UPDATED: Do you know a gay or lesbian person? Then this post is for you. And considering that 1 in 10 people are gay, that means this post is for everybody.
You might have noticed that your gay friends have been a little depressed of late. Or maybe they’re outraged. Or, if they’re one of the many people out there questioning their sexuality or afraid to disclose it, they might just be plain terrified. Maybe you know why, but if you don’t, let me explain — and tell you what you can do.
The last few weeks have been pretty horrible for LGBT Americans. You may have heard that the Senate refused to even bring up a debate on getting rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the decades old policy that has discharged more than 13,000 soldiers from the service because they’re gay. But that’s the least of it.
In the last three weeks,
four five young students have killed themselves because they were bullied for being gay. Two of the kids, Seth Walsh and Asher Brown, were 13. Billy Lucas, who hung himself, was 15. Freshman Rutgers student Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after two fellow students secretly took video of him kissing another guy and posted it online.
UPDATE: A few hours after this story was posted came news of a 5th suicide; 19-year old openly gay Johnson & Wales student Raymond Chase, who reportedly hung himself in his dorm.
Add to that the story of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, who started a blog attacking the University of Michigan’s openly gay Student President for being gay and who posted photos of the student with nazi swastikas on his face.
Add to that a twitter from raptard 50-Cent saying that anyone who “don’t eat pu**y” should “just kill your self damn it. The world will be a better place. Lol.”
It’s a lot to hate to handle all at once. Stranger columnist Dan Savage has started a grassroots program called “It Gets Better“, encouraging adults to post videos telling at risk gay teens that no matter how awful things might seem in high school, there’s a light at the end. Ellen has gone on TV bringing awareness to these deaths.
Let me take a minute to explain why this is so upsetting to so many of us, because I think if you’re not gay or lesbian, you might not get it. It’s not because you’re a bad person or ignorant, but there are some things you can only learn by living and being a gay teen is one of them.
For the vast majority of the LGBT community, growing up gay is a scary thing. As you start to discover your sexuality, you quickly discover that your feelings are different than everyone else’s. Remember how bewildering and confusing puberty was for you? Well, multiply that times a million for gay teens.
Toss in the the fear (real or not) that your family and friends will hate you if they discover who you “really are” and a society which comfortably tosses around phrases like “Don’t be a fag” or “That’s so gay” and even the most self-confident kid is going to wind up feeling lost at times.
Which explains why LGBT teens are 2 to 3 times more likely to kill themselves each year than their straight peers. In raw numbers, that means 150,000 gay teens will try to kill themselves this year and 1,500 will succeed. That’s about four kids a day. Suicide is a rising epidemic among teens regardless of sexuality, but for LGBT teens it’s a crisis.
And chances are most of you are horrified by these statistics. Most people aren’t bigots and don’t want to see teenagers, regardless of their sexuality, killing themselves. But what can you do?
It’s pretty simple actually: You have to speak up. If you’re upset over the four gay teens who have committed suicide in the last three weeks, speak up! Your silence is killing us.
The truth is there are and always will be more straight people than gay people. If straight people don’t speak up and defend gay and lesbian Americans, things will never get better, no matter how hard the LGBT community tries. We’re doing as much as we can to provide resources to at-risk LGBT teenagers, but until it becomes socially unacceptable to hate on gays and lesbians in this country, it’s an uphill battle. That is to say, we can’t do it without your help.
We need you to speak up when someone calls someone else a ‘Fag’ or calls something uncool ‘Gay’. You need to speak up even when there are no gay people around. In fact, especially when there are no gay people around. And if you’re still saying those kind of things, stop it. It’s not funny.
Post stories about gay rights and gay teens to Facebook. Be public in your support for equality. It’s a little thing, but there’s a chance you will reach someone’s mind and heart. If it’s no longer acceptable to hate on gays and lesbians, they’ll be a lot less gay teens hurting themselves. You could start by sharing this story with your friends, for instance.
If you work with or are around teenagers, don’t turn a blind eye when you see bullying. Too often bullying is dismissed as ‘kids just being kids’, but one of the values we need to instill in teens (and ourselves for that matter) is kindness.
If you’re friends with gay and lesbian people, try not to treat us like stereotypes. Ladies, not all gay men live to go shopping with you. Guys, most lesbians have no desire to make out in front of you. That’s why they’re lesbians. And please don’t ask which one of us is the boy and which is the girl. The more you treat us like actual people and not fabulous bedazzled pets, the happier we’ll all be.
If you’re liberal-minded or believe in personal freedom and are looking for a cause to get behind, you can’t do much better than pitching in for LGBT equality. Our not-so-secret agenda is to make America a safe place for gay people to live their lives openly, with the same opportunities and freedoms you enjoy.
Seriously, our radical dream is that we’ll be able to get legally married, have kids and have the chance to die for our country. The people fighting this are creepy old white men, douchebag hip-hop stars and Catholic priests. What more do you need?
We’re the good guys and we want you to join our team. All you have to do is speak up. We can’t do it alone.
*Awesome comics from Slap Upside the Head.
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