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Friday, October 28, 2011

"Three hundred kids is 300 too many"

Rick Mercer
I'm deeply grateful to my friend David in Montreal for this story and video clip of Rick Mercer, a Canadian comic and gay man, and his rant about gay bullying.

The statistics are that, every year in Canada, 300 teens commit suicide.

One of the faces behind the statistic is a young, 15 year old Ottawa boy named Jamie Hubley, the son of a city counselor, who said that bullying directly contributed to Jamie's death.

Jamie was, according to Mercer, a 'great big goofy gay kid' who was bullied for years and expressed frustration on his blog at being singled out by his peers.

This is what he said in his last post before he committed suicide:
“I hate being the only open gay guy in my school… It f***ing sucks, I really want to end it. Like all of it, I not getting better theres 3 more years of highschool left, Iv been on 4 different anti -depressants, none of them worked. I’v been depressed since january, How f***ing long is this going to last. People said “It gets better”. Its f***ing bull****. I go to see psychologist, What the f*** are they suppost to f***ing do? All I do is talk about problems, it doesnt make them dissapear?? I give up.”

“Im a casualty of love.

Well, Im tired of life really. Its so hard, Im sorry, I cant take it anymore.

First Id like to mention my friends Nancy, Abby, Colleen, jemma, and Kasia

Being sad is sad : /. I’v been like this for way to long. I cant stand school, I cant stand earth, I cant stand society, I cant stand the scars on my arms, I cant f***ing stand any f***ing thing.

I dont want my parents to think this is their fault either… I love my mom and dad : ) Its just too hard. I dont want to wait 3 more years, this hurts too much. How do you even know It will get better? Its not.

I hit rock f***ing bottom, fell through a crack, now im stuck.

My favorite singers were lady gaga , Adele , Katy perry, and Jessie james, Christina aguilara and most of all I think KASIA!!! I LOVED Singing, and she helped me a lot : ) Im not that good at it though :”/, Im going to miss you guys
(well You know who you are, But to the people who didnt like me (many) A big f*** you, Go ride a unicorn. But w/e I love you anyway.)

Remember me as a Unicorn :3 x) MAybe in my next life Il be a flying squirreel :D

Il fly away.”
Absolutely. Breaks. The. Heart.

Mercer, who came out in 2003, says that all the hopeful videos about "It gets better" are not working. He made a plea to all adults who are LGBT to come out and become role models for LGBT youth.

"I'm sorry," he says to LGBT adults, "you don't have to run around with a flag and bore everybody, but you can't be invisible. Not any more."

Here's the video that is making the rounds in social media:

He's right. Absolutely.

We need greater accountability for those kids who bully - and their parents who allow their kids to bully as a right of passage through the rocky waters of adolescence. 

There's a paradox to adolescence. On the one hand, the goal is to become self-differentiated from one's parents and become one's own person. However, being "different" and not "fitting it" with the rest of the crowd leaves one exposed and vulnerable and a target for ridicule.

If one is LGBT, that gets intensified to the nth degree - meaning that it is almost impossible for even the most secure, loved adolescent individual to withstand the pressure of growing up to be all of who God made you to be.

So, if you're a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender adult and you're not "out", please consider this message from Rick Mercer.

Rick Mercer isn't the only one with a rant. I have a bit of one myself. Fair warning: Here it comes:

I know several LGBT clergy who, they say, are "low key" about their sexual orientation because, they say, they don't want to be "defined by an issue".

I get that. Neither do I. But, you know, it sort of comes with the territory. I simply don't allow myself to be defined by my sexual orientation and, for the most part, it works.  Except, of course, when I get an occasional slam from someone in the LGBT community for - and I quote - "not being gay enough".

I understand. I have some friends who don't believe you've really "come out" unless you've had a letter to the editor printed in the NY Times which clearly and unequivocally identifies you as LGBT.

I'm not concerned. I think I've paid my dues and earned an Eagle Scout Badge in "Coming Out". 

The problem is that there is a fine line between being "low key" and being disingenuous and even duplicitous.

Some of these "low key" clergy have "friends" in neighboring states and/or dioceses where they spend their days off.  They often take FABULOUS vacations and even, sometimes, show pictures where you might just get a face - and, perhaps, a name. A first name. They don't talk about these nebulous "friends" in too much detail but one gets the distinct sense that they are Very Important People.

Everything they say is carefully coded. There are considered pauses before answering questions. They rarely take stands on issues of justice, but they say they do their best work "behind the scenes" and you can usually count on their vote. Except no one really knows how they actually voted and they don't really say. They sort of leave you with your assumptions. About everything.

People whisper about how they'd make a "great dean" or a "fine bishop" if only they'd "find a stable relationship".  But, that would mean living into a kind of honesty that might just cost them the position to which they have begun to believe they are called.

Everyone knows but nobody really knows, if you know what I mean.

You know who you are.

The thing of it is, we do, too.

You aren't fooling anyone.

More importantly there are kids who need you as a role model.

I can't tell you how many kids - gay and straight - who have told me how important it is to them that I am and Susan Russell and Michael Hopkins and other LGBT clergy are open and honest about who they are. It's especially important to them that Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool are bishops in the church.

It's the only "canary in the coal mine" dynamic. If the church is safe enough for LGBT clergy and bishops, maybe it will be safe enough for them to be who they really are.

Bottom line: The best "It Gets Better Message" is incarnational truth.  We're all "casualties of love" and yet - Behold! - we live.

I grieve the loss of Jamie Hubley and all the bright, beautiful young people who are bullied into desperation and despair.

We can turn that around. We can prevent teen suicide.

The truth will set us all free. Oh, it will make us miserable for a while but it's also true that living well is the best revenge.

If you are LGBT, you don't have to run around with a flag and bore everybody, but you can't be invisible any more.  Too many kids are counting on you.

Rick Mercer is right: Three hundred kids is 300 too many.


Turtle Woman said...

This was a very sensible post. I would say that visibility is really key here. I have found, in the last three years especially, that when I'm at a Starbucks, lesbian and gay kids come up to me.
I don't "pass" as heterosexual, and am a very out and very obvious dyke. Sometimes the kids have been kicked out of their house, other times they ask me how to deal with bullies. My one answer to lesbian kids is to get some martial arts training.
One reason I get so sick of the "professionsal class" of gays or lesbians is that on some level they do sell out. "Lesbian doesn't define me..." is one such phrase I particularly detest. I am first and foremost a lesbian feminist, and no I detest heterosexual culture and life. I view this as slavery and woman servitude, so know I am not "just like everyone else," nor do I want to be. Kids respond to directness and honesty, and unfortunately, a lot of LGBT are still in hiding, still speak in code, and the kids pick up on this cowardly sell out behavior. It's why I am suspicious of the M & M candy approach to community... "marriage and military" as opposed to militancy and freedom. It's why I always tell the girls they haven't felt true freedom until they've bashed a bully into the ground. A girl bashing an attacking boy is worth more to her sense of self than a million wimpy "it gets better" campaigns. It gets better when we fight back!!

IT said...

Sing it!

When I moved to my current job, I decided I had to be fully out professionally. Fortunately I was (for a change) at a supportive institution so it was no big deal to anyone.

One day a graduate student came to me and told me that my presence as an out gay woman made her feel forthe first time that she as a lesbian could ahvea future in academic science. I had no idea she was gay (she was very DADT herself).

My wife (with metagging along) came to TEC precisely because of the story of Gene Robinson, and the presence of people like you and Susan, and the other gay clergy, and straight-ally clergy that we discovered.

One never knows who is watching.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wow, Turtle Woman. You don't pull punches when you speak your truth. The movement needs your voice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I must say that every time I read one of these stories about an LGBT suicide due to bullying, my grief and sadness and quickly turn to anger and outrage when I think of some of my "coy" colleagues. It just makes me sick to my stomach. I. Have. Had. Enough.

Paul said...

I do college interviews for my alma mater. Last year, I interviewed a young man who had been cast out by his family when he came out as gay. He had moved to this country without a bit of English, and not long afterwards his family threw him out of the house. Fortunately, there was a place he could live, set up specifically for people in his situation. This stuff is real, it is ugly, and it is far too common.

Several months ago, we were checking our son in at a local private school for a summer program. On several of the teacher's offices, there was a sign addressed to LBGT students. It did not identify the teacher as LBGT, but it said, in essence, "you are safe here". It looked like this was part of some larger program to provide bullied students with a refuge, or someone to talk to.

I think this problem is a lot bigger than the LBGT community. I think the rest of us have to step up. Maybe that sign could be condensed into a symbol that all of us could wear. The straight community has to find its own way of saying, "I am not a part of this", and, "you are safe here".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Paul. It's a problem of adolescence, but LGBT youth are easier targets and more "successful" at suicide. The website on teen suicide says that for one "completed" teen suicide, there are 25 attempts. That's a huge cry for help. We know what to do. We all need to step up and hold ourselves - and our kids - accountable.

Kenneth M. Near said...

Thank you Elizabeth for helping to continue this important discussion.

IT - it is good to hear that you and your spouse came into TEC through the ministry of Gene Robinson. I am convinced that people are leaving TEC because it has a propensity to be boring - NOT because of the LGBT community. We indeed need healthy clergy and Lay allies to further the process of liberation in our church.

In my post I alluded to this:
"He (Rick Mercer) encourages courageous witness by the adult gay/lesbian community. But more than that - he is asking all of us in public life to build a humane society - with a special concern for vulnerable youth."

Again Elizabeth - thank you for continuing this important discussion.

Ken Near in Montreal

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Ken. Good to know we have such strong allies "up North".

Malcolm+ said...

For reference, when extrapolating an American statistic to Canada, we usually divide by ten. If there are 10,000 of xyz in the US, we'd estimate about 1,000 in Canada. If we do the math backwards, that would mean 3,000 teen suicides annually in the US. That's 3,300 real kids between our two countries. It's a indictment of all the rest of us.

IT said...

A girl bashing an attacking boy is worth more to her sense of self than a million wimpy "it gets better" campaigns. It gets better when we fight back!!

Sorry I can't go there . Demanding violence as a price of freedom is, to me, unacceptable.

I am first and foremost a lesbian feminist,
I'm a lesbian feminist. But I wouldn't put it first and foremost.

I detest heterosexual culture and life.
I think that's actually rather offensive. I love my straight friends, and yes, I'm happy to be be a married person--a lesbian married person. Bashing thepatriarchy doesn't speak to me in any way.

Kemlynb said...

Another excellent post. I started coming out this year after over 30 years in the closet. I'm mostly out at work, but only partially out with friends and family. I grew up in a conservative mid-western small town. Coming out was not an option with the community or my parents. After college, I went to work for the Dept of Defense, and I was asked about homosexual behavior while hooked up to a polygraph. Since I was in a far back corner of the closet, hiding under a shoe rack, I was able to pass it. But there was no way I could come out and have a career there. So, I got married and spent the next 25 years doing my best to be straight. Then I met a woman who changed all that, and I know the second half of my life will be better than the first. :)

Sexual orientation is not a choice. Hiding has taken a toll on me over the years, and it hurts to know that if your loved ones really knew you, they might not like you. I probably won't wave a flag, but I will be there for others.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Malcolm - And that's just in North America. Imagine the kids 'round the world.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Thanks for your rebuttal to Turtle Woman. The anger at the other end of the spectrum is important to express, even if I disagree with it, as you do.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kenlynb - Sexual orientation is not a choice. Being all of who you are with honesty and integrity is the only choice. I'm so glad you made it.

Matthew said...

I was bullied a lot as a youth and it made me suicidal. Fortunately I survived that period but many are not so lucky. I have been struck recently at how many of these suicides have involved boys. Maybe that is just what gets into the media but it has seemed that every time another one is reported it is a male youth. I think there must be something in the culture opposed to effeminate boys that is deeper than just sex acts. Probably a lot of these young people are not sexually active. I think gender and sex roles are a big part of the problem.

Ana said...

Thank you so much for this post. I was one of these kids, and feel like I just re-read pages from my own journal. I've been out out OUT for 40 years (I'm almost 54), and am still surprised and angered when I'm asked "Why do you always tell people you're a lesbian at your gigs? It's none of their business."
As long as there are kids going through this, I say find your voice, get out, and stay out. We need to be our genuine selves everywhere we are. People need us to be real and available.
Life is short, especially when you're too beaten up to figure out how to live it.

Turtle Woman said...

Sorry folks but I have bashed attackers and I have kicked men's butts in self defense. I don't know what non-violent planet you all live on, but I don't tolerate men threatening me in any way.

And I am a radical lesbian feminist, and probably you wouldn't have the guts to do what I've done. The closeted types who are just coming out, bully for you, people like me made that world possible for you, now buy me a drink and say thank you! Thank you for being on the streets while you all were cowering in a closet or worse yet, married to the enemy.
Say thank you to the radicals who stood up and created this movement.
Salute the radical Amazons of old who started rape crisis centers in the first place. Goddess I hate the sell out mentality.... oooo I don't want to get my delicate hands dirty punching out a man who is grabbing at you in public. A man who does that deserves to be bashed and bashed so hard he never does it to another dyke again. Grrrr grrrrr radical rage!!! Rage!!!! rage and more rage at het men and their damnable arrogance. grrrrr

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Ana. Amen!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - You're right. It does seem to be many more young gay men than women. I read somewhere that men commit more violent crimes and violent suicides b/c they can visualize it. I wonder if that has anything to do with it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Turtle woman - I don't share your rage but I think I understand it. And, thank you.

IT said...

Turtle woman refers to women married to men as "married to the enemy".


I really, really can't go there. For a number of reasons, some of which aren't Turtle woman's business.

But the main one is that I do not consider men to be my enemy. I don't want to sleep with guys, but i generally like men-- a lot better than I like most women.

Heck, when we got married, I had a best man! An old, dear friend who's totally straight, and happily married himself. And whose kids wanted to see pictures of our wedding dresses, and they consider it perfectly reasonable that their friends may have two dads.

TW would consider that selling out to the heterosexual patriarchy.

But I have no interest in living in a lesbian community, or an LGBT ghetto. I don't think my sexuality is the most interesting thing about me. My friends are a mixture of LGBT and straight, men and women.

And I guess I just don't get radical man-hating lesbians. Actually I always thought that was a stereotype...

IT said...

At my university and many others, there is an active "ally" program that invites faculty and staff, gay or straight, to self-identify as friendly.

Allies are educated in issues that LGBT students might face, and equipped with information about resources, safety, and counselling. THe idea is to give students a safe haven.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I understand the rage of some lesbians in the same way I understand the rage of some people of color. It serves an important function of reminding us just how far the oppression of a heterosexist, sexist, racist patriarchy has pushed some of us and abused us and yes, killed us. I don't like it. I don't understand it for myself. I don't share it. It is often offensive and makes me sad and angry. But, I get it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

One of our kids went to Simon's Rock, College of Bard when she was 16. As we were moving her in, there were stickers up on the RA's offices and rooms that said, "This is a safe place" and had a rainbow logo. We breathed a sigh of relief.

Kemlynb said...

Turtle Woman, I have have a lot of people--both men and women--to thank for the opportunity I now have to be myself and remain in my career. Alan Turing is the first:

Know too, that I will not let anyone belittle me for how I live my life now, or for have lived my life up to now. We all do the best we can, and I think God is cool with that.