Betty Greene Salwak

Bullied Young Indiana Teen Takes His Own Life

Filed By Betty Greene Salwak | September 15, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-bullying, Billy Lucas, bullying, Greensburg High, GSA, suicide, teen suicide, The Trevor Project

In a heartbreaking irony of circumstance, 15-year-old Billy Lucas killed himself during National Suicide Prevention Week. Billy was the victim of merciless bullying. BulliedBilly.jpgWhile he never self-identified as gay, he was cruelly harassed for being different, and many of the taunts accused him of being gay. Last Thursday, a student pulled a chair out from under Billy and told him to go home and kill himself. And Billy did, hanging himself in the family barn.

Fellow students of Greensburg Community High School in Indiana said that Billy's harassment was common knowledge. A former student--now an adult--claimed that bullying is a long-standing tradition at Greensburg High. He stated he was personally affected as well by Billy's death, having attempted suicide himself while a student at the school.

In an astonishingly callous remark, Greensburg High principal Phil Chappel seemed almost to blame Billy for his own persecution: "Sometimes he created an atmosphere around him like a little tornado, you know, because he went around doing things that made dust fly." This moral ambivalence shows a shocking lack of understanding, and I urge the Greensburg school board to pursue anti-bullying education for the school staff immediately.

The board is forming a committee comprised of teachers and students to address the issue. No "study of the situation" is necessary at this point; it is easy to see the school is in a crisis and probably has been for some time. Having been a teacher, I know that if the students are aware as a population, it cannot escape the attention of staff unless they are in a climate that encourages looking the other way. They must change the school culture as soon as possible for the safety of all of the students in their care. I know from personal experience that talking about teasing and bullying does make a difference.

Communicating unambiguous behavior expectations and enforcing that as the norm will change behavior. When I was a student teacher at a middle school, a timid young girl was the target of ugly teasing in the halls. It was clear she did not know how to defend herself. After it became obvious this was a pattern, I asked my mentor teacher to please send her on an errand that would take some time. When she was gone, I spelled it out to the class. They had never seen me angry before, but there was no question how I felt about her treatment. I told them that this behavior would stop now. And you know what? It did stop. The kids took it to heart, and she was never teased in my presence again.

GLSEN just released the results of a study documenting the experiences of over 7000 LGBT students. In 2009, nearly 9 out of 10 of those students reported having been harassed at school in the prior year. Almost a third skipped at least one day of school in the prior month due to safety concerns (compared to 7% nationally).

The report gives some hope: the presence of a Gay-Straight Alliance led to more positive school experiences, including less victimization. Having a supportive staff and an effective anti-bullying policy led to higher attendance, reports of feeling safer, higher achievement, and greater staff intervention on incidents of harassment and assault.

This is not a problem just in rural Indiana. The CDC states that suicide is the third leading cause of death in people age 15 to 24. More than 600,000 teens make the attempt every year. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to make the attempt, and nearly half of young transgender people have considered taking their lives.

If you or someone you know is young and LGBT or questioning, The Trevor Project can help with your queries and doubts. Know the danger signs. Take them seriously, every single time. Be aware and act. We must have the conviction to use the knowledge we possess. Honor Billy's life by giving power to his death: let it save others' lives.

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This is so very sad. My thoughts to his family. Hopefully this tragedy will bring about change to this community and bring awareness to countless others.

It's not just a GLBT issue in Indiana; here's an update on the case of 4 high school students abusing another student:

Unfortunately, effecting change in Indiana is like pulling hens' teeth; Hoosiers are well-known for their resistance to change. That includes a pattern of bullying...

Unfortunately, effecting change in Indiana is like pulling hens' teeth; Hoosiers are well-known for their resistance to change.

I found that to be maddeningly true when I was in school there. I met plenty of fine people in Indiana, so no offense to Hoosiers here, but I'm glad to be the fuck out of that state.

Regarding the case of Billy himself, this was a horrible tragedy, and there's no doubt in my mind that the staff of that school are complicit in what happened to him. The remark from the principal just made my blood boil -- his entire job is to ensure a safe learning environment for the students, yet his response to the tragic death of a young teenager is to basically say, "The little faggot brought it on himself."

I experienced bullying in middle school and high school also, and I've come to the conclusion that the whole school environment is what causes it. Students are encouraged to divide themselves up into cliques based on age, extracurricular activities, wealth, taste in clothing and so forth.

Traditional Christian beliefs (that homosexuality is wrong) is at the center of bullying of LGTB teens. Children are taught that gay people are defective by their church and their parents. That gives other kids a preventable reason to tease, harass and bully some kids.

Christians should stop that teaching. So far, none have officially.

You are exactly right. THIS is the number one reason I have turned my back completely on Christianity.

My heart breaks for this young man, who was never given a chance in life. Billy Lucas' family, friends and other victimized students in his school are in my thoughts and prayers. I grew up beneath the fists of bullies across the river from Indiana, in extreme Southern Illinois. This tragedy brings back vivid memories of a time in my life that I very nearly did not survive.

Greensburg High School Principal Phil Chappel should be held accountable for the culture of hate and terror that has been allowed to fester at his school (apparently for years, according to the alumnus who spoke to reporters). Chappel's victim bashing rant, on-camera to WTHR tv, is beyond deplorable:

"Sometimes he created that atmosphere around him," Chappel said. "Kind of like a little tornado because he went around doing things that made dust fly, I guess."

Mr. Chappel owes an apology to Billy Lucas' family. He owes an explanation to his students and his school district for the neglect and indifference that contributed to this tragedy.

I'm working on a post for this too, Birdie. I want to tie into the Moorseville and Hagarstown issues from last year surrounding Day of Silence and LGBT supportive schools.

Please don't forget "Christian teachings." Polling data on States that have the highest instance of bullying LGBT young people is in process. No surprise, it happens more frequently in States with the highest religious intensity. Go figure.

It wasn't a suicide. It was another murder by religion.

The facts show the great danger facing LGBT youth. A 2009 study, "Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes" by San Francisco State University, shows that adolescents rejected by their families for being LGBT were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).

The best way to stop this is for our legal organizations to step in and aid GLBT youth by launching financially crippling lawsuits against the bigots, whether they're schools, parents, politicians or cult 'reeducation' camps. The Southern Poverty Law Center used that strategy to financially break the KKK in the late 80s and 90s. Lambda Legal, the NCLR and the ACLU should step up to defend our youth.

Rest in peace Billy.

I agree. I find it amazing that "gay Christians" continue to apologize for the teaching/belief that creates this innocent loss of life.

What does "making the dust fly" mean in this case? I doubt that the boy was dashing around with a Swiffer, cleaning up the hallways between classes. I'd like to know what behavior is thought to justify bullying. I know all the general possible answers but want to know about this, specifically.

:'( This is extremely sad. He's cute too. And now he'll never grow out of his situation to get appreciation that would have eventually come. It happened for me. I'm glad I didn't fail myself but won't pass judgement. I can only imagine that it was similar to horrors that nearly drove me. I wish him and his family peace and understanding and hope to prevent this from ever happening again. I hope they do something for other youth.

I miss every gay youth who has fallen. We lose more than just an ally, there's a soul there too whose song was never heard.

The tell religion to stop it. Religion gives bigots permission to discriminate, hate and even kill.

Please email CNN to cover the horrible Child Death and Cover-Up of Billy Lucas.


This isn’t about BEING gay, but about being PERCEIVED as gay. The locals aren't holding anyone accountable. They are still in denial about this child's death.


You all don't know the facts, don't know the situation, and don't know the school so why are you commenting? Are you aware that Greensburg High School's cafeteria's tables are all welded to the chairs so you can not move the chair without moving the entire table? Or that Billy walked around calling all the girls sluts? Or that his parents usually on a daily basis told them they did not love him? Get the facts straight bub...

please help us at our local school here in Indiana i pulled my 15 year old son out and am now home schooling him because of bulying. there have been 7 kids leave this school sine last year and many others in the past, i am so sorry about this young man so sad and heart breaking. prayers for his family and friends, please help me the school is not helping saying there is not a prob . the media done a report on one case a few weeks ago we dont know what to do .