as those the poster above suggests: run for school board, volunteer youth counseling - that sort of thing. But expecting the government to act like a giant elementary school teacher is usually the final ejaculation of pointless outrage. Another thing we could do is to grow up. Enough of paradigms like Edge which is nothing but outrage and beefcake. Until the rest of humanity sees us as complete humans and not just hedonists interested in nothing but what’s attached to the end of our penises, we’re going to continue to be despised. We want gay marriage, but then we parade around like sex crazed little satyrs every time the media has a camera on us. Edge could start by exploring more news that just left wing whining and express something more of our culture than half naked party boys. That kind of infantile shallowness is one of our worst PR problems.

  • cab, 2010-09-30 22:37:36

    Unfortunately these kinds of incidences are not as rare as many think. Nor do they occur in a vacuum. The insidious nature of homophobia begins softly, quietly, and deftly- stealthily and purposely it is used in very subtle yet devastating ways. Gay marriage masks an antiquated, sometimes highly dysfunctional and broken court system here in Vermont. I brought a man to court here in Vermont. During a deposition, his lawyer took me, suddenly and inexplicably, outside the purview of the court reporter, telling the girl to "shut the machine down," and dragged me into a small private room in her office building, made me sit in a chair, and demanded I say I had a ’sexual dysfunction.’ (a.k.a. ’you’re a homosexual!’) The look on her face, her physiognomy- can only be described as that of sangfroid. Her posture, her outlandish and seemingly possessed demeanor, her body convulsing with tremors- having broke through that wall of moral decency there was no turning back. As the act revealed its own inimitable, distinctive form of uncontrollable behavior I was yet again, once more caught in a moment of terror that I will never in my life ever be able to erase from my mind. What passes for justice here, and elsewhere, is immoral justice and undermines our ability to create laws that truly change and prevent homophobic behavior that can lead to tragedy. The office of an attorney and a courtroom, our computers and our iPods may bristle with electronic applications, amplifiers and digital recording devices that bear witness, but [they] don’t hear us. So much technology these days that we are lulled into a complacency thinking homophobia is overt and loud and obvious-that it can be caught on tape for all to see. Look carefully though and you too will find it lurking, hiding, seething, hidden from view and trigger-ready in your own backyard.

  • cholmondoley, 2010-10-01 04:58:43

    Some of my best friends are half-naked party boys.

  • guncle day day, 2010-12-25 12:03:44

    The deaths of these young men makes me sick to my stomach. I’ve been on the receiving end of anti-gay sentiment and believe me, it affects a person’s whole life. I’ve been in a position where I wanted to end my life just because of how I had been made to feel, due to my sexual orientation. Does human life in general mean so little to so few? What are parents teaching their children? There are heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, etc. They have been around since the beginning of man. No one wakes up and decides that they want to be one or the other, nor can someone be made to be one or the other. It’s the 21st century. Wake up and smell the reality.

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