Trigger Warnings: Bullying, Religious Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Depression, Suicide, Suicidal Ideation (contemplating suicide), extreme sadness, and so on. I suggest having a friend you can hug nearby or at least someone available online for a virtual hug! Resources for help at the bottom of this post.
This is the first of a handful of pieces I wrote before I established this blog. This was originally posted as a “Note” on my personal Facebook page. It was written in 2010 just as there were a string of suicides by gay youth. As someone who was deeply affected personally By the suicide of two friends, decades apart and who served on a commission dedicated to addressing the tragedy of suicide among LGBTQ youth. As with all these archival writings written before the end of August, 2014, I was writing from the perspective of a gay/queer man having not yet come out as Agender/Genderqueer. I remember being very emotional at the time of this writing, spending extended periods of time crying and sobbing at the enormous sadness these memories triggered. I now know that some sources place the percentage of Trans Youth attempting or completing suicide even higher than that for gay youth. For that reason I am including, as an epilogue, Leelah Alcorn’s post to her Tumblr before taking her own life on December 28, 2014. I am posting this as a reminder thatthat trans people and indeed, LGBTQIA communities as a whole have suffered much loss due to bullying, religious and emotional abuse and isolation.
Personal Reflections on Gay Youth Suicide
October 9, 2010
By Jerry aka Fairy JerBear
Recently we have heard some tragic news:
- 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman, posted a brief farewell on Facebook then jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge because his roommate secretly taped and broadcast him in a sexual encounter with another man.
- 13-year-old Seth Walsh had been bullied and relentlessly teased for being openly gay…and hung himself from a tree in his back yard.
- Eighth-grader Asher Brown shot himself in response to constant harassment from fellow students about being gay.
- 15-year-old Billy Lucas never told anyone he was gay, but his peers assumed he was, tormented him because of it, and he hung himself in the family’s barn.
- Raymond Chase, an openly gay 19-year-old student at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., hung himself in his dorm room.
Sadly this recent string of gay teen suicides is an issue I am all-too-familiar with. Let me share a little about myself and why this issue is of deep personal concern for me.
I am the son of a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) minister and grew up in the SDA sub-culture, attending church-affiliated educational Institutions beginning in the 2nd grade. I tried to cross it out. By the time I was 18 I had survived the taunts of sissy and endured hours of softball and other sports where it was pointed out frequently that I played like a girl. To avoid the teasing I often played with girls who were kinder. There was an exception; in the 9th grade there was this girl who constantly teased me. I recall being chased and cornered while she forcefully kissed me. I remember being traumatized, both because of the humiliation and because I felt only repulsion when I thought I should have been turned on. While at Pine Tree Academy in Freeport Maine, (an SDA institution), I experiences bullying from a few guys. I remember being terrified when I was cornered in the bathroom and being called anti-gay epithets. In my junior year someone wrote in my yearbook “to a fine faggot.” I desperately crossed out the offensive entry and wrote a more positive response. Thankfully my senior year saw a reduction in the bullying. During my adolescent years I experienced good times as well, participating in many musical activities, enjoying the great out doors and becoming a fan of Henry David Thoreau. I used nature as a coping mechanism, a way to deal with inner turmoil. By the time I graduated one thing that I had not resolved was who I was sexually or where I would fit in. As I looked forward to college a quote from my hero Thoreau seemed to speak to me, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.”
In the fall of 1975 I began my freshman year in college. I attended Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts which is a Seventh-Day Adventist parochial college. That semester I met this small group of gay students and began to hang out with them. I struck up a close friendship with Kevin a fellow freshman. We spent lots of time talking in the dorm stairwell. He talked about his same-sex sexual experiences at an SDA boarding high school (the now defunct Pioneer Valley Academy). In fact Kevin was the only person I came out to as gay. Kevin was flamboyant and effeminate and so was singled out for taunts, ridicule and threats. He also was well aware that who he was conflicted with the church’s beliefs.
I remember practicing “The Hustle,” a disco dance style popular at the time. Kevin tried to show me the steps in his dorm room with limited success. One Saturday night a group of guys were going into a gay bar in Worcester. They talked me into coming along and I agreed, (rationalizing that this was a sociological study). When I walked in it was like another world. Despite my discomfort I could see many of these guys were like me. I was being cruised and didn’t know what to do so I was grateful when Kevin asked me to dance. While dancing with Kevin I began to feel at ease and even enjoyed myself. On the ride home I was processing all that had happened while trying to keep Kevin’s hands off me.
Eventually the semester ended and many students, including Kevin, went home for the Christmas/New Year/Winter Break. I stayed on at college but did hitchhike to Maine for New Year’s Day with one of my new friends. As we all came back from break, Kevin did not return. Soon I heard the horrible news; Kevin had died. As often happens around holidays, Kevin had a conflict with his parents over his sexuality. He must have become overwhelmed with guilt, depression and confusion. He then walked into the garage and with the garage door closed and the car running he let the Carbon Monoxide take his all too short life (he was barely 18). I was left a very confused, sad and desperate 19 year old. I didn’t know how to deal with all the emotions that were bottled up inside. Suicide crossed my mind but I resolved to carry on. My coping, mechanism was to create a compartment in my brain and stored all my sexual feelings there. Over the next few years my gay feelings and longings would occasionally break out of the compartment but overall I manage to keep that part of my self repressed.
I tried to make sense of who I was by first reading library books on being homosexual (that’s how most books I found described same-sex orientation). Later, as I became older, I visited Boston’s gay book store, and read more supportive books and periodicals. I also read up on spirituality and tried to find a church that would accept me and embraced my passion for reason and freedom of thought. Finally in 1986 I began attending and then joined a Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church which involved signing a book and advice to create my own spirituality or philosophy. At that point I was working for a gay-friendly employer and had an accepting church it seemed like the right time to become true to myself and true to my friends and my family of choice (biological family discussion occurred months later.). So in February of 1987 I came out and for the first time, excluding my one person coming out to Kevin, and said those three simple words, “I am Gay.”
I was soon heavily involved in Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual activism; participating in protests, going to my first Pride and starting a support/advocacy group at my church. I had become more aware about this scary disease, AIDS, and wanted to understand more. I attended a workshop on the disease and how to help at The UU mother church, The Arlington Street Church in Boston. Soon I had met the founders of a fledgling AIDS organization called, AIDS Project Worcester. I decided that I should volunteer some time and ended up as a hotline volunteer.
On October 10th, 1987 I found myself in Boston boarding a train full of gay folks headed for Washington DC. We arrived the Morning of the 11th and attended a service at A UU church in DC. It was there that I realized for the first time the affect AIDS was having as person after person stood and called out the name of friends, lovers and family lost to the disease. Later as we marched to the mall in front of the capital I saw continents of people with AIDS marching or being pushed in wheel chairs. On Further down the mall a giant quilt was laid out with each panel memorializing in words, objects and pictures a person lost to AIDS. Death and being gay seemed to go together like hand and glove,
I returned home determined to do more for the rights my community had been denied and to fight the disease that seemed to be stalking us. Soon I was hired as one of the first staff at AIDS Project Worcester. My life was soon centered on hospitals, funerals, and long nights trying to bring prevention messages and risk reduction tools to those at risk. Eventually I moved on to another agency while at the same time entering a relationship with wonderful guy and we moved in to a 1 bedroom apartment and began life as a couple.
As I continued my work and activism I became concerned about lesbian and gay youth who needed a supportive place to meet and feel safe. I couldn’t forget Kevin’s tragic suicide. This led to my becoming an adult adviser to a youth-led lesbian and gay support and advocacy group, Soon I began hearing the stories of youth who contemplated suicide after messages of hate, being ostracized at home and/or school. We did our best to assist the youth in trouble by providing support, advice and referrals. In working to prevent HIV/AIDS and suicide I was trying to show that gay and death didn’t have to go together.
Meanwhile some new researched had surfaced that indicated that lesbian and gay youth were at disproportionate risk for suicide. This led to some activism to establish a commission to address this life or death issue. Finally in February of 1992, Massachusetts Governor, William Weld, established the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. I was appointed a member of that commission and began to strategize on what needed to be done. We settled on the creation of a report and set up hearings across the state. Soon we began hearing some of the most heart-wrenching stories most of us had ever heard. At one of the commission’s hearings Chris, a young man that I had come to know presented his testimony. He began by recalling the time he and his friend spent in High School:
“We were shunned by many of our classmates for being, as many saw us, just plain weird… We were also picked on. We were called queer and faggot and a host of other homophobic slurs. We were also used as punching bags by our classmates just for being different, something that sent us into further isolation.”
He continued to describe how they finished high-school and made a vow to shock their friends attend their high-school reunion together. Soon Chris and his friend Richard left for different colleges. They continued to visit each other and so he was expecting the usual enjoyable visit when arrangements were made to get together late in the fall of 1989:
“But when he arrived that night in November 1989, there was something different about him…he was quiet. There was no spark in his eyes. When I asked him what was wrong he simply shook his head. Eventually, with tears in his eyes, he told me that he had been badly beaten up…He said as he was leaving the Athol Public Library earlier that week, two people were waiting for him, hiding in the back seat of the car…An arm came out of the dark, pulling Richard ‘s neck tightly against his seat. Another arm came out of nowhere and began punching his ribs. Defenseless and scared, he could do nothing as he was beaten in his own car. When it was over, he was too ashamed to go home because his parents would see his black eye and bloody nose and he drove around in pain. He said he had no idea who had beaten him. The only word his attackers used was ‘faggot.’”
Chris did his best to support Richard and everything appeared to be getting better until, A few months later, my sister called me. She told me Richard had driven his maroon Ford Escort to a deserted Athol street and left the engine running, killing himself.”
Chris shared in a very moving way how he vowed to keep the high school reunion appointment by spending time at Richard’s gravesite.
He went on to describe how Richard’s suicide had continued to have profound affects on Chris and on Richard’s family:
“I know Richard’s mother doesn’t sleep very well anymore. She didn’t sleep at all after he first died, staying up all night watching television or cooking and going to work full time. She’s taking naps now, but I doubt she’s slept a full night in the past year.
“Richard’s older sister Karen is also having a difficult time. Shortly after her brother committed suicide, Karen told her parents she is a lesbian, which helped her, but she’s still unable to deal with her brother’s death. She told me she suffers from panic attacks and has been attending a support group for families of suicide survivors.
“The difficulty I can best tell you about is my own. When the shock first began to wear off last winter that Richard was gone, the pain and depression were almost overwhelming at times. I would come home from work early, get into bed, and cry for hours. I believed the pain would subside in time, but it hasn’t. If anything, it has gotten worse.
“What would help my state of mind and help Richard’s family would be to know that things are different now, that there are groups to help gay teens and young adults not just in Boston, but in almost every community across the state. To know that no gay teen will ever have to go through what Richard and I went through would be the best memorial to his death.”
In response to the testimony the commission created three reports. As Co-Chair of the Commission’s Health and Human Service Committee, the report I worked hardest one was the report entitled Prevention of Health Problems Among Gay and Lesbian Youth from which Chris’ testimony is excerpted above. We presented the case for increased training and changes in policy with the help of Health and Mental Health Experts, heresiarch and testimony that Gay and Lesbian Youth derived and desperately needed public and mental heath advocates to address their needs.
Now it has been a decade and a half since we published that report in 1994. Now the research is much more extensive on the problems faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth (LGBTQ). We now have much more supportive policies and programs for LGBTQ youth both in many schools and in public and mental health agencies and in Departments of Health including my former home state of Massachusetts and to a lesser degree here in New Mexico. However, as we were made aware recently, much more needs to be done.
Last year my attention was once again focused on the subject as the news stories about the tragic loss of two 11 year old boys, Chris from Massachusetts and Jaheem who was attending school in Georgia. Both boys experienced repeated incidents of harassment and bullying in school. The most frequent taunts they faced were anti-gay slurs. There was some news coverage of the incidents but the stories were soon replaced with the next “breaking news.”
We now know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2007 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey. A 2007 San Francisco State University Chavez Center Institute study shows that LGBT and questioning youth who come from a rejecting family are up to nine times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).
Last year the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) released “Suicide risk and prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.” The publication, written by SPRC staff and reviewed by experts in sexual and gender minority issues, suicide, and suicide prevention, and by youth, addresses the special concerns related to suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. The publication supports the belief that LGBT people, especially LGBT young people, are at a higher risk for suicide compared to heterosexuals.
Soon after that resource became available cold, hard reality hit me hard. I learned that a young gay friend and colleague had ended his life. I found myself stunned into numbness. As the information sunk in it connected with my emotions and I found myself tearing up and thinking to myself, not again!
I don’t know what I and others missed, I keep playing encounters and conversations over and over in my mind. I finally came to the realization that I may never completely understand what internal foes my friend was fighting. I know from personal experience that one can put on a brave face while still experiencing deep frustration, depression and anger. During a memorial ceremony I began to talk about our friend’s life and death. I thought I’d be able to calmly reflect upon the loss. However, I had a very emotional reaction, I completely broke down in tears. The weight of the loss of my friend was added to the grief for the other friends who have been passed on, or were survivors left behind. As you may know, suicide leaves deep emotional scars for friends of someone who ends their own lives.
Now we have heard the tragic news that another series of suicides by young gays has occurred and we are again asking why. There does seem to be a common thread of anti-gay bullying as was the case with last year’s suicides. I find myself alternating between sorrow and deep seething anger. I am angry because there has been an active campaign by some on the religious right to fight back against anti-bulling policies and programs. These radical, anti-gay activists claim they’re innocent yet they demonize LGBT citizens and spread their hatred from church pulpits, on religious radio and TV broadcasts and in print. But just as religion has been a negative force it has been and can be a force for good. There are denominations like the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists and Reformed Judaism that have been supportive and accepting of LGBT families for decades. There are also many clergy and lay people who have been supportive even when church hierarchy is not supportive. Secular groups and organizations have also been very supportive of LGBT families. We need more folks to speak out and attend school board and PTA meetings to support efforts to combat bullying. All of us can also stay informed so we can respond to state and national legislative and administrative developments.
So for all those friends I’ve lost and the countless other young LGBTQIA lives lost, I rededicate myself to celebrating life and sharing it with all it’s ups and downs, with those whose lives touch mine,
Let’s all vow to do our part to end bullying.
As a reminder of how this tragedy of suicide has affected the trans community I am including this final post from a young trans woman who took her own life. I saved this as a reminder and because Leelah parents had the original taken down.
Leelah Alcorn (November 15, 1997 – December 28, 2014)
Leelah’s Final Tumblr Post
leelah, 17, transgender queen of hell ❤ ❤ ❤
And now for my sorry notes to some people I knew…
Amanda: You are going to have such a wonderful life. You are the most talented and pretty little girl I’ve ever met and I love you so much, Amanda. Please don’t be sad. I’m going to miss you so very much. I love you.
Tiffany: We haven’t talked much recently since we’re both so busy but I’m so happy you’re my sister. You are so courageous and determined to achieve what you want, you can accomplish anything. I love you.
Justin: We’ve been jerks to each other a lot recently but I really do love you. You get on my nerves almost all the time but no matter what a part of me will always love you. Sorry for picking on you so much when we were kids.
Rylan: I’m so sorry I’m never there for you. I love you so much.
Abby: Thank you for dealing with my pathetic problems, all I did was make your life harder and I’m sorry.
Mom and Dad: Fuck you. You can’t just control other people like that. That’s messed up.
I don’t really feel the need to apologize to anyone else… odds are you didn’t give a shit about me and if you do, you did something that made me feel like shit and you don’t deserve an apology.
Also, anyone who says something like “I wish I got to know him better” or “I wish I treated him better” gets a punch in the nose.
If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.
At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn
Read more about Leelah here at the very good entry about her in Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Leelah_Alcorn
Some Stats About Trans Communities
(I didn’t see references for these stats when/where they were posted. I have read them before and believe them to be accurate. If you have sources for stats or want to offer a legitimate correction please leave a comment.)
I and many other LGBTQ adults want desperately to make the world a better place for LGBTQ youth. If you need to reach me, leave a comment here or just contact me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JerBearSantaFe or you can message me on tumblr: http://fairyjerbear.tumblr.com Bellow are some ways you can reach out and find support. Hugs, Fairy JerBear
The nation’s only 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people ages 13 to 24.
Other Resources in the U.S.
If you think you need help, there are always people here to support you.
This line is primarily for transgender people experiencing a crisis. This includes people who may be struggling with their gender identity and are not sure that they are transgender. While our goal is to prevent self harm, we welcome the call of any transgender person in need. We will do our very best to connect them with services that can help them meet that need. If you are not sure whether you should call or not, then please call us.
US: (877) 565-8860
Canada: (877) 330-6366