Tag Archives: gay suicide

Teen leaves note saying bullying drove him to suicide

A high-school freshman in Pennsylvania who killed himself by running into the path of a tractor-trailer in the early morning hours of Nov. 6 left behind a note that said he wanted to draw attention to the problem of bullying, his mother said.

Fourteen-year-old Brandon Bitner was the 14th gay youth to commit suicide in the U.S. since the summer, according to multiple sources.

Bitner had complained about teasing and name-calling when he was in middle school, but after he entered Midd-West High School in Middleburg this year, he began concealing his pain from school officials and his family, his mother said.

“He didn’t want to burden other people with his problems,” Tammy Simpson said in a telephone interview as the family prepared for his funeral in the rural central Pennsylvania community. “I’m sure he felt that, if somebody said something, (the teasing) would get even worse.”

Simpson described her only son as a soft-spoken youth who aspired to be a classical violinist and had many female friends. His note said he was tired of being called names like “faggot” and “sissy,” according to The Patriot-News in Harrisburg.

Simpson said her son “never told us” what his sexual orientation was but that she didn’t care.

“He was the most wonderful child anyone could ask for,” she said.

In his note, Bitner cited an encounter with another student in the school cafeteria several days before his death as “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Simpson said.

Wesley Knapp, the Midd-West School District superintendent, said the suicide prompted him to re-evaluate the safeguards that the school district has set up to prevent bullying.

“When you lose one of your students, it’s painful,” he said. “We all ask ourselves what could we have done perhaps to have prevented it.”

But students at the high school told The Daily Item that bullying is rampant at the school and that school officials refuse to address it.

– Staff and wire reports

Officials deny Cody Barker was bullied

Officials with the Schiocton school district refute charges that the suicide of Cody J. Barker, 17, was related to anti-gay bullying.

Barker was the third gay teen to commit suicide in Outagamie County since May 2009, and his death came amid a spate of national stories about gay youth taking their lives after being harassed.

”Right now everybody’s looking for someone to be the poster child for this issue,” school Superintendent Chris VanderHeyden told the Post-Crescent. “As soon as it was announced that this young man was gay and that he killed himself, everyone immediately started connecting dots that weren’t there.”

However, Barker’s mother Darla said she suspects that bullying did play a role in her son’s death. She told the Post-Crescent that she was “dumbfounded” at how quickly the school district acted to quash the allegation.

“(Teens) are smart about when they do it,” Barker was quoted as saying. “They don’t do it in front of a teacher. I know there was name-calling and dirty looks in the hallway. I know that went on.”

Darla Barker said she even witnessed teens taunting Cody at their home. She asked students to look out for each other.

“(When) you see somebody in the hall and they look like they’re having a bad day, ask them how they’re doing,” she said. “If you see somebody getting picked on, stick up for them. Just help each other.”

From WiG and AP reports.

Gay suicide reported

A 19-year-old openly gay Oakland University student took his own life Oct. 19.

The Oakland County, Mich., medical examiner’s office confirmed that Corey Jackson’s death was a suicide, but police said that anti-gay bullying did not play a role.

His family disagreed.

“I believe (it happened) because he recently realized he was a homosexual and he was getting pressured at school by his peers because he told his family and nothing changed here,” Jackson’s grandmother Carolyn Evans told ClickOnDetroit. “Corey was the most loving, giving, funny person. … When he went to school and he realized his sexual preference had changed, he changed completely. He withdrew.”

Evans told the website that her grandson was outgoing before becoming self-conscious.

Jackson’s aunt Kim Jones said he was having a difficult time.

“He said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. Ever since I came out people are treating me different. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I belong,’” Jones said.

Student legislator Darrell Boyd said the campus has a very accepting environment.

“Oakland’s an accepting school and we’re pretty broad and diverse so it’s pretty shocking something like that would happen here,” he said.

From WiG and AP reports.

Gay Mich. student commits suicide

A 19-year-old openly gay Oakland University student took his own life on campus Oct. 19.

The Oakland County medical examiner’s office confirmed that Corey Jackson’s death had been ruled a suicide

While police denied that anti-gay bullying played a role in Jackson’s death, his family disagreed.

“I believe (it happened) because he recently realized he was a homosexual and he was getting pressured at school by his peers because he told his family and nothing changed here,” Jackson’s grandmother Carolyn Evans told ClickOnDetroit. “Corey was the most loving, giving, funny person. He had the most wonderful personality. He had cousins from ages 14 down to 2 and he never said a bad word about anybody. When he went to school and he realized his sexual preference had changed, he changed completely. He withdrew.”

Evans told the website that her grandson was outgoing before becoming self-conscious.

Jackson’s aunt Kim Jones said he was having a difficult time.

“He said ‘I don’t know what’s wrong. Ever since I came out people are treating me different. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where I belong,’” Jones told ClickOnDetroit.

Student legislator Darrell Boyd said the campus has a very accepting environment.

“Oakland’s an accepting school and we’re pretty broad and diverse so it’s pretty shocking something like that would happen here,” he said.

Federal action urged after suicides

Federal action is being advocated as activists campaign for new and improved tools to counter bullying in schools.

The push comes in the wake of at least six gay-related suicides since the start of the 2010-11 school year, including a Wisconsin teen who advocated for a gay-straight alliance, a Rutgers University student outed in an Internet video, an Indiana teen who hung himself in his family’s barn, a California boy who hung himself in his back yard, a Texas kid who shot himself and a Rhode Island University student who hung himself in his dorm room.

On Oct. 12, more than 70 organizations urged Congress to pass the pending Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools that receive Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act funding to implement comprehensive anti-bullying policies.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act, modeled after Title IX, would provide nationwide comprehensive prohibition of discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The organizations also endorsed the Make It Better Project, a video-focused effort intended to inspire LGBT youth on their darker days and to educate youth and adults on how to counter school-based harassment.

“Our community has suffered a terrible loss in the past month,” Carolyn Laub of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which launched the Make It Better Project, said Oct. 12. “We can’t afford to wait another day and lose another life to the epidemic of anti-LGBT bullying in our schools. This is the moment for all of us … to do everything in our power to make schools safer.”

Several days earlier, at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in Washington, D.C., senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett said in an address that the White House is advocating federal action.

“On behalf of President Obama, I want to make clear that this administration is firmly committed to working with you and other advocates,” Jarrett said. “For we all have to ensure that we are creating an environment in our schools, our communities, and our country, that is safe for every person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

She cited work in the U.S. Department of Education, which created a federal task force on bullying and, in August, held the first National Bullying Summit.

The Education Department also has “reinvigorated the office for civil rights to help stop harassment in our schools based on race, disability, sex – and bullying of LGBT young people who may not conform to gender norms,” Jarrett said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department has announced a National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention that brings together public and private partners.

“And it’s going to make sure people have access to help, and to resources when they are in crisis,” said Jarrett. “One of its specific goals is preventing suicide in at-risk groups, including LGBT youth.”

Tammy Aaberg of Anoka, Minn., was in the audience at the HRC dinner. Her son Justin killed himself in July.

Aaberg said she was aware of one incident of bullying against her son, but she “had no idea how horrible it was and I’m learning that this harassment happened in the company of teachers.”

The mother said she had wanted “Justin’s legacy to be that he’s the last gay child to take his life because of bullying.” He wasn’t.

Acceptance is the best suicide prevention

Thank you to Wisconsin Gazette for excellent coverage in the Oct. 7 issue of the critical problem of suicide among LGBT youth. Certainly the personal tragedy of friends and family of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University resonates with LGBT people and our allies.

Diverse and Resilient’s board and staff are saddened by the news of these deaths. These private tragedies also have a public cost. Each death by suicide points to reduced contributions to society and a diminution of life for us all.

Thanks, too, to Lisa Neff for including examples of national programs addressing suicide and anti-bullying efforts. It is notable that these national programs actually have a limited ability to meet the needs of Wisconsin youth and families. Similarly, national education campaigns on bullying provide useful information for classrooms, but this puts interested classroom teachers in the unenviable position of trying to implement programming without coaching, consultation, administrative supports, program planning and evaluation or funds.

For 11 years Diverse and Resilient has advocated for the inclusion of sexual behavior, sexual orientation and gender expression and gender identity questions to be added to local, state and national health data surveys. We have had some success with the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey. These have shown us that Wisconsin teens who engage in same-sex behavior are significantly more likely to have considered suicide, made a plan to kill themselves, attempted suicide and made an attempt serious enough to require medical intervention.

But supports to take action remain minimal. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services website shows no program supports to aid in prevention of suicide among LGBT youth. Mental Health American Wisconsin Chapter is the same. In fact, the latter quibbles over the reliability of the data that the state itself collects about mental health needs.

Diverse and Resilient, together with our colleagues at FORGE, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, SAGE Milwaukee and Pathfinders, all do our part to address the mental health needs of LGBT people. But we do so with woefully insufficient resources to meet the magnitude of the problem. LGBT youth and adults still live in communities and families where they are socially isolated. Even those among us who enjoy optimal family supports reside in a state that amended its constitution to limit our right to pursue happiness.

Wisconsin residents, particularly its voters, must decide to stand as witnesses to the poor treatment LGBT people – particularly youth – receive in our state. Then  they must take action to support us in making all of our lives worth living.

Suicides prompt activism

As newly reported incidents of teen suicides brought on by homophobic bullying continue to dominate the national news for a second month, advocates for youth in Wisconsin hope to transform the ongoing tragedy into positive action.

There have been recent town meetings in Appleton and Madison, candlelight vigils at the University of Wisconsin campuses in Green Bay and Madison and social networking campaigns by older LGBT community members, who are reaching out to their younger peers.

While more than a dozen suicides have been reported nationally this fall, the one that’s uppermost on the minds of people in Wisconsin is that of Cody Barker, 17, of Shiocton. Since May 2009, at least three openly gay youth in northeastern Wisconsin’s Outagamie County had committed suicide before Barker took his life on Sept. 13.

Friends who knew him say that Barker had big plans after attending an August leadership training institute sponsored by the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools. He hoped to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Shiocton High School, a courageous goal for a town with only 954 people.

“It’s not completely clear why Cody Barker committed suicide,” said Cindy Crane, executive director of the Madison-based statewide organization GSA for Safe Schools.  But Barker had left a strong impression on many of his peers, youth leaders of Gay Straight Alliances statewide, she said. A flurry of text messages he sent in August remarked with pride on the fact that “Cody was just ‘so gay,’” positively reflecting the confidence he exuded in August in his identity as an out gay youth.

And yet, in less supportive contexts, Crane added, the oft-repeated phrase “so gay,” can have devastating effects on many young people.

“It creates all of these internalized negative feelings,” she said. “Who knows how many negative messages youth are bombarded with, and what it does to their psyche, whether they’re out of the closet or not.”

Text messages since then from GSA members statewide have reflected both their devastation and determination, Crane said.

Crane said that it’s difficult to deconstruct the reality that’s being reflected in the often-distorted mirror of the popular media. It’s possible there’s an emotionally resonant effect that is motivating more youth to take their lives, but it’s equally possible that this is an ongoing problem that was previously unreported and that is only now receiving adequate coverage.

Well-meaning but often oversimplified and sensationalized media reports can have mixed results, Crane said “There are two myths: one, that all LGBTQ youth are on the verge of committing suicide or taking drugs, which isn’t the case, or the other that we’ve come so far in creating a better environment for LGBT youth that everything is OK now,” she explained. “The reality is that teen suicides affect LGBT youth disproportionately, and we can’t remain silent. And yes, things are better, but it’s still hard to be a sexual minority young person in a high school or college setting.”

In Madison, GSA for Safe Schools is collaborating with Madison Metropolitan School District’s LGBTQ resource specialist teacher Liz Lusk in inviting the public to a special event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m on Wed., Oct. 20, at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 South Park St. The gathering is targeted at adults working with youth and others who support young people.

Middle and high school youth concerned about this issue are encouraged to register for a youth leadership conference planned for Nov. 13 in Madison. Call 608-661-4141 or go to www.gsaforsafeschools.org for details of future actions.

UWM Dean of Students Lori Berquam said her campus is responding to the crisis with a Wed., Oct. 20, “Glow Vigil,” beginning at 8 p.m. on the UW’s Library Mall.  This will be followed by a UW and community-wide meeting from 5:45-6:45 p.m. on Tues., Oct. 26, in Room 165 Bascom Hall.

“Everybody’s voice is important,” Berquam said. “Our students need to have mentors and connections throughout their lives, including those connections that exist beyond our campus.”

In Appleton on Oct. 9, dozens of concerned citizens grieving the loss of Cody Barker packed a city hall conference room hoping to find ways to avert similar tragedies.

“As you can tell by the emotion here, we’re scared that we’re going to lose more youth,” said Appleton’s diversity coordinator Kathy Flores, who organized the event.

Jesse Heffernan, who runs a gay teen support group at Harmony Cafe in Appleton, warned that increased media attention has not made the problem disappear.

“Since Cody’s death, what I hear from the youth is that things haven’t changed,” Heffernan said. “Just this last Tuesday, youth were telling me how they’re still getting harassed and bullied in their schools. It’s a serious problem.”

In a column invoking the memory of an Indiana teen who took his life on Sept. 9, UWM alumnus Dan Savage implored older LGBT adults to reach out to younger peers.”

“Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property,” Savage wrote in a recent column. “He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates – classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body. … I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”

“But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay – or from ever coming out – by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”

Savage and his partner Terry launched the You-Tube based “It Gets Better,” campaign, which has received over 1.6 million hits.

Other adults have followed Savage’s lead in reaching out to troubled youth through new media. LGBT members of the traveling company of “Wicked” recorded a powerfully resonant message for Facebook backstage at Madison’s Overture Center in late September. From-the-heart viral video messages from Ellen DeGeneres, Neal Patrick Harris and openly gay Fort Worth City councilman Joel Burns have received the attention of millions.

What you can do?

“Speak out,” Crane says. “Your voice is needed now more than ever before.”

She suggests contacting an LGBT group in your campus or community to find out how to help locally.

Vigil held in Philly for gay teen suicide victims

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — About 150 people gathered in Philadelphia on Sunday for a vigil for gay teenagers who have killed themselves recently following harassment due to their sexuality.

The victims include 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. He killed himself by jumping off the George Washington bridge after his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student, then broadcast the video online.

Speakers at the William Way Community Center called for more efforts to curb bullying and for stern prosecution in the Clementi case.

Forty-six-year-old Jeanne McIntyre said she was kicked out of her Collingswood, N.J. home after coming out to her parents. But a quarter-century later, she saw the rainbow gay pride emblem raised over a municipal building in the City of Brotherly Love. Echoing a YouTube campaign, she told the crowd “It gets better.”

Tim Gunn says he tried suicide as a teen

NEW YORK (AP) — In an empathetic public service announcement video directed at depressed young people, Tim Gunn says he tried to kill himself when he was 17.

The “Project Runway” host and fashion guru made the video for the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to youth suicide prevention. In it, Gunn addresses “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning youth” and says that when he was a teen, he was “in quite a bit of despair” and took more than 100 pills.

Speaking directly to the camera, the 57-year-old Gunn says he is “very happy today that attempt was unsuccessful.” He promised to those experiencing similar hardship: “It gets better. It really does.”

The video had some 70,000 views as of Wednesday evening.

NJ senator calls for anti-bully law after suicide

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — Colleges should adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment in the wake of the suicide of a Rutgers University student whose gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was streamed online, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said at a town meeting on campus.

Lautenberg, D-N.J., told the crowd gathered Wednesday night in memory of 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi that he would introduce such legislation. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on Sept. 22 after the intimate images of him with another man were broadcast. His body was identified days later.

Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another Rutgers freshman, Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invasion of privacy, and authorities are weighing whether bias crime charges should be added.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed Rutgers University for e-mails concerning how the school handled complaints from Clementi that his roommate used a webcam to spy on him, according to The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The newspaper reported that prosecutors asked for the subpoenas after investigators felt the state university was not fully cooperating with the invasion of privacy case.

The Star-Ledger cited two officials who were briefed on the probe, but did not name the officials because they were not authorized to speak about the ongoing inquiry.

The death of Clementi, a promising violinist, has prompted a national discussion on the plight of young gay people and bullying, along with technology’s role in it. Clementi typed his intention on the Internet, leaving a note on his Facebook page reading, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

A new survey has found that while technology has become so entwined with college students’ often frantic lives, being perpetually connected comes at a cost.

The Associated Press-mtvU Poll released Thursday found that while 57 percent of students said life without computers and cell phones would make them more stressed, a significant number — 25 percent — said it would be a relief.

The AP-mtvU Poll of more than 2,000 college students, conducted before Clementi’s death became public, found that 9 in 10 had been on a social networking site like Facebook in the past week. One in five say they’ve posted public messages on such sites seeking emotional support, while more than two-thirds say they’ve read public posts by friends pleading for such assistance.

Clementi’s death was one of a string of suicides last month involving teens believed to have been victims of anti-gay bullying. Just days after Clementi’s body was recovered, more than 500 people attended a memorial service for a 13-year-old central California boy, Seth Walsh, who hanged himself after enduring taunts from classmates about being gay.

The Rutgers event, organized by the university and the gay rights activist group Garden State Equality, drew about 300 students and others, including U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and actress/comedienne Judy Gold, a Rutgers grad and gay activist who won two Daytime Emmy Awards as a writer and producer for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”

“No one could have heard about this degradation he suffered without feeling pain themselves,” Lautenberg said. “This is a major problem, and we’re going to fix it.”

Gold expressed outrage at the pain inflicted on Clementi.

“What happened to him was not just an invasion of privacy,” she said. “This was just sick.”

Lautenberg said his bill would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to create policies prohibiting harassment of any student. Such policies are not currently required by federal law, he said. The bill also would provide funding for schools to establish programs to deter harassment of students.

Middlesex County prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said earlier this week that he wouldn’t rush the investigation into Clementi’s death.

Ravi’s lawyer, Steven D. Altman, issued a statement Wednesday saying he was “heartened to hear” that investigators are taking their time “to learn all the facts before rushing to judgment” about whether to file bias charges against his client. Altman said he hoped the public would do the same.

“I am confident that nothing will be learned to justify, warrant or support the filing of any bias criminal complaint,” Altman said.

Lawyers for Wei released a statement Tuesday saying she was innocent and extending sympathy to the Clementi family.

“This is a tragic situation,” the statement said. “But this tragedy has also unfairly led to rampant speculation and misinformation, which threaten to overwhelm the actual facts of the matter. Those true facts will reveal that Molly is innocent.”

Ravi, of Plainsboro, and Wei, of Princeton, each could face up to five years in prison if convicted on the invasion of privacy charge.