A tragic spate of LGBT teens committing suicide within a relatively short period of time of one another caused people to look at what was happening. Despite prolific supporters and the issue receiving widespread media coverage, in the 5 years since then, what’s really changed?
I’d argue that quite frankly, not a lot. LGBT teen suicide is an awful, tragic topic. It’s not a fun, light or breezy issue to think about. And it’s made more complex by the apparent lack of easy solutions. On top of that, you’ve got other, ‘sexier’ issues garnering press and people’s already stretched to the max attention spans. There’s marriage equality, advancements in treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and just general fun stuff like love, dating and sex that it seems we’d rather be talking and thinking about.
One of the most high profile LGBT teen suicides was that of Tyler Clementi. Tyler was a smart, talented and creative young man. By all account, he had a kind heart and bright spirit, and was deeply loved by his family and friends. He grew up with a passion for music and was an accomplished violinist. After graduating high school, Tyler attended Rutgers University where he was excited to learn, grow and have the freedom to live openly as a gay man.
At college, Tyler became a victim of cyber-bullying. His privacy was invaded when his college roommate set up a webcam to spy on him. The roommate viewed him in an intimate act, and invited others to view this online. Tyler discovered what his abuser had done and that he was planning a second attempt. Viewing his roommate’s Twitter feed, Tyler learned he had widely become a topic of ridicule in his new social environment. He ended his life several days later by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Tyler was eighteen years old.
Unfortunately, what happened to Tyler was not a one off anomaly. The statistics around LGBT teen suicide are shocking:
- LGB youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers.
- Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
- Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Source – The Trevor Project
With statistics like that, it’s almost impossible not to feel completely hopeless. I think it’s important to realise that there isn’t just one answer, or one approach to take to resolve the issue. LGBT teen suicide is a complex and multi-faceted issue. So instead of trying to tackle the whole thing, one way we can make a real difference is by each playing whatever small role we can.
One of the ‘positives’ to come out of Tyler Clementi’s suicide was the starting of the Tyler Clementi Foundation. The Foundation was started by Tyler’s mother, father and brother – Jane, Joseph and James Clementi respectively. Their mission is to promote safe, inclusive and respectful social environments in homes, schools, campuses, churches and the digital world for vulnerable youth, LGBT youth and their allies. Through their educational partnerships, research, public dialogues and awareness programs, the Tyler Clementi Foundation aims to foster empathetic, constructive discussions of respect and dignity for youth and families, at all levels of society.
This is just one example of the many people and organisations that are continuing the hard fight to keep LGBT teen suicide in the public consciousness and with the ultimate aim to reach and reduce the risk of suicide for vulnerable LGBT teens. It can be easy to not feel affected by this issue, as if in some way, it’s someone else’s problem, and not ours.
But that would miss a vital point – LGBT teen suicide affects the entire gay community – possibly in ways we don’t even realise.
While it may not be on the mass scale of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, through LGBT teen suicide, we are losing a whole new generation of people from our community, and the world. There is no way of knowing what their talents, imagination and creativity could have brought to the world. For every life that is lost, we all lose out.
I recently put a call-out on Facebook, asking readers to submit their ideas for topics they’d like to see covered on the blog. This is the the first of a series of reader suggested articles.
The topic for this article came was raised by Enrique. This is an issue that I personally didn’t know a lot about, so I let Enrique know that. He was really helpful and pointed me in the right direction, namely the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
I’d like to thank Enrique for his suggestion about writing about this issue. It’s such an important issue, and as I mention in the article, I think it’s one that’s struggling to get airplay, when there’s so much other ‘easier’ stuff competing for our attention.
I’d also just like to quickly point out that the reason this article focused on LGBT teen suicide is because it was in response to what Enrique wanted to see covered. I understand that the broader issue of suicide is a big and impactful one within the gay community more broadly, regardless of age. This might be something I look at covering at a later time.
My hope with this article is that it in some small but meaningful way, it keeps the conversation going. As a reader, perhaps there is something you can do in your own life, with whatever means you have available to you, to keep the conversation going as well? It doesn’t have to be anything big. But maybe with a lot of people doing a lot of little things, our combined actions might just stop one young LGBT person from taking their own lives.
And in the end, wouldn’t that be worth it?