High-Profile Verdict Puts Much-Needed Spotlight on Anti-Gay Cyberbullying
Tyler Clementi jumping off the bridge connecting Manhattan to New Jersey and the revelations about what his roommate did touched a national nerve. The high-profile suicide helped to propel the issue of anti-gay bullying into the mainstream. The "It Gets Better" Project was created; donations poured in to the LGBT-teen suicide hotline Trevor Project; and news programs were dedicated to the subject.
Still, LGBT teens (and those perceived as LGBT) continue to be victimized daily, in person and online. Some experts say that unless we work to curtail the anti-LGBT sentiment in our nation’s schools, the attempts at, and successful suicides will not stop. A recent Iowa State University study found that 54 percent of LGBT students interviewed had been victims of cyberbullying in the past 30 days.
Experts warn against simplifying the link between bullying and teen suicide. "Suicide is a complex issue and there are always many factors that come into play," Heather Carter of OUTLoud said.
"Every time I speak about bullying, the question of whether it is getting worse comes up," said Walter G Meyer, whose book Rounding Third, deals with the topic. "And my answer is the same: ’yes’ and ’no.’"
Is It Getting Worse - Or Is It That We Now Take Notice?
Recently two teens at a local middle school near San Diego were arrested and charged with assault for beating up a younger boy. "Years ago that never would have happened, it would have just been dismissed as ’boys being boys’ or a ’little school matter.’" he said. "Now the school authorities and the police are taking such events seriously."
The part that is getting worse is the cyber side, admits Meyer.
"Now there is no relief from the bullying," he continued. "I could run home from school and hide. Now if a teen turns on his or her Facebook the harassment continues."
Meyer points out that some have even been harassed after death. "People post horrible things on the victims’ Facebook walls after their suicides. There is no escape from the insulting texts and tweets."
The problem is the source. Living online, through Twitter, Facebook and the like, is now a societal norm, which Meyer says "makes it even tougher on today’s kids, almost impossible to tune out the world. There is no respite from the bullying."
OUTLoud’s Program Manager says that these tragedies can be avoided if resources are provided. "When communities support their gay young people, and schools adopt anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that specifically protect LGBT youth, the risk of attempted suicide by all young people drops, especially for LGBT youth," Carter said.
When a tragedy does occur, Craters says she would advise teachers, counselors, and parents of surviving teens youth in the area to "let them process the death in a safe space about how they feel. They need to know they have someone they can talk to and depend on," she said. "They need permission to grieve their loss. They also need to know where to turn in their community in case they are also struggling."
This helps against suicide contagion, she said. "Education is so important," said Carter. "We provide training to communities to help prevent horrible tragedies from happening by teaching the warning signs and how to talk about suicide with a youth your concerned about."
If you are someone you know needs someone to talk to call 1-800-273-TALK or to LGBT-specific suicide hotline 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386.