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Friday, November 4, 2011

The Problem with Gay Bullying

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 2:00 PM


Oscar Raymundo's Easy Target takes one conventional argument from news media, pop culture, local politics, or queer lifestyle -- and shoots it down.

Earlier this year, I asked Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better campaign, what he thought of the argument that suicide was more of a mental health issue than a bullying issue. He compared bullying to the Golden Gate Bridge. "We are putting up suicide barriers... [even though] bridges don't necessarily cause suicides," he said. How clever, that one.

Yes, from Billy Lucas's suicide to Justin Aaberg's. Then Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Cody Barker, and most recently Jamey Rodemeyer and Jamie Hubley - certainly bullying was the trigger, but mental health issues loaded the barrel.

The two most recent gay teen suicides are perhaps more unsettling because It Gets Better was in full swing by they time the tragedies occurred. In fact, Rodemeyer had made an It Gets Better video of his own four months before he hung himself in front of his parent's house. So wait, what do you mean our social media efforts aren't working? Well, it seems our outreach is not reaching deep enough.

Shortly after Jamie Hubley's suicide, his father released a statement acknowledging bullying as a factor, not the cause, of his son's death. Hubley had a history of chronic depression, which he documented on his Tumblr titled, "You Can't Break... When You're Already Broken." Are gay teens born this way - unfixable, already broken?

A lot of teens are bullied. A lot of teens are gay. A lot of teens are bullied because they are gay. Yet, not all of them resort to self-inflicting harm. Yet for us to be able to sleep at night, we need the evening news to report stories that have a cause (bullying), an effect (suicide), and a resolution (a YouTube video, a Ke$ha song). Unfortunately, depression rarely has a happy ending.

The problem with gay bullying is that we have resolved that curbing a culture of verbal and cyber abuse is the viable solution, while neglecting the fact that for depressed teens the bullying is only the final push over the edge. It's something else - more internally troubling - that has them convinced they should be standing there all alone, awfully close to the precipice.

Studies show that LGBT teens are more likely than their straight counterparts to suffer from mental health issues, including depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Pushing for federal anti-bullying legislation makes for a good press release (or in Lady Gaga's case, a good tweet), but it's hardly a cure for clinical depression. Medication and counseling at least have a shot.

If you don't want your child to drown, don't put fences around the pool. Instead teach him or her how to swim. When it comes to preventing suicide, we should not be "putting barriers," as Savage suggested. We should be teaching gay kids how to swim in self-esteem - how to be strong enough to navigate through a harsh world where insults come flying at you 140 characters a second, and the anonymity allowed by the Internet lets human cruelty flourish without the least bit of responsibility.

We are telling kids, "it gets better" when they've already experienced the worst it can get. So if you or someone you know is suffering, don't bother turning on the webcam, recording a five-minute feel-good speech, and waiting for it to go viral. Instead take that time to call the Trevor Project now.

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Oscar Raymundo


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