Okay, so I don’t normally talk about “real life stuff” in the blog here, but this week there’s just been a lot of thoughts jumbled up in my head. Things I’ve seen, or things I want to say.
Dan Savage started this Youtube channel called the It Gets Better Project. If you don’t know, he’s an advice columnist and gay activist, and the channel was something he started after hearing about the suicide of Billy Lucas. The idea, as the project title explains, is that it really does “get better.” High school is not the be all and end all of life.
This was the story that really got to me, though. It wasn’t just that Justin Aaberg had killed himself, or the fact that five students have killed themselves in the past year (three in part due to issues with sexual identity), the fact that a local on-air personality used his platform to advocate on behalf of those students being bullied, or that a candidate in Minnesota is campaigning against anti-bullying laws because the schools don’t have the right to interfere with his children. It was all of these things.
Now, I’m not from Minnesota, but it’s not about any one place. GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) says that 9 out of 10 LGBT teens experiences some form of harassment at school. In my own state of Ohio, 4 students killed themselves in 2007 after being bullied through the course of the year (not all of them identified as gay, however), and a fifth wrote a suicide note but didn’t kill himself. And the school has resisted acknowledging that they had any influence or responsibility for what took place in their halls.
I was harassed in school – I was never actually bullied (the advantages of being a big kid), but I went home more than once hating every aspect of my life. And over the last year, I’ve read about students in Georgia, Florida, California and Wisconsin either suffering from bullying, or reporting it and having nothing be done, or tragically killing themselves. It’s not just those states, either, but every state, and probably near to every country.
And I think we just don’t talk about it enough. Bullying became a hot button issue for the YA community in the aftermath of Phoebe Price (another example of a tragedy). But I think it’s just as important to show examples of kids who manage to rise above, to extoll the virtues of life after high school. All the things that could make a difference to someone you might not realize you’ve helped. Whether this is through continuing to talk and advocate for better anti-bullying education, writing LGBT characters that kids in flux can relate to, or just by continuing to spread the word and talk about things like Dan Savage’s new channel.
Suicide on the whole is a huge issue for me. My best friend in high school killed herself. Last year my uncle killed himself. And I personally know of several others that have happened in my proximity – a friend of a friend, a cousin of a coworker. So when I keep reading news articles about how students are killing themselves after being bullied for being (perceived to be) gay, it bothers me.
Every 100 minutes a teenager kills themselves. More than 5,000 teens will kill themselves this year. For every successful suicide, there are more than 100 unsuccessful attempts. It’s not just a gay or straight issue, it’s a people issue.
There’s a lot of causes, and a lot of things to fight for out there. This just happens to be one of the ones that I feel strongly about. If you want to do something, or get involved somehow? There’s easy ways. Subscribe to Dan Savage’s videos, and share them with people you know. Check out GLSEN’s website and look at some of the facts. Talk to your kids. Talk to other kids. Talk to anyone.