Saturday, October 02, 2010
For the moment Tyler Clementi (18) is the most infamous teen suicide victim, but in time he will become a statistic. Just like Raymond Chase (19), Seth Walsh (13), Asher Brown (15), and Billy Lucas (13), five other young gay American teens who have taken their life in recent weeks however over time he may well turn into just another statistic.
They were all bullied at school. Now they were a mix of races, mix of locations, the one common denominator is that they were all gay and they had all in some way been bullied because of it. As a seventeen year old I too almost became one of those statistics for exactly the same reasons. I stood at the end of the breakwater in town on a particularly stormy day knowing if I took one further step I would be crushed by the breakers against the concrete before anyone could get near me, or indeed the RNLI Lifeboat could be launched from across the marina.
As an adult while out one night I actually was able as a confident out man to run into one of the people who had actually bullied me for being gay at school. Someone who had physically beaten me unless I ran, who hurled names at me. It was something I myself was in denial of at that time, unlike (from what I read) the five young men who are no longer with us.
But on that Saturday I went up to that former bully of me and said just three simple words, "You were right."
I got a stare back, then a "What?"
So I expanded, "You were right, I am gay, and it doesn't make me any less of a man."
There are those who have known me over the past 24 years. Those who have known what I have done, either for them personally or for a group of people they know or are involved with, who may actually say it makes me more of a man. There has been so much in the last 24 years that I have been able to give to others. Some of it sure is because of my sexuality, most of it is in spite or irrelevant to that aspect of my life.
Sadly the world is missing out on what Tyler, Raymond, Seth, Asher and Billy have got to offer in the years that should still be ahead of them. Sadly it is also missing out on some of the people I've known personally who are more that just a mere statistic. Some of whom did come to me for help along the way, some of whom couldn't handle it for whatever reason ended it. There are others that I know have thought about ending their own lives but haven't and are still with us, still having a lot to give.
Reading the details of some of these stories over recent weeks has brought a lot of memories back. Ones that make me want to curl up in a ball and shut the world out. But something the last 24 years has led me to do is be someone who speaks out.
Here is where Stonewall have it right we need to end homophobic bullying wherever it happens; schools, churches, workplaces, public transport, anywhere. However, it happens while there is not equality and without equality some will always see it as not-normal, sub-normal even. However, as my statement above said being me, being gay, hasn't made me any less of a man.
I've run at a high level, debated with confidence with politicians and leaders of parties, deal with senior bosses of a multi-national company prepared to say no if the answer actually is no. None of these things is dependent on my sexuality but on attributes or skills that are as intrinsic a part of me of who I fall in love with.
The skills of too many young gay men, or lesbian women are being lost to our world while others bully them to the point they cannot take it. Those of us they trust can only reach out so far and can't be there 24/7/365.
Something else that came out of last night's discussion was that when we were teenagers struggling with our sexuality there weren't gay role models, either on the national stage or who we knew personally. That is a lot easier now to find in Northern Ireland and I hope in parts of the USA, but it isn't always easy. However, comments from leaders in fields that young people look up to like the one made by 50 Cent whatever its intention do not make things easy. Other teens then feel it is alright to carry on with the gay bashing. The fact that in teen slang 'gay' means something is bad leads to extra pressure these days.
Or course heterosexual teens are bullied as well. Heterosexual teens also take their own lives. But the reasons for bullying them do not seem in some small way to be institutionalised by the difference in status, available status etc that is afforded to them over LGBT teens. Normalisation needs to happen through full equality.