Sara Whitman

Suicides: Words Can Kill

Filed By Sara Whitman | October 05, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-gay bullying, hate speech, teen suicide

A rash of suicides last week and I am at a loss as to what to say. No words can console the people who lost their loved ones. It seems no words will wake up the world to the pain of bullying.

Thumbnail image for School bulliesSticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

One of the most false rhymes of all time. Words can actually kill. Words can dig deep into your heart and shred the walls. Negative images pile up and become loud voices in your head. Queer. Faggot. Dyke. Lezzy.

I thought if I sat with this for a few days I would have something powerful to say. I don't. I'm angry and frustrated. Not to mentioned panicked- please no more. Please. It can't be an option. You are all too young for it to be the only way.

After Asher Brown's suicide, I asked my son what he thought. He's almost fifteen and openly gay at school.

What do you expect in Texas? he said.

Carl Walker Hoover, I said back to him. Hoover was a student in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had gone to the funeral and talked to the kids extensively about it.

He shrugged.

No mainstream media carried the news of Brown's suicide. Another, Seth Walsh, died of his wounds from a suicide attempt. Still nothing. Not until the flashy angle of cyber-bullying involved in Tyler Clementi's death did the news get carried across the country.

Do we simply expect LGBT kids to kill themselves?

It's more than bullying. Kids who feel insecure will always pick on other kids. It is the dual message being sent out. "Christian" adults feel absolutely comfortable standing on a street corner with a sign saying "God Hates Fags." No one bats an eye.

If they had a sign saying "God Hates Niggers" or "God hates Spics" or some racial slur, would they be left alone to continue their vigils or would a sea of folks come out to rally against such hateful language?

There was a plea sent out to youth, by many different prominent voices, saying it'll be okay, you'll make it through. What feels unbearable today will change. All true. It will change. You will find safe spaces, learn to love yourself for who you are, and see the hatefulness as a sign of the other person's weakness- not yours.

It's not enough. When my son first came out to me, I said, if anyone gives you shit? Tell me. I will take care of it.

He knew I would. In all honesty, I think half his friends are scared to death of me as it is. They wouldn't dare.

My son has gay parents, a large, loving extended family, and is in a private school where the classrooms are small enough nothing gets by the teachers. He is incredibly fortunate.

Most LGBT kids are left on their own to struggle with their identity and the overwhelming negativity in the mainstream culture. Some can hide- some can't. Some kids who aren't even gay get harassed and bullied horribly because they don't fit into a stereotypical gender presentation.

Do we not have enough data to show being gay is a completely normal part of the continuum of human sexuality? Can we stop arguing about "turning kids gay" and start working towards acceptance and creating safe spaces? Lives, young lives, are at stake.

I don't know what to do. I feel helpless. It's been 32 years since I came out. Some things have changed dramatically. Some things, clearly have not.

Like the reality that words can kill.

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I thought if I sat with this for a few days I would have something powerful to say. I don't. I'm angry and frustrated. Not to mentioned panicked- please no more. Please. It can't be an option. You are all too young for it to be the only way.

I feel the same way, Sara. I've not written about it because I can't seem to come up with more than "Don't do it." Words just fail me on this one.

In Chicago there will be a candlelight vigil for the victims of homophobia-driven suicide on Friday at 7:30 in the DePaul University quad.

RSVP on Facebook:

If you don't do Facebook:

Regan DuCasse | October 5, 2010 3:29 PM

When the Phelps clan, who for years went to picket the funerals of gay men who'd died from AIDS, only the gay community was concerned and tried to say something.

When the Phelps, finally became the most visible, was their appearance at the funeral and murder trial of Matt Shepard's killers. A funeral. A place of solemnity and what should be a family's most respected time.
No such privacy or respect even in death, for gay folks. Even a gay man who'd been so brutalized by homophobia.
The only ones concerned, it seemed was the gay community. But also, as long as it was gay people who'd gotten the Phelps's attention, no one did anything.

Then the Phelps started tormenting the families of SOLDIERS, and now suddenly, America started to take notice just how hateful, crazy and fucked up mean the Phelps are.
I could have told everyone and DID: you think gay people are the only ones these people hate? Just wait, someone else will be a target and then you'll wonder how they got to be such a big, hairy nuisance!

Even though a child doesn't have to actually BE gay, or an adult either, to be assaulted with anti epithet, or even killed for it: the tacit attitude is, long as it's contained among gay kids or doesn't matter.

A famous quote illustrates this and the tepid response of so called 'good people of faith'. "Evil prevails when good people do nothing".

Some were complicit in support of segregation, in not letting women vote or engage in 'men's work'. Some were in support of slavery and committed to keeping contraception from the masses.
But they won't admit to just how much of their respective faiths, held back progress for civil rights in those areas, but they lay claim NOW to IMPLEMENTING and participating, in it's advancement.

The good people of faith wouldn't call slavery, or segregation or any of those brutal systems of discrimination rightful now, but too many are woefully silent on the damage to gay lives that are a part of their faith's teaching.
They HAVE rejected most oppressive systems of law, but still support the same for gay people over all.

"Evil prevails when good people do nothing."

Some people of faith ARE at a standstill, or have no way of articulating what needs to be, or are too conflicted because religious doctrine hasn't given them enough practice at thinking outside of it.

WTF are they WAITING for?!
Kingdom come? Literally?

These children are gone forever. More are burgeoning...and need to be saved from this BS.

Any show of pain and anger on our part, is spun as militancy. The angry gay is fodder for unfair criticism and the spin that gay people are threatening.
And this is all cruel in just how dehumanizing the anti gay are, when our pain is JUSTIFIED at these events.

The public, the President...most people in leadership, are so reluctant to speak in strong defense of gay people. They gain the power, but then fearing losing it, don't USE it to it's best effect...even to save the Ashers and Tylers of our society!

I'm so upset at the RESPONSE to this crisis!
What's it going to TAKE for the people who COULD do something to DO it?!
I'm almost at my wits end of civility, and want to beat people like Matt Barber and Brian Brown to death with each other.
I don't want to be polite...and civil and have the media whitewash the homohate root from the equation!

Right now, the people mouthing off the most and speaking ABOUT gay people, ALWAYS close themselves off from the dissenting voices who this most affects.
Gay folks.

I'm amazed at how many people who are in leadership of faith communities, STILL insist on saying gay people choose to be gay.
I can't get my head around the depth of ARROGANCE it takes for someone to decide how someone else feels and what they are...without any input from the main source of truth on that.
I guess I can't imagine BEING that arrogant, and self righteous.
And the people who are that way...all tend to be the same KIND of person too.

Mostly men, mostly white men...who have now, in a heartbeat, claimed that their rights are under attack and they are qualified to claim the mantle OF civil rights warriors like Dr. King!

I don't think there is a shovel big enough to get to the bottom of such BS.
But in the meantime, our children can't wait. How to break the walls, how to tear down the hypocrisy and lies?
How to call this what it is? Supremacy trying to disguise itself as moral reform. It's cowardice trying to pass itself off as courage to keep civilization in good order.

I don't want to feel so helpless and hurt like this.
I just don't.
Somebody owes Tyler and Asher and Billy...and if someone had listened to gay folks...they'd still be here.
I don't think we'll ever stop paying the gay tax, even tenderest young lives aren't enough to cover it.

Bullying changed my life. I was a nice kid who bothered nobody. I was small and an easy target for the semi-toughs who needed to prove something. Rather than concentrate on my education,I had to do something in self-defense. I became a "rebel' in black clothes. I smoked, drove fast, and broke school rules just to prove something. I had an open affair with a "beatnik chick ' to prove something.I had an endless fight about long hair with my parents and school.I loved James Dean. All this crap instead of concentrating on getting an education. I did go to college where I rebelled against their rules and I was seen as an "agitator' Looking back it was all such a waste and it only stopped some of the bullying.At least I felt if nobody liked me, it was due to something I controlled--my anti-social behavior. Today I am part of the LGBTQ community anyway.

Wow...a powerfully written article Sara! Thank you, this has been weighing heavily on my own mind and heart. It has to stop. We as a community must rally and speak out loud and proud against the hate and bigotry that is perpetuated in our schools, churches and in many American homes. It's really time to stand up and fight for these lives and for our way of life to be better understood and tolerated. Thanks for this article! Take care!

Very powerful, Regan! Thanks for taking time to share with us.

Anita Manley | October 7, 2010 1:35 PM

My heart breaks for these kids. My own gay son contemplated taking his own life because he was so miserable in school. Luckily, he ws able to graduate a year early and then moved out of state. We didn't know until he was 20 years old that he was gay. When he came out to us in a letter, he told us that he would understand if we disowned him. I was so angry when he said this - I told him we would always be there for him. We loved him and that would never change. A few months later, we started a support group for gays and their families. I'm proud of my son for having the courage to step out and continue to be the openly gay man he is. I want these kids to know, you are loved and things will change!!!