Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gay Teen Suicide: Three in One Year, In the Same School District

Got this disturbing letter from Change.Org. What disturbed me was that, once upon a time, I'd been there myself...and how ignorant people might not realize how much their hatred and intolerance can harm.

Dear Rick,

One suicide is one too many.

But three suicides in one year, within one school district, all by students who are gay or lesbian? That's nothing short of an epidemic, and it's the problem currently facing Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin school district.

The most recent incident occurred in July, when a 15-year-old student took his own life. A concert cello player in his school's orchestra, the student was incessantly bullied because of his sexual orientation.

"I'm not asking you to accept this as a lifestyle for you," his grieving mother recently said in testimony before the Anoka-Hennepin school board. "I'm only asking that you please make the school safe for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students still alive and in this district today."

Statistics underscore the danger to LGBT students. Nationwide, gay youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual classmates, in large part because of toxic environments where anti-gay bullying can thrive. Nearly 90% of gay students have experienced harassment in school, and almost two-thirds say they feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, a "neutrality" policy has tied the hands of school administrators and teachers to combat homophobia. This policy was put in place due to the influence of anti-gay groups such as the Parents Action League, which believes homosexuality is a behavior that can be cured, and it requires teachers and school officials to remain silent about subjects pertaining to sexual orientation.

Because of this anti-gay influence, the school board turned down a request by Minnesota's largest gay rights organization to conduct a district-wide anti-bullying program. And it prevented the district from taking action against two teachers who harassed a student believed to be gay until an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights intervened and punished the teachers.

Stopping the harassment of people based on their sexual orientation shouldn't be a liberal or conservative issue. It's a humanitarian issue, and can literally be a matter of life and death.

The only way to fight the suicide trend in the Anoka-Hennepin school district is by changing the climate in the district. Call on the Anoka-Hennepin school board to stop ignoring the problem and end the policy that prevents school officials from effectively dealing with anti-gay bullying.

Suicide doesn't occur in a vacuum. As we commemorate National Suicide Prevention Week this week, let us remember that we all have influence over the environment in which harassment thrives. If we sit idly by and do nothing, we're part of the problem.
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10 comments:

  1. Just earlier this morning I was sharing on Facebook about how the Italian politicians (I'm Italian) were laughed at at the European parliament because they were the only ones opposing the laws about the protection of same sex couples. Apparently one of them sprouted a long, cliched semi-homophobic speech about how 'TEH GAY' is wrong, evil, displeases God and threatens families and blah blah blah. Yet this will never be mentioned on the Italian news, of course.

    I am honestly embarrassed of my nationality at times. Homophobic episodes have been growing esponentially in the past few years, and the government's connivence is just... just disgusting.

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  2. That school district is only about 10 miles away from where I'm sitting right now. :(

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  3. Scary, Chris. My partner grew up in St. Paul.

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  4. It's really sad and scary, because Twin Cities Pride is a huge event... but so many of the suburbs and small towns are very, very conservative.

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  5. We still live in the dark ages, it seems.

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  6. Incidents like this make me so angry and yet, so utterly sad. Children learn from us and when they bully others, it's because of attitudes and ideas learned at or at least tolerated in, their home. I am scarred to this day, by the suicide of a friend in HS. She was bullied constantly and I never knew what it was that made her so hated by these kids. I think she liked girls, but she would always clam up and never talk, saying I shouldn't ask about things I didn't understand. I wanted to help, but at 14, I was ill equipped to ask the right questions. I tried going to teachers, but they never wanted to hear, saying that "you kids have to work your problems out for yourselves." Well, Alyssa worked hers out all right, at the end of a noose in her basement. I have worked hard to pass on tolerance to my nephews, telling them that boys can like boys and girls can like girls, that you can like and love whoever you want, your feelings are your own and are never wrong. I also make sure that they know bullying is wrong at all times. My oldest nephew went to a teacher because some of his classmates were ganging up on a new student. Fortunately, this teacher really listened and intervened. Very timely post. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Rick, I posted a snippet of this on my site with a link back to here. I hope that's cool. I'm appalled and deeply saddened by such news.

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  8. There is one obvious solution. The three grieving families, along with the families of every kid in the School District who ATTEMPTED suicide in the past year, and the family of every STRAIGHT kid who was harassed for being "gay" have to take out massive suits against the School District, who has a primary responsibility to protect ALL students,the State for accepting a discredited pseudo-scientific theory with ONLY a religious basis as a state policy, contrary to the First Amemdment. And of course, they should sue the "Parents Action League" AND THEIR INDIVIDUAL LEADERS for their unwarrented intrusion which resulted in these deaths.

    THEN PICKET ALL THEIR MEETINGS, CALLING THEM MURDERERS.(with childhood photos of those kids, along with their MORGUE photos - like those "pro-life" groups showing pictures of aborted fetuses for shock value)

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  9. I did a post -- I fear, perhaps an intemperate one -- on my blog too. I was bullied mercilessly at school because I was effeminate, and was blinded in one eye in consequence. We've all been there.

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  10. what a sad testament to the education system. I am in Scotland in the 14 years since I have left school things haven't changed.

    The attitude to lg students is disturbingly intolerant. With a rapidly changing world its worrying that not only is this unadressed but is seen as being an acceptable loss.

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