By Matthew Keys
September 30, 2010
Asher Brown, Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi came from different parts of the country, but they're bound by a single tragic thread that has reverberated through the headlines over the past week -- all three young men committed suicide after being bullied for being gay.
Walsh, 13, passed away yesterday after his parents withdrew the teenager from life support. Walsh, of Tehachapi in Central California, had been in a coma after hanging himself from a tree in the backyard of his parents' home. The boy had been bullied by peers because of his sexual orientation; the teenagers who teased him broke down in tears while being questioned by police. Authorities say though the circumstances are tragic, the boys will not be charged because no crime was committed.
Several days later, 13-year-old Asher Brown shot himself in a bedroom closet after coming out to his parents as gay. Brown, whose parents had suspected his orientation, confided in his parents that he had been bullied at school. His parents say a bully knocked him down a flight of stairs twice at school. Parents David and Amy Truong say they tried time and time again to alert the school that the bullying was taking place on campus; both parents say the school did nothing.
Last Thursday, 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge after his room-mate, 18-year-old Dharun Ravi, and an accomplice, 18-year-old Molly Wei, allegedly streamed a videotape of Clementi engaging in sexual activities with another male on the internet. Clementi left an ominous and heartbreaking goodbye message on his Facebook profile before leaping to his death; his body was recovered several days later. Ravi and Wei have since been charged with invasion of privacy, jailed, and released on bail.
Three young men, three tragic endings to a problem that is all too common on school campuses.
A 2007 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network showed more than 86 percent of students who identified as gay or lesbian experienced harassment at school. Another report issued in 2002 by the Clinical Child Psychiatry and Psychology journal stated that one out of three children identifying as gay or lesbian has attempted suicide.
"Research shows that such harassment can have a devastating effect on LGBT kids' mental health and suicide risk," Dr. Michael LaSala, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, wrote in a 2010 article last month, who added that the feeling of fear was escalated because of their determination to hide their problems from their parents and other trusted adults.
Dr. LaSala said schools that had gay and lesbian friendly curriculum and organizations experienced a substantially lessened rate of harassment and bullying when compared to schools that did not.
"Mental health and education professionals who care about youth should advocate for this vulnerable group by appealing to school administrators for services such as support groups as well as tolerance and anti-violence education for the entire student body," Dr. LaSala wrote.
Online resources are also available for youth who find themselves in troubling situations. The Trevor Project, established in 1998, provides a 24/7 crisis hotline which connects troubled teens with a volunteer counselor. The Trevor Project can be reached by calling toll-free 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.
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