As I write this, at least 300 people are preparing to assemble at the corner of Church and Wellesley streets for an Oct 6 vigil commemorating young lives lost to homophobic bullying. It’s happening now because gay and mainstream media here and in the US have, of late, been buzzing about an apparent rash of suicides among young gay people.
Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman in Greensburg, Indiana, hanged himself in the family barn on Sept 9. He never told anyone he was gay, he might not have been, but he was picked on at school and taunted with homophobic epithets.
Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey, flung himself to his death from the George Washington Bridge on Sept 22 after his dorm mate allegedly surreptitiously streamed video of Clementi having private sexual encounters with men.
Asher Brown, a 13-year-old eighth grader from Houston, Texas, shot himself in the head with the family pistol on Sept 23 after being mercilessly picked on at school. He told his stepfather earlier that day that he was gay.
Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old from Tehachapi, California, died on Sept 28, nine days after hanging himself from a tree in the backyard of his family home. Again, he was terribly picked on at school because of his sexuality.
Raymond Chase, a 19-year-old gay sophomore at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, died on Sept 29 after hanging himself in his dorm room.
And of course, on Oct 2 the bodies of Jeanine Blanchette, 21, and Chantal Dube, 17, were found together in a wooded area near Orangeville. They bid their friends goodbye and reportedly overdosed on prescription medication.
And these are just a very few cases, conspicuous not just for their similarity, but also because these tragedies unfolded in such a brief period. It seems like an epidemic, as if there is something going around or getting out of hand. It’s as if gay kids don’t routinely suffer and die in these numbers. Well, gay people know this isn’t a new phenomenon.
I can’t help but think now of Shaquille Wisdom, the 13-year-old Ajax boy who hanged himself in 2007 after being ridiculed online because of his sexuality. There are also the scores of other kids we’ve all read about for years in the US press; Canadian media seem less likely to report on suicide, gay or not. And so there are uncounted others who, in quiet desperation, take their own lives without making the papers or without leaving behind any clue about what led them to such darkness.
Many argue that if we could only curtail bullying, we would likely avert similar tragedies. But I say that, although fighting the bully is a noble pursuit, he is more instrument of homophobia than cause. Bullies latch onto whatever nonsense is most likely to antagonize prey and attract attention from the rabble. And homophobia, or rather hatred of gay people, remains in the zeitgeist of human culture, providing a convenient random weapon to the bully.
The international media is filled every day with stories of crimes against us, of gay people fighting for equity, with circular debate about the conditions under which gay people might be tolerated, assuming they behave respectably.
There are scores of stories about the homosexual pedophile, the homosexual biohazard and the homosexual victim. This teeming narrative reinforces subconsciously the libellous paradigm of gay person as pariah. And so is it any wonder that gay kids, so many of whom walk alone, sometimes don’t see a way forward?
If you are one of those who feel out of options, please know that in time you will almost certainly succeed in building for yourself the joyful life you deserve. For now, if you’re feeling trapped, there is a community waiting to embrace you. Call the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line at 1-800-268-9688, or visit it online at youthline.ca to find out more.