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.