By Alex Vaughn
In a matter of weeks, I have had to write two heartbreaking stories about two gay teens who had committed suicide. This is news and it is my responsibility to print it. The bullying that caused the suicides continues to happen and has to be stopped. However, I am worried, as I am sure many of you are, that the reporting of these deaths and the subsequent events have taken the dangerous step over a line that is resulting in glamorizing suicide itself.
After the death of Jamey Rodemeyer, Lady Gaga projected his image on screen at one of her concerts in Las Vegas. She then pushed to have an anti-bullying law passed in his name. This was a fitting tribute, impressive, but perhaps too impressive. Jamey was elevated to almost hero status. He was noticed, cared about, and had achieved a kind of fame that is unprecedented. Even more concerning however, is the fact that there is a real danger other people who feel they identify with him will follow his tragic footsteps.
Weeks later, Zach Quinto came out, citing his reason as the death of Jamey, and how this can’t go on. He is right, but we are talking about teenagers, impressionable young minds who quite possibly can only see that killing themselves will not only end the bullying and victimization they feel, but also create acceptance and celebrity.
What has gotten lost in all the amazing tributes and the celebrities pushing for change is the reality of suicide. Families are torn apart and parents are destroyed. The father of Jamie Hubley, another teen who killed himself last week, said, “I couldn’t fix my little boy.” This is the reality of suicide. It is not tributes by celebrities and covers of newspapers, but heartbreak, loss and guilt.
We all need to reach out to the LGBT teens who feel they identify with the tragic stories and remind them, not only that it gets better, but that suicide is not an answer. Ever.
A few weeks ago, AJ Cross wrote a “suicide note” for the Florida Agenda to bring light to the fact that after the act is completed, there are no second chances, no opportunities, nothing. I felt duty bound at that point to add an editor’s comment to ensure that at no point did any teenager, or any member of the LGBT community for that matter, ever believe that suicide was an option.
Suicide is brought on by feelings of both hopelessness and helplessness. We have the power as a community to show that there
is hope, that great achievements are made by people who are gay. We also have a duty to help, to get in touch with schools and
to reach out to districts to make sure they are paying attention to the students, that they maintain a zero-tolerance policy to
We also have to ensure that though we pay tribute to those lost, we do not pursue a line of fire that could lead to, what researchers and GLAAD are calling, “contagion.”
Their research has shown that there is a link between suicide-related media coverage and an increase in suicides. GLAAD has laid out guidelines to prevent us all, not just the media, from glamorizing suicide. First, not discussing the details of the youth’s life or bullying, because of the worry that others will identify with them. Furthermore, they say don’t idolize or create an aura of celebrity.
GLAAD warns of not normalizing suicide by suggesting it is a “logical” progression from bullying.
The media has to now follow these guidelines to ensure we don’t create a glamor angle, but we as individuals must adhere to them as well. Teen suicide is a hot topic in bars, at dinner tables and all around us. We must be responsible to the fact that we always draw our own zero-tolerance policy to the idea that suicide will do anything but negatively impact everyone. No good can ever come of it.
Tracy Rodemeyer, Jamey’s mother, quite rightly struggled with the decision to continue the anti-bullying campaign for her son. She told USA Today, “You don’t want to glorify this and make it where the kids are going to be copycats,” she said, “All the kids I talked to at school, I said, ‘Look at this, children. Would you want your family to have to have to go through this?’”
Tracy, was, however adamant that children know about help lines like the Trevor Project when contemplating suicide.
“The very second Jamey made that decision and followed through was the very second he found out it was a mistake, but there’s no going back,” she said she told her son’s schoolmates. “I want to say I know my boy’s at peace with himself, but there are other ways.”
Another aspect of this dilemma is the constant reassurance for LGBT teens, not that it gets better. No. Rather that they are statistically more likely to be bullied (making it normal), to be depressed, and to commit suicide. We have to report statistics just as we need to be responsible, because these points are reaching kids who are clutching to that reality.
We all remember a time in high school or college when we weren’t so popular, and of course we didn’t or couldn’t identify with the sentiments of “Once you get older it will get better.” We couldn’t see past the end of the week let alone years ahead. That is where the problem lies. We need to be more forceful with the message, and make certain that the focus of that message is to remind members of the LGBT community that being a member of the community has huge advantages, to give these kids a voice to stand up and say “So what?”
That is not easy; it requires a mass change in attitudes. When you have teachers posting homophobic comments on Facebook, it sets the mission back enormously. With the internet as it is, these kids have access to every horrid story, every mean comment, and all the troubles facing the community.
Yet we, as a whole community, need to show them through that sad cloud, the fog of depression and the relentless taunts that there is ALWAYS hope. No matter what happens, the answer is never suicide, that there are so many positive stories in the LGBT family. I personally want to reach out to anyone who is facing bullies, and is feeling helpless, and may see these troubled and lost teens who have committed suicide as heroes. I want to tell you that your REAL heroes are in another place. They are the many, many teens who stand up to bullies and do not surrender.
Follow their lead and you will triumph as well, because that kind of hero always does.
Alex Vaughn is the Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Agenda. He can be reached at editor@FloridaAgenda.com