Austen Crowder

An "insignificant" truth about common LGBT suicide

Filed By Austen Crowder | July 07, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Living, Living, Marriage Equality

A trans person committed suicide in June.

Nobody reported it, and her death went mostly unnoticed by the rest of the world. The death did not end in a sensational court case, or in some bloody mess that news cameras caught before the Coroner could bring the covering over her face. Her story was, for all intents and purposes, not newsworthy in any way, shape, or form; it did not create any waves, nor did it generate traffic on websites. She was, for all intents and purposes, another face in the crowd, and her story isn't worthy of reporting here on Bilerico-IN.

There are important issues on the table right now. We can observe the increasing desperation in the Religious Right's attempts to vilify LGBT people, or the myriad piles of civil rights bills hitting governments' desks across the country. We can even speak of high-profile cases, like Teish. There's plenty to celebrate, and plenty to be happy about in the fight for our civil rights.

This does not change the fact that this girl is dead.

Her tale is one of early transition, family pressure, and survival. She revealed to her family that she was transgender while still in high school. Her father, a prominent Baptist minister, proceeded to throw her out of the house until she "got right with God." This did not stop her from chasing her dreams though, and she completed a successful transition to full-time living as a female during high school. She attended prom, classes, graduation... all the things that normal teenage girls would do.

She fought with depression. Some good friends of mine acted as mentors to the girl, and even called for help when her displayed suicidal intentions on one occasion. But for the most part, the woman that they spoke to was calmer, happier, and better equipped to handle the world than the man that had once been in those shoes.

In the early part of this year she was put before a judge. The judge ordered her to move back under guardianship of her parents in lieu of jail time for an unrelated crime. Thus sentenced, she moved back in with her parents. Then, on an early June morning, she said goodbye to her family, drove to a secluded spot, parked, and shot herself. She was 19.

This event, in and of itself, is not newsworthy. The journalist in me knows this. There is no villain, no ambiguity, no catchy photo to gather the attention of the masses. (The lack of a photograph for this post is intentional.) There is no justification for a hate crime, no discussion point to keep people interested, and there is no way I can post this as a valid news story. One in ten transgender people commit suicide, either before or after transition, and that's just not relevant to audiences looking for hate crimes legislation, Fundie Watches, and success stories about same-sex marriage.

Right now, someone is reading this article and saying "Sad story, but the truth is that people like her die every day," as if quantity justifies the tragic fact that a child - a person with dreams, aspirations, and a future - now has to be buried and eulogized. It's not the quantity of suicide, or the statistics of suicide, or the call for any number of political projects that acts as the stakes of this news. People are dying. Do we need to justify this?

The crux of this issue is that most truly humanitarian causes are not newsworthy. While flashy organizations on both sides of the fence wax poetic about definitions of marriage, the role of gender, and the issue of tolerance/acceptance in society, people are dying. People are dying. And, for the most part, their stories will fade into the background while the band keeps right on playing, making news stories and photo opportunities whenever they may be of potential benefit to a movement as a whole. This girl's life - and subsequent death - play only a minuscule part in the greater scheme of things. Does that mean that her death was itself minuscule? Hardly.

Her story screams into places statistics and political rallies cannot reach. She is a person, and no matter how close we are to our goals we must remember that we are here to help people. Even with the lofty ideals of the LGBT movement, from marriage to military to hate crimes, we must always keep ourselves mindful of the little things that can be done to protect our own. Bills on paper are nice, but mean nothing if people can't see the worth in living long enough to enjoy these rightly-earned freedoms.

Sure, we can't turn around public perception overnight, but we can help others cope with that perception as it exists in their daily lives. We can't fix homophobia with rhetoric, but we can go to the kid being bullied and say "I understand. I've been there." We can't make nationwide marriage happen in the next year, but we can be the role model for a kid who has always associated being gay with being sinful. We can't get GRS covered as a medically necessary procedure without a legal fight, but we can show young trans people that it is possible to be a happy, functioning member of society as a trans person, no matter how terrible people may say being transgender has to be.

Helping people won't bring her back. However, helping people will keep her story from happening again.

I urge anyone with available time, resources, and talents to volunteer for local youth organizations: gay, straight, or otherwise. The news may carry the messages, and the politicians may carry legal power, but it's the children that speak volumes.

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What is ashame is that these people are not held accountable for their hatred of us, hiding behind the bible to spew their own disgusting views of their little world in which they reign supreme. These people are the ones that are evil!

You are correct Austin we as a community need to do more with our community, I believe we are extremely selfish and I do understand one of the reasons is because we are so focused on out own transition and its difficult to help others. But in helping others we help ourselves, mentoring is an excellent way to do help. Many of our youths need a positive role model that is missing from their lives.

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

John Wesley

A. J. Lopp | July 9, 2009 5:32 PM

Austin, you might want to be aware that there are different viewpoints within journalism about whether certain causes of death should be published. At some newpapers today obits are written without information about the cause of death --- unless the person is a celebrity or public figure, and unless the family specifically requests that the cause of death be included. Current thought is that the surviving relatives have a right to privacy regarding the cause of death.

Regarding the publishing of suicides, there is a body of research that indicates that printing about a suicide, especially among young people, tends to encourage others to also commit "copy cat" suicides. For example, when I attended journalism classes at Indiana University, decades ago, already then the policy of the Indiana Daily Student was not to publish suicides unless there is a compelling reason to publish (more compelling than a simple "right to know").

So, when the suicide of a trans person, or a GLB person, is not published per se, it is not necessarily an anti-GLBT conspiracy on the part of the media --- instead, they have a generalized policy about this.

Now that the Internet is a major source of news, this policy may be losing its impact. In any event, it might be worthwhile for you, Austin, to call your local paper and discuss with the managing editor what is their general policy regarding the publishing of suicide information in regard to a particular individual.

On the other hand, this policy has adverse implications, especially when suicide is a particular problem for a particular population segment. Clearly, if the suicide rate is higher than average among GLBT youth (and my understanding is that it is), then that is a fact that we, as a community, as well as suicide prevention professionals, need to examine and discuss carefully. Obviously, there is much that needs to be done to address this problem, especially among young people, and we are not giving it the attention that it demands.