I’ve been following the story of Phoebe Prince, the young girl from Massachusetts who was apparently driven to suicide as a result of the bullying she endured at South Hadley High School. Nine other youths have been indicted on charges of statutory rape, harassment, and assault with a deadly weapon. Phoebe’s younger sister found her hanging in the hallway of their apartment building.
I am empathetic toward this, but I am stunned that the media is making this event sound like it’s out of the ordinary. Kids have been bullied and harassed by their classmates for generations. A lot of students are bullied because they are seen as “different” in one way or another. Thirteen year old Jon Carmichael was bullied because he was small. Classmates would often put him in trashcans. After enduring years of bullying, Jon killed himself this past month.
Eric Mohat, 17, of Mentor, Ohio committed suicide after being bullied and harassed at school. He was frequently called “fag” “queer” and “homo.” Eric’s parents are suing the school for failing to protect their son.
14-year-old Jeremiah Lasater, who had been taunted and even had food thrown at him during lunch, locked himself in his Acton, Calif., high school bathroom and shot himself in the head.
Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, aged 11, of Massachusetts, hanged himself after being taunted at school for supposedly being gay.
Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to GLSEN 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students. Most cases go unreported.
I guess things haven’t changed much in the nearly 30 years since I was in school. The only difference is that today, we acknowledge gay/lesbian youth whereas during the late 70’s and early 80’s, no one did. Anyone who was perceived as gay or lesbian was ostracized or bullied. We often didn’t acknowledge our sexual orientation to people outside ourselves. There were no groups for us then. We didn’t have gay/straight alliances, the internet, or any other resources to help us. Most of us just endured, tried to figure ourselves out on our own, hid away, or committed suicide. *GLBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. According to several surveys, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.
I knew a kid named Mark when I was a teenager. He was my age, but went to a different high school. I often heard people making references to Mark’s sexuality. He was active with the Rocky Horror crowd and often dressed the part to go downtown to see the movie. When he turned 18, he wrote a suicide note on the back of his paycheck. His father found him in exhaust-filled family garage and tried, in vain, to revive him. Mark killed himself because he was gay.
Almost twenty years later, I met a gay woman through a mutual friend. I found out she had been a teacher at Mark’s high school and she had known him. She asked me if his suicide had anything to do with his sexuality and I told her that it had. She put her head in her hands and said, “I knew it.I knew he was struggling and I always wanted to talk to him, but I couldn’t. I would have lost my job.” Even today, teachers are reluctant to reach out to youth who may be struggling with their sexual identity. **Studies indicate that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. And those who are rejected by their family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
*Source: Mental Health America
Fifteen year old Ryan Halligan took his own life because he was bullied and assumed to be gay by classmates.
Fifteen year old Joshua Melo. “I had to cut my son down from the tree,” said John Melo, father of 15-year-old Joshua Melo, who died by suicide after being relentlessly bullied because some students thought that he was gay.
Eleven year old Jaheem Herrera hanged himself with an extension cord because schoolmates called him “gay” too many times.
Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, aged 11, also hanged himself with an extension cord after being repeatedly taunted and threatened because he was perceived as gay.
Whether or not these kids were actually gay is irrelevant. The point is that they associated being gay with something negative which drove them to suicide. I blame society for this. As much as we have made strides to be accepted, there are countless people who believe that being gay/lesbian is bad. Cultural and/or religious beliefs often form a person’s view of gay/lesbian people. Many gay/lesbian youth do not struggle with their sexual orientation as much as they struggle with the rejection of family and friends based on their cultural or religious outlooks. This rejection can multiply a person’s suicidal tendencies nine times.
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
If you are a gay/lesbian who was harassed in school, please tell me your story: Go Here