On September 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi ended his life. He was an eighteen-year-old student at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Tyler jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge that night. It was soon learned that Tyler was the target of bullying because he was gay. Jumping from that bridge might have seemed like the only way for Tyler to escape the suffering he was feeling. Suicide is never the solution to any problem. But sadly, too many young people make that choice.
Shockingly, Tyler Clementi’s death was just one of several suicides committed that month by young gay people who had been harassed by classmates, both in person and online. The list included Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Greensburg, Indiana, who hanged himself on Sept. 9. His classmates reported that he was the target of constant bullying at school. Less than two weeks later, Asher Brown, a 13-year-old from Houston, Texas, shot himself. He, too, had reported being taunted at his middle school.
I remember watching news reports at the time about these young people who had ended their lives. Each death was an unnecessary tragedy brought on by the trauma of being bullied. The headlines focused on the fact that these students had admitted to being gay or were believed to be gay. But this was not just an issue about gay teens. This was a human issue.
The two-year anniversary of Tyler Clementi’s death will be this Saturday. Sadly, many teens are still committing suicide today for the same reason he did. Although I did not know Tyler or Billy or Asher (or the countless others) personally, their deaths were a reminder that all people need to treat each other better.
Growing up is hard enough. Most people are just trying to find a place where they fit in. For young people who question their sexual identities and whether their attractions are even normal, fitting in can be more difficult. These teens are met with ridicule, resistance, and sometimes worse. According to a recent survey, nearly 9 of 10 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered middle and high school students suffered physical or verbal harassment, ranging from taunts to outright beatings.
Bullying is bullying, but when the root of it is the sexual identity of the target, there is a greater issue to address. That issue is tolerance. Tolerance is accepting the differences in others. These differences include: gender, race, culture, religion, ethnicity, etc.
The suicides of gay teens are an alarm call for all people to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. That includes name-calling, the jokes you laugh at, the words you use, and the mistreatment of others that you might witness. An environment of tolerance would allow every person to live and be who they are. There’s a philosophy called live and let live. It’s simple. When you give people the freedom to be who and what they are, it allows you the same.
While suicide by gay teenagers has long been a troubling trend, experts say the stress can be even worse when there is a lack of support services. There are resources out there for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered teens*. Be Unlimited does not want to see another teen turn to suicide as a solution. We support tolerance and encourage all people to learn and demonstrate this behavior.
You will learn more about ways to demonstrate tolerance in your own life in part two of this lesson. In the meantime, be good to yourself and be good to other people.
(*The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. If you are a youth who is feeling alone, confused or in crisis, please call The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-4-U-TREVOR for immediate help.)