I’ve been pretty sad and broody for the last little while. A major news story in my local (Ottawa) media this past week was the death of a 15 year old student, Jamie (it’s also been reported here in Montreal, as well as across Canada) . Jamie had a loving and supportive family, but he struggled with clinical depression.
He was also coming to grips with his sexual orientation. Every day, kids at his school yelled hurtful obscenities at him. They called him “fag”. He tried to establish a safe space in his school for himself and kids like him, by starting a Rainbow club. Other kids tore down and defaced the club’s posters.
Last Friday, Jamie committed suicide.
I am so, so heartsick by these stories of young LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) people who take their own lives because it seems like the only way for them to end the suffering inflicted upon them by their tormentors. A 2010 study published by Zhao et al. of McGill University and the McGill Sexual Identity Centre showed that queer-identified youth are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts than their straight counterparts. Yet, for some reason, we’re not talking about this problem.
So let’s talk about it. I’ll start by saying this: I’m gay. I have always tried to live my life as honestly as possible, both for myself and for other people. I was also bullied for nearly 9 years of elementary and high school, and it is no small miracle that I am alive today to tell you about it.
Adults, you need to come out of the closet and offer support and encouragement to these young people. How can we expect them to be strong and brave and have hope for their futures when we ourselves are too frightened to live our lives truthfully?
Parents, please teach your children not to fear or be cruel to others who are different from them in some way. Set a good example by treating others kindly.
Teachers, if you see bullying in your schools, for god’s sake, stop it. Schools need to be safe places for all students. There are zero-tolerance policies for a reason: please enforce them.
The sad thing is, the bullying doesn’t always stop after high school. For example, there is currently an adult person who spends her time trolling the internet with hate-speech, who targets LGBT people by outing them publicly online and sending them (and their friends and family and coworkers) disturbing emails.
For an insecure teen, being targeted by this person might be both demoralizing and unsafe. As self-aware and confident adults, however, we might have the wherewithal to deal with this kind of situation head-on.
On that note, one of my colleagues – one of your fellow McGill grad students – is currently being targeted by this individual. She has created an online petition to help rally support for a legal investigation into this person’s hateful online behaviour. If bullying and homophobia bother you as much as they do me, please take a minute of your time to read and sign the petition.
You can find and support this initiative here: Sophie Herold needs to be held legally responsible for her words