Posted by: Shula Asher Silberstein | 15 October 2010

Beyond the Candlelight Vigils

It’s been a couple of weeks since four boys killed themselves because of anti-LGBTQ bullying. I was embarrassed and saddened last week because when I read from Shades of Gay in honor of the boys’ memory at an open mic reading, I couldn’t even remember one of the boys’ names.

We’ve had our candlelight vigils and our spate of posting The Trevor Project’s phone number on Twitter and people making videos for the “It Gets Better” project, and those were all important things to do. But my biggest fear is that the dust is starting to settle again, that we will all forget, that LGBTQ suicide will stop being a big deal in our minds.

I’m also concerned because there have been some negative responses to people trying to help. I’ve read at least one blog and several posts on Twitter where people say that “it doesn’t get better for everyone, so why tell kids it’ll get better for them?” or “Kids are going to die no matter what we do” or, worst of all, “Straight kids kill themselves too. Why don’t you care about them?”

To the first two, I say: NO. I know that people who feel desperate or even just depressed don’t feel like they have any choices or that anything will get better. I think you always have ONE choice, and that’s the choice to ask for help or stay silent. If you ask for help, things can definitely get better. Ask Gavi if you don’t believe me. Or even better, watch the video we’re going to make (once it’s made, of course, since time travel hasn’t been invented yet) and see how far she’s come from where she used to be, because she was willing to do the often painful work required to learn to accept herself.

Things CAN and will get better. Sometimes they won’t get better on their own, sometimes you have to work on them, but they can get better. Anyone who posts on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else that the idea of things getting better is a lie needs to stop trying to drag others down and go get themselves the help they need. I’m sorry if that seems harsh, but enough people are dying at their own hands without other depressed people making fun of the idea that things can get better.

As for the third, this is what I said in response to someone on Facebook recently:

Give people FACTS about suicide in the LGBT community when they tell you that you don’t care about the straight kids who kill themselves. Tell them that suicide is 4 times more likely in the LGBT community and that 1 out of 3 suicides is related to someone’s PERCEIVED sexual orientation—there are many straight kids who kill themselves because others think they are gay. Point out that we don’t want ANYONE to die, and that homophobia is helping kill ALL our children. Explain that there are less resources for LGBT youth at risk, yet the suicide rate is higher, and that’s why you are focusing on LGBT suicide.

That paragraph was part of a larger post about how to help LGBTQ youth. Because, you see, candlelight vigils and wearing purple (both things I am doing as well) help bring awareness to the problem but are largely symbolic gestures. They don’t really do anything to help kids who are suffering. They help us express our grief and cope with the situation, and they help us remember what needs to be done, but they are not enough.

Now that a few weeks have passed, please please please don’t let yourself forget. Don’t let the suicide prevention movement end on October 21, when the day of remembrance for Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Sean Walsh and the hundreds of other suicide victims is over. Let your pain and grief be transformed into action

As many of you know, I’m writing Shades of Gay to encourage kids to stay alive. You don’t have to write a book in order to reach out to kids, though. As I shared in my previous statement, it can be as simple as continuing to post the Trevor Project’s phone number.

I’m going to repost in full the article I wrote on Facebook. I’m considering sending it to the Triangle, a local LGBTQ newspaper, but that’s not why I’m reposting it here. I already said it better than I can at this moment. So here it is. Think about all this:


I think that we need to give support to LGBT kids as much as we can. There’s a REASON that LGBT kids are 4 times more likely to commit suicide as their heterosexual peers, and that reason is lack of self-acceptance coming from internalizing the lack of acceptance from their families, peers and communities.

I believe each person can make a difference. Reach out. Share videos and links on your FB and other media. Talk to your kids about LGBT acceptance. Make sure your kids know they can talk to you.

Correct discriminatory language when you can. If your kids say “that’s so gay” when they think something is stupid, tell them that language is offensive—and why. If your kids bully anyone for ANY reason, don’t let them get away with it. If your kids are being picked on for ANY reason, get involved. If your child’s teacher or principal won’t help, go to the school board. If you need to, go to the media.

If you see people on FB or elsewhere talking about the “radical homosexual agenda” or saying that gay people are “going to Hell”, speak up. Tell those people that the grown-up version of bullying is not acceptable either.

Give people FACTS about suicide in the LGBT community when they tell you that you don’t care about the straight kids who kill themselves. Tell them that suicide is 4 times more likely in the LGBT community and that 1 out of 3 suicides is related to someone’s PERCEIVED sexual orientation—there are many straight kids who kill themselves because others think they are gay. Point out that we don’t want ANYONE to die, and that homophobia is helping kill ALL our children. Explain that there are less resources for LGBT youth at risk, yet the suicide rate is higher, and that’s why you are focusing on LGBT suicide.

If you are a suicide survivor or know someone who is, tell your story. My roommate used to be suicidal. With therapy and love she has learned to accept herself and be open about who she is. She blogs about her experiences, talks to other people who are going through similar pain to what she experienced, and lives her life openly as a Transgender Bisexual Woman. In that way, she is an inspiration to others.

If nothing else, post the phone number for the Trevor Project regularly (866-488-7386). The Trevor Project is the only LGBTQ-oriented suicide hotline in the United States, and many people don’t know it exists.

And most important of all, show LGBT people in your life that you care about them by your ACTIONS. Treat all people with the kindness and respect they deserve regardless of their sexual orientations. Break the rule of “not talking about politics in company” if someone says something about why gay people shouldn’t get married or shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the military. Stand up for “safe school” laws that make bullying fellow students because of their sexual and gender orientations illegal and require administrators and teachers to take bullying seriously. Let people know that you believe they matter.

I’d like to think we can save every life, gay or straight. Sadly, we can’t. But our words and actions impact people every day, and you never know when what you say might save a life.

“S/he who saves one life, saves the world entire.” – Jewish Proverb.


Thank you all for caring, and for reaching out… may there be no more LGBTQ suicides…

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Responses

  1. Stephanie, thanks for this blog, I volunteer 30 hours a week with a GLBTAIQ Youth Center every week in the heart of the Bible belt. I too am fearful that all of this will die down in a few weeks and that we will quit hearing about the problems our youth are facing. My other concern is that so much money is being given to National organizations that give very little face time to our YOUTH, and so little money reaches the youth centers who give so much to the youth they serve. Organizations like the Trevor project are very important to a suicidal youth, and your local youth centers are important for the face to face communication and love given. I hope when people think about giving that they will also consider their local GLBTAIQ Youth Centers.
    “The single most important line of defense for young people in crisis is a network of visibly supportive adults, in their own community, in school, at home.” Eliza Byard, GLSEN

    Carol Ballew
    Openarms Youth Project
    Tulsa, Oklahoma


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