Opinion: Kids bullying kids isn’t the only cause of gay teen suicides

The story of another teen suicide appeared on Facebook recently. I’ve been reading about the young man who took his life after attending a Norman, Okla., City Council meeting where there was heated discussion about whether to declare October “Gay Pride Month.”

We keep hearing “Stop the kids from bullying!” But I believe the problem goes way beyond the young bullies to a society where words and actions by adults, discriminatory and hurtful, seem to be widely accepted.

It’s all part of the big picture that contributes to the tragic deaths of these lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids — deaths that have been occurring for decades in disproportionate numbers but that have only recently been brought to our attention through the press and Internet.

Even in homes where parents are open and accepting, kids experience negativity about being gay from an early age. During debates in their churches, towns, states and in Washington they hear arguments that allowing gays to marry, or serve in the military or public office, or take leadership in our religious institutions, or teach in our schools will “harm children,” “destroy our families,” “weaken our military protection.”

And the words used to talk about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons are often appalling. Just watch the news some night, or read the paper or articles and blogs on the Internet. Any debate about a gay issue, from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to recognizing a gay day in a small town, encourages statements that can be crushing to a youth struggling with his or her sexuality. Hearing the negative words adults use to describe homosexuality also gives tacit approval to bullies to taunt classmates who are seen as less than OK.

All of this negativity about gays not only serves as fodder for bullies in our schools, but it also makes our kids more vulnerable to bullying and more vulnerable to being emotionally harmed by the taunting. These kids come to school with their defenses down, already questioning their self-worth.

So yes, we must do something about the bullying in our schools, but we also must change how we talk about each other. Until we stop defining people of different sexual orientations in the worst possible ways, gay kids will continue to take their own lives in desperation.

Millions of adults in our country are working to make the world a better place for all kids. A few examples: “It Gets Better,” with thousands of adults telling kids life improves after high school; well-known figures coming out very publicly, such as Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and Bishop Jim Swilley of Georgia; The Trevor Project, fighting to prevent suicide; groups like ours, PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), supporting families; and all the parents, teachers, religious, business and political leaders and other straight allies who stand up for gay equality every day.

Is there something you can do to join the movement to stop bullying and harassment?

LAURIE CARTER of San Carlos is president of the San Jose/Peninsula chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, their families, friends and allies. She wrote this article for this newspaper.

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