The following was submitted as a letter to the editor.
This week, Sept. 4-10, marks the 37th annual National Suicide Prevention Week. This month also marks the one-year anniversary of nine LGBT teens across the United States tragically taking their own lives after enduring relentless bullying and discrimination in school. Unfortunately, although this tragic string of LGBT youth suicides was highly (and uniquely) publicized, it was not an anomaly. Studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and independent research groups consistently show that between 30-40 percent of LGBT youth have considered and/or attempted suicide at least once in their lifetimes. Even higher percentages are stigmatized, bullied, harassed, and assaulted for their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression in schools across the country. These statistics are absolutely unacceptable. No child should suffer like Seth Walsh or Tyler Clementi or any other LGBT youth who has tragically attempted or fallen victim to suicide. As LGBT adults, as American citizens, and as human beings, it is our responsibility to help end this tragic epidemic.
Fortunately, a number of groups have been working toward creating conditions in which suicide is no longer a common tragedy among sexual minority youth. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has been combating bullying, harassment, and discrimination in schools since the 1990s. Since 1998, The Trevor Project has operated as the leading national organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBT and questioning youth. The Trevor Project provides The Trevor Lifeline, a confidential around-the-clock helpline; TrevorChat, a suicide and crisis prevention online chat service; and a variety of other programs and resources for youth and schools. More recently, after the string of suicides last year, online columnist Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better” campaign, which prompted thousands of youth, parents, LGBT community members, allies, celebrities, and politicians—including the president of the United States—to create and post videos on YouTube encouraging struggling LGBT youth that life does get better.
Unfortunately, even the best efforts of GLSEN, The Trevor Project, and other organizations formed to aid LGBT youth are not enough. No number of YouTube videos assuring sexual minority youth that life will get better eventually can completely drown out the messages to the contrary that these youth see in school and on television everyday.
When a teenager turns on the news and sees that another gay man was beaten up in Salt Lake City, that a group of transgender women and their friends were shot by a D.C. police officer, and that the Defense of Marriage Act still prevents same-sex couples from receiving equal protection under the law, they are told that it doesn’t get better. This is unacceptable. We need to make it better, and we need to do so now. We all need to get involved in politics, in our communities, and in schools to make life better. Not just for LGBT adults, but for LGBT youth, too.
In 1993, GLSEN founder and former Assistant Deputy Education Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools Kevin Jennings was asked to edit the first-ever high school gay and lesbian history text. I have heard Kevin give many speeches in support of LGBT inclusiveness in schools, but he has always ended with the same story: “As I was doing research, I learned of One Magazine, America’s first gay magazine, which began publication in 1953. I decided to read some, and came across this letter to the editor in One’s October 1954 issue: ‘I will always remain willing to support, in my small way, any effort to reduce intolerance toward a minority group in the United States. Intolerance is basically as un-American as Communism. I realize the road ahead of us is long and difficult, but that part of the road already traveled has been pretty tough, too.’” People like Frank Kameny and Lilli Vincenz, Harvey Milk and Mara Keisling, and Kevin Jennings himself, have traveled a tough road, but they have still managed to make an incredible difference in the lives of LGBT youth. It is our turn, and our responsibility to the LGBT youth of the present and future, to keep traveling down that road.
In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, The Trevor Project is encouraging members of the LGBT and allied community to be a resource for youth who need to talk. To take the Talk To Me Pledge and join the Talk To Me campaign, go to HYPERLINK “http://www.trevortalktome.org/”trevortalktome.org. —Samuel Garrett, Washington, D.C.
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