I let myself cry today. . .for Seth, Matthew, Justin, Cody, and every LGBT youth who felt that suicide was the only way out. And now we have lost Jamey Rodemeyer, a bullied gay youth in Williamsville, New York who felt that suicide was his only option. Today, as I read how Jamey’s sister Alyssa and other students at a recent Homecoming Dance heard Jamey’s bullies say he is better off dead, my heart fell. After hearing what transpired at that dance, one parent called the police, who investigated the scene. Kudos to that parent.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, how are we going to handle this? Parents, LGBT and heterosexual, what are you telling your children? Are you sweeping Jamie’s death under the rug or using it as a way to educate and transform hate into love?
MORE LGBT EDUCATION
We need to educate, present LGBT information in schools, and teach that being gay is okay, normal, and healthy, not something we just tolerate. Underneath bullying is fear, confusion, and ignorance. Bullies are often reflecting the darker side of society, such as homophobia, heterosexism, and discrimination. Examining the ways we allow those concepts to perpetuate, such as not penalizing NHL player Wayne Simmonds for using a gay slur, is a step to ending bullying. This is not an individual problem, but a societal one.
How far have we come as a society? I thought about all minorities who have suffered in this country: Jewish, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic. I remember stories that my mother, now deceased, told me. One story in particular always touched me. My Italian great-grandmother employed an African American man named Eddie who did repair work on her house. One evening, she fixed a plate of pasta for him. At that time, our country still operated under a system of segregation. Many African American people were not permitted to eat inside white households.
With his plate in one hand, the other clutching the door knob, Eddie asked my great-grandmother, “Shall I eat it outside on the porch, Ma’am?”
“You will certainly not!” she said. “You eat right here at the table with me.”
Eddie was not invited to many people’s tables, enduring racism, discrimination and a simple message. YOU ARE LESS THAN. The message that most of society gave to Eddie is the same one that Jamey, in 2011, received from bullying. YOU ARE LESS THAN. It’s time for a new message.
Yes, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gone, President Obama has deemed the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, and same-sex marriage was legalized in New York State. Yet, all of that was not enough for Jamey, suffering from a year of daily torment that many of us will never have to endure. When you are bullied for your sexuality, it cuts the deepest part of yourself. Our capacity to love is one of the most personal things that we own and express. To have that consistently attacked wears away who you are and your sense of hope that life will get better. Thank God for individuals such as Dan Savage, who have stood up to bullying with his “It Gets Better Project.” in 2010, Jamey put together his own “It Gets Better” video, trying to encourage LGBT youth who were struggling and suffering to have hope and hang in there.
“They don’t ever want me to die.” Jamey said, his last words on his “It Gets Better” message.
TRACEY, TIM, ALYSSA
My heart goes out to Jamey’s parents, Tracey and Tim, and Jamie’s sister, Alyssa. This past Tuesday, Jamie’s parents appeared on NBC’s Today Show to talk about the incident. While being on national television brings awareness about LGBT bullying, their son is not coming back. How does that happen in a state that recently passed “The Dignity For All Students Act?” Signed into a law in September 2010 by Former New York State governor David Paterson, the Act which protects LGBT Youth from anti-bullying and discrimination will not take effect until July 2012. Do we let ten months pass by or band together and push for the law to take effect sooner? What if we fought for a national law that prevented ALL bullying of any kind, especially bullying against LGBT youth, the most common form.
LGBT youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. That should be enough to get people’s attention. Jamey Rodemeyer was trying to get our attention, asking us to change things, to hear his pain and the pain of all bullied gay youth.
A week before he committed suicide, Jamey expressed on an online blog, “I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. What do I have to do so people will listen?”
I am so sorry Jamey, but I am listening. For other LGBT youth who need somebody to listen, hotlines are available. For more information, contact The Trevor Project at http://thetrevorproject.tumblr.com/ or the GLBT National Help Center at www.glnh.org