Sunday, October 3, 2010

If Ever There Was a Time to Talk … Five Teens Have Killed Themselves in September

by Beth Reis

Five teens in the last three weeks had been so severely brutalized by peers for being gay that they felt the only answer was suicide.

First, Billy Lucas, age 15, hung himself in his grandmother’s barn in Greensburg, Indiana. Billy wasn’t out if he was even gay – you don’t have to be gay to be harassed about it. Then came middle school student 13 year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California. Then 18-year old college student and violinist Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge (between New Jersey and New York). The next day, in Houston, Texas, straight-A student Asher Brown, age 13, shot himself. Less than a week later, 19-year old Raymond Chase hung himself in Providence, Rhode Island.

We have to talk about it!!! Talking about suicide doesn’t make people commit suicide. Talking about bullying doesn’t make people bully. And talking about gay people doesn’t make people gay. Please, please take some time this week to talk with your classes about both.

What your students need to know about suicide and self-harm:
  • People who are considering suicide usually give signals.
  • There are concrete things you can do if you see what might be signals:
  • Show you care. Something like, “I’m here if you feel like talking.”
  • Bring it up. Something like, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
  • Get help. Something like, “Let’s talk to someone. I’ll be there, too, if you want.”
  • If they won’t talk with a parent or someone at school, do it yourself.
What your students need to know about bullying:
  • Bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying and assault can lead to suicide.
  • You don’t want to live with knowing that what you did or allowed a friend to do led someone to take their life.
  • Bullies need an audience. Refuse to participate.
  • Bullies often fly under adults’ radar. Make sure adults know what’s happening.
  • Harassment is illegal. The students who broadcast footage of Tyler Clementi before he killed himself may get as much as 5-10 years in jail.
What your students need to know about gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender (GLBT) people:
  • Who you like – whether you are GLB or Straight – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • How masculine or feminine you are – whether or not you’re the way people expect you to be – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • GLBT people can be as mentally healthy, happy, and loved as anyone else.
  • GLBT people have made awesome contributions to the world we all share.


The Youth Suicide Prevention Project suggests that you don’t want to glamorize or dramatize events like these recent suicides. But you DO need to talk with your students. Discussion questions might include these:
  • What kinds of things stress you and your friends?
  • What can you – or your friends -- do about the stress? What are some options?
  • If your friend was considering suicide, what could you do? What would you do?
  • What kinds of things do people in our school get harassed about?
  • What can you do if you see it happening? What are some options?
  • What if it happens to you? What are some options?
  • What do you already know about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people? What stereotypes have you heard that you know aren’t true?
  • What good things have lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people done for the world?
  • If you – or your friend – were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender where could you go to find friends and support?
Resources for adults:
Youth Suicide Prevention Project
Bullying & Harassment Background, from Seattle Public Schools
Maine’s Best Practices in Bullying and Harassment Prevention: A Guide for Schools and Communities
Safe Schools Coalition, addressing LGBT Issues in schools, headquartered in Washington, serving schools everywhere
Safe at School, a new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA addressing the school environment and LGBT safety through policy and legislation

Resources for the classroom:
Look, Listen, Link and Help Every Living Person, suicide prevention curricula for middle and high school, respectively, from the Youth Suicide Prevention Project

Let’s Get Real and Straightlaced ... films and discussion guides from Groundspark about bullying for middle school and gender for high school, respectively
Lipstick and Who I Am … films and discussion guides from Scenarios USA written by youth, performed by pros & discussion guides, about friendship, coming out, and more for middle and high school
Lesson planning guides for integrating LGBT issues into the fabric of the classroom, from the Safe Schools Coalition

Resources for youth: … Get Through Tough Times
Raven Days
Teens Against Bullying
Safe Schools Coalition’s YOUTH page

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