LGBTQ Bullying: Words from Students

22 Oct

Tyler Clementi. If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you may have heard or seen this name. It’s the name of one of the students who committed suicide due to taunting because of his sexual orientation. One of the culprits in this was his roommate who secretly filmed him while having sex with another male. With the recent increase of these types of suicides, I decided to write about it because Chicago College Life and I think this is a huge social problem.

I’m all for freedom of speech and voicing your opinion, but I feel that if you are intentionally affecting someone negatively, that’s a problem.  I asked some college students – both gay and straight – how they felt about the recent frequency of students killing themselves because of gay bullying. One (heterosexual) student responded:

“I, naturally, think it is terrible. I don’t think there is any other reason besides fear–whether it is fear of your family, fear of your bullies, fear letting yourself become what you know you are. Everything is thrived off of fear; it only depends on what could inevitably happen.”

A pansexual (a person attracted to another, despite biological sex or gender) student gave a more personal account of a result of bashing:

“When people tell you that you’re sick and disgusting, you start to believe it… I have known transsexuals who were murdered and my friends were recently bashed and sent to the hospital.”

Obviously, things will only get worse if these issues aren’t addressed. I understand that some people’s beliefs, whether these are religious, cultural, or social, have no room for accepting homosexuality, but spewing hate speech won’t help anyone. One student said:

“I have never actually been on the receiving end of this sort of discrimination despite being bisexual and having had girlfriends, but I was abused as a child and as a grownup, and in my opinion it is a form of abuse and should be treated as such… bullying is seen as something that goes “out of sight, out of mind,” and whose effects stop the moment the actions stop. There needs to be more support out there.”

A gay male student who attends Montana State University at Bozeman was open about his feelings of gay bashing and what it was like belonging to a fraternity that, to his surprise, fully accepted him the way he was:

A lot of what drove those types of [suicidal] thoughts was a sheer sense of hopelessness–I didn’t think it would get any better, and that being gay would pretty much mean the end of any kind of social life…I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve always had a decently supportive environment, both in high school and in college so far, but it just weighs on you…I was your average straight guy in appearances and social groups. I played for my high school’s football team all four years, my closest friends are all straight guys, and I grew up in a very conservative area, and the first few years were extremely hard for sure, but with time (and unfortunately, a lot of effort on my part that I shouldn’t have had to expend), everyone just got used to it, and now, no one really thinks any different (at least not openly) of me for it. All my fraternity brothers know, and they’ve also been shockingly supportive…But when you’re 14 and just came out, before all that work, you just can’t imagine it getting to that point.

This student shows that with enough perseverance, even though it’s hard work, you could possibly live an existence without bullying. This person was lucky enough to have a positive support system in which many people in this situation could only dream of.

Ann Haas, the Research Director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, mentions something that even the media has not widely supported: mental illness. Haas argues that the media has normalized suicide as a rational way out of being a victim of bullying. As a result, there has been multiple copycat suicides since some young people think it is ok. This is related to a response from one of the students:

“People calling people gay and a fag get to you, and all the while people tell you that you’re being too sensitive…”

I think this is the point that Haas is trying to make. People who don’t understand what these young people are going through, are labeling them as weak and overly sensitive when in actuality, there may be a mental illness present that people aren’t catching. Anxiousness, depression, and even certain types of desperation can be signs of mental illness. It also may be difficult for a mental illness to be diagnosed because of the stigma around it. A student said:

“I think mental health issues need to be addressed more frequently on college campuses.”

I don’t think many parents want to take their children to talk to a therapist or recognize the symptoms of a mental illness in themselves.  Many gays and lesbians may already be afraid of society because they will get ridiculed for being themselves; saying you have a mental illness just adds on the frustration.

But what about the bullies? Many people just assume that they are just plain mean, but the students who responded to my questions were more open-minded about the situation and voicing their opinions. One student said:

“I think bullies do it to level themselves. They feel unworthy in some respect and project it onto someone else in an effort to make themselves feel more worthy.”

Another student:

“No bully is just plain mean. They are ignorant of certain lifestyles because they were raised in the sort of environment to believe in such bias things. Bullies will bully to higher themselves, mostly likely because they have a low self esteem. Bullies will bully because they don’t want to become the very thing they supposedly don’t represent.”

I think this last quote is particularly interesting. Recently in the news, Lance Bass from *NSYNC confessed to bullying gays in school because he was afraid of his own sexuality. He came out some time ago, though. One student said:

“They hear the acceptance of hate and ridicule, and then believe that it’s okay for them to do it as well. Sometimes people do it because they are actually queer and terrified of their own sexual orientation and hate themselves because they have internalized oppression.”

I believe that bullies are insecure about something in their lives which leads them to taunt others. It’s something that also needs to be addressed. It could be a mental issue that is getting ignored. Sometimes it takes more than just sitting down with your kids. This idealistic image of sitting at the table with your kids every night may not help. People are influenced by many factors outside of the home. This can’t always be blamed on bad parenting or raising children incorrectly. You guys should also remember that peers should come to action as well. Some college students seem to be involved with helping gays and lesbians, whether they have gay and lesbian friends or they advocate in some way, therefore helping ward off some bullying. More has to be done in the near future before this reaches epidemic status, if you argue that it hasn’t already.

These students bravely voiced their opinions in the face of adversity. There’s a new campaign out in which people from all around the country are speaking out for the prevention of gay suicide. Simply titled, “It Gets Better” is a campaign where people post YouTube videos telling their stories and experiences with gay bullying and letting LGBTQ people know that their lives will get better. This campaign began before the suicide of Tyler Clementi and gained popularity after celebrities were making their own videos too. It was created by Dan Savage, a sex columnist and gay activist. Savage stated that parents should stop trying to make their kids heterosexual and “realize the choice isn’t between a gay kid and a kid who isn’t gay, but a gay kid and a dead kid.”

If you or anyone you know is going through issues regarding your sexual identity, please talk to someone. I believe that things can and will get better with the correct resources and personal strength.

Be proud of who you are. Get help if needed.

Here are some resources: The Office of LGBTQA Student Services at Depaul, The Gender and Sexuality Center at UIC, and The Advocate and Loyola. There may be plenty sources located on your campus as well. Please don’t be afraid to look. It can make a huge difference in your life.

For more info on mental health, check out Ashley’s post on college counseling centers.

-Nakendra

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