Bullying, LGBTQI Student Suicides, and What You Can Do

Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, and Tyler Clementi

These five young men committed suicide within the last few weeks as a result of the hostility and bullying they faced from their peers due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.  The deaths of these four students are not anomalies and they demonstrate the tragic consequences of the harassment LGBTQI students face for being different.  Not long ago, a GLSEN study found that 9 out of 10 LGBTQI students report experiencing harassment at their schools.  According to The Trevor Project, LGB youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act, an amendment to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, addresses this issue by providing grants for schools and community agencies to prevent bullying and harassment and requiring schools to keep records about instances of this behavior.  However, this bill is now facing opposition from the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family.  Representatives of Focus on the Family, like Candi Cushman, say that this legislation promotes the so-called gay agenda in our schools.

Whatever your opinion of legislative intervention on bullying, Focus on the Family is trying to prevent open discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity, and related bullying in schools.  When adults refuse to talk openly about these things, it reinforces the notion for LGBTQI students that they should keep this part of their identity hidden and feel shame about who they are.  Educators need to be able to talk about these issues and encourage respect in their students in order to prevent more tragedies.

Unfortunately, in some cases educators may not feel safe speaking out about these issues or coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.  Recently, Senator Jim Demint declared that he didn’t think gay teachers or sexually active unmarried women should be allowed to teach.  In addition, are the numerous reports of teachers getting blackballed, discriminated against, and even fired for being out in the schools where they work.  Currently, it is legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation in 29 states, and legal to fire someone based on their gender identity in 31 states.  With ongoing heterosexist and transphobic oppression going on at multiple levels within schools, heterosexual educators need to be allies for both their LGBTQI colleagues and students in order to promote change.

There is a lot that educators can do to confront this disturbing trend.  Resources on confronting bullying and providing support for students are everywhere.  Below are a few different projects and sites that can help you be an ally to students who are struggling:

The Trevor Project focuses on crisis and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.  They have a national helpline for youth who are struggling and offer a number of resources and suggestions for educators interested in providing education for all students and support for LGBTQ youth.

Teaching Tolerance is a website developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center that frequently highlights issues of anti-LGBTQ bullying and provides suggestions and resources for educators.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has a number of research-based interventions for educators on their Anti-Bullying Resources page.

The “It Gets Better” Project on Youtube was started by Dan Savage to address the recent suicides of LGBTQI youth.  On the channel adults who identify as LGBTQI share their stories of bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation during their school years as well as what happened to them as they entered adulthood.  These videos end with the reassurance for LGBTQI youth that life improves after high school and middle school and encourages them to seek out help if they are contemplating suicide.

After looking through these articles and resources, consider the following:

  1. How often do you hear your students using homophobic or transphobic slurs?  How do you respond when you hear them using that type of language?  How can you improve the way you respond to reduce this behavior?
  2. How do you and people at your school respond when LGBTQI students report feeling unsafe?  Are you and your colleagues doing enough to protect these students from hostility and violence?
  3. Do you feel comfortable talking with a student who is feeling suicidal?  What would you say?  What resources would you recommend to that student?


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