LGBT Community Mourns String of Suicides

By Joseph Erbentraut in News on Oct 1, 2010 6:20PM

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Tyler Clementi (via Facebook)
LGBT people nationwide have been rocked this week with the tragic news of at least five recent suicides of male students, all committed as a result of being bullied for their actual or perceived sexual orientation in their middle schools, high schools and universities.

Raymond Chase was 19, an openly gay sophomore studying culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. He killed himself Wednesday for unknown reasons. 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi through himself off of the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, after his roommate had broadcast secret video footage of his sexual encounter with another man over the Internet. On Sept. 23, Asher Brown, 13, shot himself in the head at his parent's home in Cypress, Texas. On Sept. 19 in Tehachapi, Calif., 13-year-old Seth Walsh hanged himself from a tree and died Tuesday after nine days of life support. 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind., also took his own life earlier in the month.

It's difficult to find the words to describe what this news feels like as a queer-identified adult not all that removed from school-going years. The tragedies have occurred eerily on the heels of Dan Savage's incredible It Gets Better YouTube channel, which has attracted hundreds of videos filled with hopeful messages for LGBT youth in the week since it debuted. Local activists have arranged an (already booked with a wait list) video-making marathon at the Center on Halsted this Sunday, for which Savage himself will be on hand.

Last night, activist Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was brutally murdered in 1998, spoke at the Center on Halsted, addressing safety for queer youth. Shepard issued a statement in response to the recent tragedies.

"Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect," Shepard wrote. "Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers ... There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society."

Ellen DeGeneres also addressed the gay youth's suicides in her program Thursday, stating, "This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone that teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country and the death rate is climbing ... We have an obligation to change this." Video embedded below.

Activists here in Chicago and elsewhere are currently planning a vigil to honor the lives that have been lost and call for an end to anti-LGBT violence and bullying next week. We'll post information here on the blog as soon as it becomes available.

The Trevor Project, a national organization that works on issues surrounding LGBT youth and suicide, has called for a National Moment of Silence tonight, Friday, at 7 p.m.