Attention Op Ed Board:
15-year-old Billy Lucas hung himself in his family's barn on September 9th in Greensburg, Indiana. After eight days on life support, 13-year-old Seth Walsh died Tuesday, September 28th, after hanging himself from a tree in his family's backyard on Sept. 19th in Tehachapi in Kern County, California. 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi took his life September 22nd by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. 13-year-old Asher Brown shot himself on September 23rd in Houston, Texas. And now this week marks the fifth suicide following anti-gay bullying in September alone, when 19-year-old Johnson & Wales student Raymond Chase hung himself in his dorm room this past Wednesday, September 29th.
It is almost impossible to ignore the media coverage around the country that young people who identifyâ€”or are simply perceived to identifyâ€”as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) have been taking their own lives one after the other. Each and every one of them had something in common: these young people felt alone, broken, isolated, abandoned or ashamed. No matter in what state these lives are lost, communities are all left to wonder, â€œIs there something that we could have done to prevent this?â€�
I would say, â€œYes.â€�
Growing up in a rural Missouri town not far from St. Louis, I remember what it felt like to haunt the halls filled with lockers, books and classmates all around me, and still I felt broken and alone. Itâ€™s not far from the normal teen angst, but when compiled with bullying and unsupportive schools, teachers, or families, depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts are quick to come. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicideâ€”that number is eight times higher when the youth comes from an unsupportive family. In Kansas City, both EQUAL KC and Passages work with this community to allow LGBTQ and ally youth a safe, supportive place to socialize and simply be who they are; that organization saves lives and prevents suicides in our community locally each day. The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth, also saves lives every day, and if you feel alone or know someone that should call, donâ€™t hesitate. It is important that you reach out as soon as you can. 866-4U-TREVOR
While I would not expect that everyone agrees on all LGBT issues, I do hope that everyone could agree that youth need to know they are not isolated or alone; they need to know they will be accepted as they are; they need to be able to go to a school that is free from bullying and harassment; and they deserve the dignity that all students deserve to learn and grow. Youth get teased, and, yes, that is part of growing up, but in an ideal world we as parents, teachers, mentors and just members of the human race have been called to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Period.
In the state of Missouri our current anti-bullying law does nothing to protect youth but states--in severely lacking and vague language--that students should simply not be bullied. Rep. Sara Lampe (D-138) from Springfield is the sponsor of a fully inclusive and comprehensive anti-bullying bill that would reduce the reported cases of bullying by 30% according to the research done by GLSEN in their â€œTorment to Teaseâ€� study. You can get involved with efforts to protect a student from being bullied or teased. You can save the life of someone that might be on the edge, and you donâ€™t even have to know his or her name. Your church, your business, the organizations that you belong to can join the Missouri Safe Schools Coalition. We are going to be sharing our stories, organizing ourselves and changing the way that youth are treated in schools.
We can do something to help our neighbors and reach a young person that believes that they are alone and broken. I know because at one time I was the youth who felt like I was broken because I was LGBTQ. We can stop bullying in our schools. Each and every one of usâ€”including YOUâ€”have the power to stop bullying and change a student's life, or even your own life. Even more, you can save a student's life. Visit www.MissouriSafeSchools.org for more information.
Missouri Safe Schools Coordinator