by Sean Evans (Contributor)
Over the last month, there have been five high-profile suicides by students in U.S. high schools and universities.
Asher Brown, 13, was tripped down two flights of stairs by bullies the day before his suicide. According to news reports, his parents repeatedly attempted to address the issue of bullying with school officials to no avail.
Seth Walsh, 13, had been tormented mercilessly by his classmates. School officials were aware of the problem, but did not step in.
Billy Lucas, 15. The bullying didn’t go unnoticed, but, yet again, no one stood up against it.
Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and said roommate’s friend allegedly filmed him in an intimate moment with another man and then broadcast it online, distributing the link via Twitter.
And now, a fifth. Raymond Chase, 19, was a student at Johnson and Wales University. His death is still under investigation.
All five of these young men were gay, and they were all subject to anti-gay harassment and bullying.
“But that’s the U.S., right? Aren’t Canadians, well, better than that?” I’ve fallen into that trap before, too.
Unfortunately, there’s always some asshole around to remind me otherwise. Even ignoring the number of Canadians who, frankly, aren’t particularly queer-friendly, we don’t live in isolation. Our culture is closely tied to that of our southern neighbours.
Take a quick look around, and you’ll see that we’re inundated with U.S. media. And when you’re a teenager who’s been targeted by peers – or worse, by those whom you should be able to turn to for help – and whose primary exposure to information about current LGBTQ issues comes from news anchors listing off the dead, joining that list of names doesn’t always sound like the worst idea in the world.
Of course, it’s not like this problem has gone unrecognized, or completely unaddressed. There are projects formed in direct response to this trend, such as the “It Gets Better” project on YouTube.
Closer to home, two more school districts in BC have added provisions to protect LGBTQ students as of this school year.
But beyond that, the most basic thing we can do is lead by example. Complacency is the ultimate enemy here; as long as we allow anti-gay slurs and hateful sentiments to pass unchallenged, we’ll keep sending the message that such behaviour is acceptable.
Asher Brown. Seth Walsh. Billy Lucas. Tyler Clementi. Raymond Chase. These are just the ones we know about, the ones who made the headlines. And as this is going on, 50 Cent is busy tweeting that “if you a man and your over 25 and you don’t eat pussy just kill your self damn it. The world will be a better place.” Y’know, just in case you didn’t already think he was a total douchebag.
It can be easy to confront hate in writing, though. In person, confrontation is usually awkward and uncomfortable. I’m sure we’ve all let things like that slip by – I know I have – but it’s time to stop ignoring the hate. After all, what’s a little bit of discomfort compared to knowing you could have made a difference when it really counted but didn’t?
And if you’re that student who feels trapped and alone, remember that there is always a better option. UFV has some wonderful counsellors, or if you seek anonymity, you can reach the province-wide crisis and suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE, or chat with a trained volunteer online at YouthInBC.com – by “youth” they mean anyone under 35, though they claim never to turn anyone in need away based on age. Just remember that it does get better, and you don’t have to go it on your own.