It seems nearly impossible to calculate how many teenagers killed themselves this past month in their struggle against anti-gay bullying. At last night’s vigil, commemorating the 12th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, a Daily Kent Stater reporter and I had little luck finding any concrete answer to the question. Her research found nine teenagers killed themselves in the past month; a source prior to the vigil told her six, but several organizers and guest speakers at the event could only name three or four.
It was that night I learned the number is unimportant. All of the in-depth reporting may offer an accurate number to match police and news media reports, but it won’t reach every case when a high school or college student takes their life because bullies forced them in a hole they felt helpless to escape.
At Monday’s vigil, more than 150 students helped sent the message “it gets better” to students struggling to fit in and reluctant to open up to people, fearing they may be discriminated. The message, “it gets better,” originated as a youtube series by sex-advise columnist Dan Savage.
Public figures that day amplified the message with their presence and speeches. The speakers included Alfreda Brown, vice president of diversity, equity & inclusion; Max Blachman, the regional representative for Senator Sherrod Brown, and additionally was asked to speak for Governor Strickland; Eric Van Sant, the vice chairman on the national board of directors for Delta Lambda Phi; and David Pattee, reverend of the United Church of Christ in Kent. President Lester Lefton was also among the crowd, holding his own candle in the vigil.
Media outlets across the US have highlighted Mentor High School in particular, where 5 students committed suicide between 2005 and 2008, and two families are suing the school, contending that bullying played a large role in their child’s death.
Bottem line: Communities, not just school officials and teachers, need to open their world outside of the heterosexual-only, gender-role strong ideology. They need to find out who a gay person is–not what a gay person is.
UPDATE: The the time period of when the five Mentor High School students committed suicide was added.