Media Roundup: The Tragedy of LGBT Teenage Suicide
Media coverage has focused extensively in the past few weeks around the anti-LGBT bullying suicides of various young people around the nation. From major national news outlets and celebrity statements to local broadcasting and blogs, a wide range of perspectives have emerged on these deaths, urging Americans to take action.
The first of the most recent tragedies began with Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Indiana. On September 9, after spending his last hours with the animals that he loved so much, he hanged himself from the rafters of his barn. Billy had been the victim of long-term bullying by his peers, often on the basis of his sexual orientation. “People would call him ‘fag’ and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he’s different,” said fellow student Dillen Swango. News coverage remained primarily local after his death, but prompted a call for stronger anti-bullying laws in Indiana, according to a FOX affiliate.
Not long after, 13-year-old Seth Walsh from Tehachapi, California, hanged himself from a tree on September 19 after enduring years of anti-LGBT bullying. He was subsequently on life support until he died nine days later--his memorial service is scheduled today. “He was a very loving boy, very kind,” said his mother. “He had a beautiful smile … He was artistic and very bright.” EDGE Boston published an article soon after his death, comparing it to the other recent suicides, and examining the refusal of religious groups to acknowledge the cause as anti-LGBT bullying.
Then, Asher Brown of Texas, who was also 13, shot himself in the head on September 23 after also suffering as an anti-LGBT bullying victim. The Houston Chronicle vividly described the scene shortly after the loss of the talented boy, stating that his shoes still rest in his living room, “while his student progress report – filled with straight A’s – rests on the coffee table.” The Chronicle emphasized the painful reaction of his parents, who were infuriated at Asher’s school for never having taken action against the harassment. MSNBC pointed out that Asher killed himself on the same day he told his parents he was gay—and offered advice for parents from child psychologists in their coverage.
Perhaps the most covered story, Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old just out of high school. A freshman at Rutgers University, he was known for his love of music. But after finding out his roommate had violated his privacy by livestreaming an intimate encounter he had with another male, Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge in an apparent suicide, the details of which were not released until September 27. A powerful CNN editorial asks why his suicide had to happen, and notes a lack of answers to the troubling question of “who creates the bully” in today’s society. The Washington Post reported on the mixed emotions of the Rutgers community, and the New York Daily News quoted Tyler’s parents in a statement they released today. “Regardless of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family's personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity,” they said.
Since then, other media outlets and celebrities have also spoken out on what they see as the major causes of the suicides, and how Americans can help stop this sad trend. The San Francisco Bay Guardian emphasizes the many LGBT organizations in the area, as well as LGBT activist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, which urges adults who went through the same pain to reach out to younger people.
In the following video she made to draw attention to the issue, Ellen DeGeneres asks viewers not to be silent: “This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone ... One life lost in a senseless way is tragic; four lives lost is a crisis. And these are just the stories we hear about; how many other teens have been lost, how many others have been suffering in silence?”
Finally, other LGBT organizations are continuing to educate and encourage the public to take positive action against the issue of anti-LGBT bullying, including the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is also encouraging all Americans to join together for a moment of silence tonight at 8 P.M. Eastern time, to remember the tragic loss of these youths. The Make It Better Project has a number of events listed on its Web site during the month of October encouraging action against more tragedies occurring and inciting remembrance.
GLAAD also released a statement today on the recent bullying-related suicides, regretting the loss of the lives of these boys, and urging the media to take responsibility for exposing anti-gay rhetoric. “These senseless tragedies are a wake-up call about the immense hostility facing the youth across the nation,” said GLAAD President, Jarrett Barrios. “We urge the media to investigate how dehumanizing anti-gay rhetoric in the national discourse affects vulnerable young people who feel they have nowhere to turn.”
GLAAD hopes the media will continue to respect the memory of these youth in its coverage.
GLAAD's National News Intern, Julie Sledjeski, also contributed to this report.