October 1, 2010 | by Staff reports
National LGBT community reeling from 4th teen suicide in a month

The U.S. LGBT community is reeling from a series of gay teen suicides that has inspired many community leaders to speak out on what is being called an epidemic of deaths inspired by harassment and bullying.

According to reports from several news outlets, Tyler Clementi, 18, leapt to his death Sept. 22 from the George Washington Bridge near his New Jersey college campus after classmates allegedly broadcast him in a same-sex encounter behind closed doors in his dorm room, and apparently invited others, via Twitter, to view it online. Regardless of his roommate’s alleged tweet, Clementi had apparently made no statement about his own sexual orientation.

Bruce Kaplan, prosecutor for Middlesex County, N.J., has filed charges against Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei for causing Clementi’s death. They’ve been charged under the state’s invasion-of-privacy laws and under the transmission and distribution of nudity and sexual contact laws, lesser charges. Ravi and Wei secretly set up a webcam in his dorm room and recorded him having sex with another male. Clementi did not know he was being filmed.

Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., died Wednesday after 10 days on life support after he hanged himself last week. Police say he had been mercilessly taunted by fellow students over his perceived sexual orientation.

Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself Sept. 9 at his Indiana home after years of reported harassment by students who judged him to be gay. Asher Brown, a 13-year-old in Harris, Texas, who had recently come out, shot himself in the head Sept. 23 after, his parents say, their efforts to alert school officials to ongoing bullying were not acted upon.

Many Americans also learned this week about Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old boy in Ohio who decided to join a cheerleading squad that had been all-female. As a gymnast, he was interested in the athletic elements of cheering. He was taunted with homophobic remarks and had his arm broken by two schoolmates who apparently assumed him to be gay. He told “Good Morning America” that since returning to school, he’s been threatened with having his other arm broken, too.

The deaths have inspired many LGBT leaders to speak out, including Judy Shepard, mother of the late Matthew Shepard who was killed a decade ago for being gay.

“Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way,” Shepard said. “We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect.”

Ellen Degeneres spoke out on her show today saying she was “devastated” by the deaths and said the country had let these teens down. Even the usually snarky gay blogger Perez Hilton told MTV he was “beyond sad” and “crushed” by the deaths.

“Hearing about these kids that have committed suicide, the reaction as a gay adult is always, ‘God, I wish I could have talked to them for fifteen minutes or five minutes and told them it gets better,’” said gay sex columnist Dan Savage during an interview with ABC.

Gay kids are four times more likely that straight kids to commit suicide, according to a recent study Savage quoted, and nine out of 10 gay kids report being bullied.

Malcom Lazin, director of the LGBT group Equality Forum and a former assistant U.S. attorney, thinks Ravi and Wei should be charged with reckless manslaughter.

“THe willful and premeditated conduct of Ravi and Wei in planting a web camera and in distributing over the internet sexual intimacy is shocking, malicious and heinous,” Lazin said in a statement. “Equality Forum calls on the prosecutor to file murder by reckless manslaughter charges.”

LGBT youth contemplating suicide have been urged to immediately reach out to the Trevor Project, day or night, at 866-488-7386.

10 Comments
  • Dan Savage decided to do something about it. He created a YouTube channel, “It Gets Better Project” http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject. YouTube users can submit videos to let gay youth know life really does get better.

  • Dan Savage’s idea is brilliant, and I’m glad he and his partner made the first video. I would like to see more out LGBT celebrities making these — I’ve already seen Perez Hilton’s, but where are the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Cherry Jones, Neil Patrick Harris, T.R. Knight? (Ellen’s not-for-this-project video was good, but didn’t contain the personal story that others in the series do.)

  • These four tragedies should open our eyes to the unintended consequences of mean, thoughtless online and cell phone behaviors. Our teens and parents can learn through education and awareness that cyberbullying and traditional schoolyard bullying may lead to serious endings that affect many lives.

    After 23 years in juvenile court, I learned that teenagers often learn from the experiences of their peers, not just from being lectured by those in authority. Consequently, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” was published in January, 2010. Endorsed by Dr. Phil on April 8, 2010 ["Bullied to Death" show] TCI presents real cases of teens in trouble over their online and cell phone activities.

    Civil & criminal sanctions have been imposed on teens over their emails, blogs, text and IM messages, Facebook entries and more. TCI is interactive and promotes education & awareness so that our youth will begin to “Think B4 U Click.” Thanks for looking at “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” on http://www.freespirit.com [publisher] or on http://www.askthejudge.info [a free website for & about teens and the law].

    Regards, -Judge Tom.

  • This epidemic of gay kids committing suicide only re-inforces the fact that Congress needs to pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which is sponsored by Jarod Polis in the House and Al Franken in the Senate. And if the Congress is going to take action, then they need to get rolling on this fast, because time is running out for this Congress and the American people might actually be stupid enough to elect a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. And while they are at it, they need to vote on the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, which is just waiting for a vote on the floor of the House & Senate, having already been approved by committees in both chambers.

  • What happened to the days of Gay militancy? These kids won’t stop until they are fed a healthy dose of the same medicine they’re serving up. I’m sorry but if you harass my local gay kids I will be very vocal in response. kids are hideously cruel and don’t respond to rules. They only know that threats met with aggression aren’t worth repeating.

  • I feel HORRIBLE that Tyler took his own life, and of course any other kid who commits suicide as a result of bullying. But, I have to think that perhaps Tyler’s roommate wasn’t anti-gay and that his actions were not evil. He did something stupid that resulted in a tragic death. The college environment allows a bit more stupid behavior, and I know that myself or my college friends might have done something similar if webcams were available in those days. If Travis hadn’t killed himself, this would have been an embarrasing moment for him, and a good laugh in years to come. There were plenty of pictures taken of me and my friends in comprimising positions we wish had never seen the light of day. It’s a complete overreaction to a stupid prank. I feel bad for the students who made the broadcast, I seriously doubt they thought he’d kill himself over this. I know this wont be a popular sentiment, but it needs to be said.

    • but they did find previous twitter comments stating him saying “ewww my roomie is gay….” this was before the incident of the webcam

  • The posts on JUSTUSBOYS.com have been forwarded to authorities, they say. They do appear to be attributed to Tyler Clementi and are very interesting, in that he doesn’t seem to be concerned with the video broadcasting. He states that the camera angle would have only shown him kissing someone. He appears to be a very smart guy.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/10/02/earlyshow/saturday/main6920962.shtml

    My ethical question is this: if the roommate should face involuntary manslaughter-type charges (in your opinion), what if something else happened? Tyler’s main concern in the forum thread on JustUsBoys is reporting this illegal activity so that he could get another roommate. What if he had decided to come out to his parents in the midst of all this, because of all this… and what if they had pulled all his university funding and support… I only ask this because: doesn’t that parental behavior, which happens a lot, ALSO appear to be potentially as harmful, or more so, as the roommate’s behavior?

    Could or should even a casual, familial agreement to fund four years of college, from your parents, be protected against later discrimination based on sex, gender or sexual orientation? I know, good luck, in getting any government entity or justice dept to actually be “proactive” or progressive in their considerations. :\ But think about it. Why not?? A college-aged “child” is now of legal age, and an agreement is an agreement…

  • Wow, I just saw a commercial on Spike TV, for an inexpensive, spy videocam helicopter. That’s right. And the commercial is targeted at KIDS. Yep. So, are companies like this telling kids that it’s ILLEGAL to transmit images of others without their consent? I doubt it…
    http://www.HawkeyeHeli.com

  • St. Vincent of Annandale

    On 10/5, I attended the screening of “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History.”, presented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery Alabama. This is the true story of Jamie Nabonsky who was bullied all through elementary school, middle school (where he was urinated upon), and high school (where he was kicked so badly that he was hospitalized). He reported the bullying to the schools and nothing was done, although he was promised that action would be taken. His parents were 100% behing him. The second time he ran away, he finally found a counseler who got in touch with the the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, in NYC. They took the case and won a judgment of $900,000 against the principals, and teacher. Please go to http://www.splc.org for the whole story

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