Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dear Billy/Asher/Seth, I am Sorry

The month of September has proved to be particularly deadly for queer teens.  First Billy Lucas, 15, hung himself in his grandmother's barn, prompting gay journalist Dan Savage to kickstart a video campaign aimed at preventing teen suicides by telling teens that "it gets better" after middle/high school.  Unfortunately, Billy's death was shortly followed by the deaths of Asher Brown, 13, who shot himself, and now Seth Walsh who hung himself on a tree, was found and brought to the hospital, and died Tuesday after 9 days on life support.  For my job at the Queer Resource Center, an undergrad student and I compile a weekly newsletter.  I put him on the task of writing a blurb about Asher Brown (this was earlier today, before the news of Seth came out) and he came across the above image.  The image struck me; my heart sank.  I have been invested in the issue of queer teen suicides and have began publicizing the It Gets Better project so that students in Claremont can participate, but watching the motivational videos, and seeing photographs of the dead teens smiling on the news articles was a stark contrast to a huge picture of a noose.  When the student showed me the flier, he looked up at me expectantly, he was excited about what he found and was seeking approval.  I sort of glanced at him and said he could go ahead and attach the file to the newsletter and walked away.  Why didn't I get as excited as him?  It wasn't until later that I decided to re-look up the picture in the comfort of my home that I realized what made me so uncomfortable.  Had I forgotten that my father had committed suicide by hanging?  I wasn't old enough to understand yet, but knowing that my mother found him in the garage still brings a very vivid image into my mind when I am triggered, which I am realizing I am.  I am interested in suicide because my life has been affected by it and I truly feel for the families who go through that pain, particularly in cases that are preventable, such as bullying.  

Something that has always been hard for me about Christianity and Christian values is that suicide, like "homosexuality" is a sin.  If for only these two reasons, I know and have known that the Christian value system and my own are starkly different.  It pains me still to hear anyone use this rhetoric, even though I don't believe it.  For example, I very much disliked the film Wristcutters for portraying people who committed suicide as being in purgatory/hell.  The huge difference between my father and queer teen suicides is that he was not "driven" to suicide, he was simply depressed.  The youth that are depressed and die as a result of harassment are in hell in life, and see death as a more pleasant alternative.  Those responsible are not 2 or 3 kids you can name from school, but a homophobic and hateful society of parents, administrators, students, and community members who punish difference; they are complicit in murder.  

As a post-script to this blog, 18 year old Tyler Clementi, another queer teen, committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.  That makes 4 this month.  I suspect that the beginning of a new school year is one of the hardest times for young queer students, and hope that we have seen the end of this string of violence.

As a post-post script to this blog, a fifth and final queer suicide happened before September ended.  

Raymond Chase, 19, hung himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island September 29.  September is now over and I can only hope that October does not bring us anymore of these deaths.  

1 comment:

  1. Well, what memories that brings up. I guess you might say that every suicide is being driven somehow. Your dad's was attributed to a hormone imbalance which, along with family history, drove him into deep depression. I feel for the families of the teens who took their own lives. It is a difficult process to mourn a death brought about by small minded intolerance. I hope that everyone remembers that we are all humans who share a common desire for love and acceptance. Each of us is born, gets hungry, sleeps, wakes, dies. If we want to live in a better world, we should listen to the Dalai Lama: "Whenever possible, practice kindness; and remember, it is always possible."