Saturday, September 12, 2009

National Suicide Prevention Week

As this year's National Suicide Prevention Week draws to a close, let's remember two young men who chose to take their lives this year rather than face the continual torment of bullying.

Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera were eleven-years-old. Faced with endless anti-gay teasing, these two saw no way out. They chose to end their pain and their lives.

We need to remember these two youths whenever we see or hear anti-LGBT language, especially from our children. That there are those that cannot see the need for anti-harassment legislation in the face of the pain of the Walker-Hoover and Herrera families is madness.

Recent studies show that LGBT youth are up to four times as likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. They face harassment, both physical and verbal, that can be devastating. Schools, the one place that we hope that our children feel safe, can be a torture chamber. The 2007 National School Climate Survey found that "found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school in the past year, three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about a third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe."

Those are shocking numbers. And not all LGBT youth face the same kind of risks. Transgender youth face even harsher conditions than their LBG peers. 82% of transgender youth surveyed by GSLEN reported feeling unsafe at school. "About nine in ten transgender students reported being verbally harassed at school because of their gender expression (87%) and their sexual orientation (89%), and
over half experienced this form of harassment often or frequently." 47% skipped one or more days of school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

Living in that kind of daily environment, often coupled with difficult family relationships and societal norms that they challenge whenever attempt to be true to themselves, creates enormous pressure on LGBT youth. It's not just higher suicide rates that result. When harassment is severe, LGBT students are less likely to pursue higher education and have lower grades.

What can you do? Talk to your children. Support GLAD, GSLEN and other LGBT organizations. Support the Trevor Project. Support the legislative efforts in your state, if they exist, to put anti-harassment laws on the books.

Remember Carl, Jaheem and the countless others who chose to end their lives rather than continue to suffer.

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