Opinion

Gay teen suicide: Change starts with you | Amy Johnson

The now familiar Gandhi quote, “We must become the change we want to see in the world,” takes on new meaning this month following five suicides by homosexual teenagers in three weeks.

The question is not whether you support gay rights, but rather, what are you saying at home? Are you talking about tolerance? Compassion? Suicide? Sexual orientation? Or are you just avoiding it or sweeping it under the rug with a “tsk-tsk?”

Know that the chances that your children and teens have seen or heard something about this topic are high. Middle and high school halls are filled with slurs about sexual orientation. Students are still affected by the suicide of a local high school student a few years ago. Saying nothing is not a good option right now. It is our job, as parents and others who work with youth in our community, to be the grown-ups and handle these difficult conversations.

Talking about suicide does not make people commit suicide, and talking about homosexuality does not make people gay. Now is the time to make sure your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews know you love them, and that nothing they can do will make that love go away. Sure, you may get angry or disappointed from time to time, but that love? They need to know it will always, always be there.

Now is the time to let them know that nothing is worth taking your life over. That if they are feeling hopeless there is help. That depression can be treated. And that they are not alone. For more information about how to talk to youth about suicide and what to do if you are dealing with that issue in any way, go to www.yspp.org. You will find information, resources, FAQs and more from this reputable and professional organization.

Adolescent and young adult brains are not fully developed. Impulsivity and lack of perspective run rampant at these ages. They need to hear early, often and repeatedly that they are loved, they are not alone, and there is help available if they need it.

Sure, young people make mistakes, sometimes drastic ones. A risqué photo taken for a boyfriend gets forwarded far and wide. A college student explores his sexuality, never expecting to be live-streamed to the Internet. But one’s sexuality, one’s real or perceived sexual orientation, should not cause such pain that one feels the only option is to take one’s life.

Youth who are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) remain at twice the risk for suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, largely due to the bullying and harassment they receive. Sexual orientation is the second highest reason students are bullied (second only to being bullied for one’s appearance), and comprises a significant number of hate crimes reported to the FBI.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not gay. My child isn’t gay. Why is this my problem?” Remember that standing by silently while others are mistreated is a precarious stance to take, as communicated so eloquently by Pastor Martin Niemoller decades ago: "They came for the Communists, and I didn't object, for I wasn't a Communist. They came for the Socialists, and I didn't object, for I wasn't a Socialist. They came for the labor leaders, and I didn't object, for I wasn't a labor leader. They came for the Jews, and I didn't object, for I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to object."

Oct. 18-22 is Ally Week. Go to www.allyweek.org/index.cfm to learn more and take the Ally Pledge to help end anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.

Educators, check out GLSEN’s “Four Steps Schools Can Take to Address Anti-LGBT Bullying and Harassment” at www.glsen.org.

To quote from the Ally Week site:

Change Attitudes

Change Behaviors

Change Directions

Change Lives

Change Policies

Change Voices

Be an Ally

Be the change.

I think Gandhi would agree.

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