Like most people hearing about the recent suicides committed by young people that were bullied or humiliated – I’m outraged. And sad. And terrified for our youth. For all of us, especially my friends in the LGBTQ community, the heartbreak of these lives lost is unnecessary and intolerable. This is why I am disappointed with the well-intentioned message of “it gets better” as the only unified public response to these tragic deaths.
Before I go any further, let me be clear that I understand what these celebrities and well-meaning people are getting at when they assure these young, suffering kids that someday they won’t be socially tortured anymore. But think back to when you were 13…could you even fathom being 18 and graduated from high school? It sounds like an eternity. Yes, young people may intellectually agree it will get better in time – but many wonder how they can survive that long.
Telling kids “it gets better” is a kind and soothing thing to say. But it isn’t addressing the depth of despair these young people are faced with. From what I’ve seen in the schools, it’s almost insulting. Bullying, regardless of why the individual is being targeted, is a form of violence. Would we tell a person in a violent relationship that it gets better? Then send her home to her abuser with no intervention, education or proactive strategy to help her survive? Probably not. Then why are we sending our bullied youth, especially LGBTQ students, into that same frightening situation EVERY SINGLE DAY at school?
Friends, I think we can do more. I think we can provide more hope, more wisdom, more practical life skills than just sitting in our rocking chairs reminiscing about our own instances of being bullied and telling young people someday the situation will improve. While the severity of bullying varies, most people recollect being pushed around as a young person. I was bullied in middle school for being an all-around dork, but when the final bell rang, I left school and was safe at home with my family. I had a chance to re-group, re-charge and try to build up my confidence again. But it’s worse now. With today’s technology being woven through every fiber of our lives, victims cannot escape. The dread and doom follows them 24/7. Add the fact our society is riddled with homophobia, and we have a recipe for suicide.
But enough ranting…how do we make life better for these kids? I suggest we start with adopting a new term for bullying. How about Social Violence? We can rank it like other violent crimes – 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees to determine severity. Once it’s officially a crime, let’s start prosecuting.
Then let’s get proactive. We can start by utilizing, supporting and publicizing organizations like The Trevor Project that provides suicide prevention efforts to LGBTQ youth. As a society, let’s all be good bystanders – get involved, speak up and empower our kids to do the same. Become a mentor and take one of these troubled youths under your wing. Let’s encourage bullied students to fight back in their own way. Obviously not by using violence, but by starting clubs, changing policy in their districts or by organizing educational programs/workshops to their schools. If we empower these young people to use their voice as a vehicle for change, they have a way to channel their hurt and anger.
Countless improvements to our society have emerged from unspeakable pain and discrimination. When it comes to social violence, we are faced with an opportunity, right now. Will we seize it? Or just wait for it to get better?
I’m no Ellen Degeneres, but maybe I’ll make a video of my own. The main themes will be…
You are a survivor.
You don’t deserve this.
You can change the world.