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The Pecman

2 Young Suicides Covered on Oprah

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I heard about these stories back in April, but didn't know the circumstances. Recently, The Oprah Winfrey Show devoted an entire episode to gay teen suicides, and specifically covered the problem of school bullying. Despite a lot of surface attempts to stop teenagers from taunting kids as "gay" (and worse), the problem continues.

The CNN article is here:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/personal/05...ref=mpstoryview

I found it horrific that two kids only 11 years old felt like their lives were so bleak, suicide was the only answer. I don't know who to blame here: the parents, for not recognizing their children were this depressed and anguished; the schools, for not addressing the problem of bullying; or the bullies, for doing it in the first place.

The later story about the young teenager who was terrorized by emails, Ryan Halligan, was just as bad. The link from his family is here:

http://www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org/

and it's totally heartbreaking. (I wish the story was more complete: did the family file a wrongful death lawsuit against the school; what did the bully do after the kid's death; what did the school do later on?) At least it got some more laws passed in Vermont, but it's not enough.

The whole thing makes me sick. Sometimes I like to think that things are getting better -- that people are beginning to accept alternate lifestyles and don't need to harass people (especially kids) on issues like this. Now I'm not so sure.

The other issue is I think the harassed kids have got to speak up and get help. Schools need to do more than print up leaflets that say, "So Bullies Are Calling You 'Gay' in the Hallway." They need to communicate more with their parents, tell the school what's going on, and not just shrink into a shell and be embarrassed. Gay or not, they just can't roll over and take it. I'd make the F'ing schools sign a contract that says, "if anything happens to my kid, you're responsible while they're on school grounds."

[Pounding my head in my desk in frustration...]

Is the world really this hopeless?

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My reply is too personal and I can only say here I concur with Pecman's concern.

I have posted an opinion in my blog which may disturb some, but I felt the need.

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I was so moved I actually contacted Ryan Halligan's father in email and expressed my concern. He gave me part of an answer to a question I had about the bully who had taunted and physically attacked his son, then pretended to befriend him and quickly betrayed him. I wanted to know what happened to this boy, and if he at least apologized to Halligan and his family.

Halligan responded: "That part of the story is left off because it's a key part of my presentation to kids. It's a long story but the net result was reconciliation and forgiveness." (I'm hesitant to say what I wish would happen to the bully, but let's just say it involves another dimension of incredible heat.)

He's refusing donations on his site, but does endorse this one:

http://www.isafe.org

which is an organization trying to educate parents as to the dangers of children being harassed (especially by bullies at school) on the net.

Halligan's story is a really harrowing one, and it makes anything that happened to me as a kid seem like a Broadway musical by comparison. Reading it, the inescapable conclusion is that his parents did the very best they could, but their kid's problems were just larger than anything they feared.

I've said many, many times that it's a lot harder being a kid today than it was when I was that young, back in the (relatively-innocent) 1960s. My brother was 12 years younger than me, and the stories he told me of going to high school in the 1980s were hellacious. I can only imagine how awful it's gotta be for some kids today.

At least stories like this are getting publicized, and maybe people are beginning to wake up. I like the "zero tolerance for bullies" many schools are now adopting, and I hope this movement turns into a revolution.

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I could reply with a personal story, but this is about today's teens and kids.

Some kids and teens go through hell, taunted because other kids say or believe those kids are gay. The adults can get in on it in their own ways, and that's no better. Sometimes, the parents aren't open enough for their kids to feel like they can talk to them. Or maybe the kids feel that way, because they're too worried and lonely, or downright scared; even if they might be misreading their parents, who might be more open.

The answer? Other kids and adults really need to make it known that they like someone and care enough to really listen. Canned phrases won't work. It has to be real, or the kids will know it. They need to speak out about their opinions, so at-risk kids know they are accepting.

It doesn't matter if the issue is being gay, or bad grades, or alcohol and drugs, or abuse, or religious beliefs, or weight, or a handicap, or anything else which might be so bothersome to a kid's self that he or she would have real problems dealing with it. Other people have to make themselves approachable, honest, and not in-your-face or "I'm gonna fix you up," for kids to want to get help.

Simple friendship, unconditional acceptance of your friends, is enough to make a difference.

Most often, if a teen or kid is thinking of suicide, they believe they have no other choices, that life is just too painful, and no one cares about them. They believe it, even if it isn't quite so.

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Telling kids to come out, if they are being bullied, is not going to solve it. They may be too afraid of even more reactions, especially at home. Telling kids to speak out, to object to bullying, and to talk to parents and administrators and teachers is good, if those adults will take real action. If other kids want to speak up to support at-risk kids, awesome. Let those at-risk kids know you give a damn, that you will support them. That support has to be there, whether what the bullies are saying is true or not. If your friend's gay, you have to accept him or her, if you're going to support him or her.

Things must change. People must change what they do and what they believe, if we're going to do away with active bullying and lack of concern or action, and if we're going to save kids' lives from a totally needless and too-quick end.

I know what it's like to consider suicide. I'm alive today, because I was able to avoid it, somehow. If I hadn't been around, I would've missed out on some great friends and the chance to help and make a difference in other people's lives. You CAN be more. You CAN make a difference. Be who you are inside and don't be ashamed.

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I don't know who to blame here: the parents, for not recognizing their children were this depressed and anguished; the schools, for not addressing the problem of bullying; or the bullies, for doing it in the first place.

The ones to blame for the suicide are the bullies, and them alone. We could criticise the parent or the schools for not seeing what was going on, but we don't know that even if they did see it and did what they could to counteract it, the boys would still be alive. However we do know that if the bullies had reformed, the boys would still have their lives ahead of them.

It might be that the school could be blamed for not controlling its bullies, maybe the parents of the bullies for a home environment which caused the bullies to think of it as an acceptable behaviour. The parents of the victims, though, are suffering enough without being asked to shoulder a part of the blame for their sons' deaths. They may not have been great parents, but their parenting deficiencies would never have resulted in their sons' suicide - it was the bullying that did that.

There's a difference between criticism and blame. Likely a number of parties deserve criticism over this, but the blame lies firmly between the eyes of the bullies.

Childhood suicide as a result of bullying is a subject that has always been close to my heart for personal reasons. When I discover it continues into the twenty-first century I despair.

The current generation of children I'm involved with seem to be having a much better time of it than previous generations, there seems to be more acceptance of diversity in the local schools. Perhaps my town is a beacon of hope in a dark world, but at least in this one corner things are, I think, looking up.

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It's easy to say it's the bullies' fault, but the school can always counter, "tons of students are bullied every day, often outside school property, and we can't always stop it." And even Ryan Halligan's father admits, "for every thousand kids who gets bullied, one of them eventually attempts suicide."

Halligan Sr. blames depression as the cause, and I think that's part of it. I think it's an unfortunate formula: depression + lack of social skills + physical weakness or ineptness + a lack of self-worth, and then when you add in the bully factor, god help you. There's always outside factors beyond just the bullying, though I agree, that's often the straw that breaks the camel's back.

All three of the above suicides had these factors in common. God knows I did when I was in school. The only things that saved me were 1) I had a real smart, sarcastic mouth, so even if somebody was going to punch me, I'd get out an insult or a funny line -- sometimes enough to disarm them; 2) I had a few friends who occasionally came to my rescue; 3) I was stubborn as hell and refused to let them get to me; and 4) I ran real fast. But I definitely got my ass kicked on a few occasions. The last time it happened, the other kid had a bloody nose, too, despite the fact that he outweighed me by about 50 pounds. He left me alone after that, at least physically.

Eventually I just hung out with a bunch of other misfits, and we all looked out for each other. Most of us were in the marching band (aka "band fags"), which I did for six years in middle school and high school. I was always safe with those guys. God help me when I had to go to Phys Ed, though. I made it through my last year of that class in a state of torture and bliss; torture when we had to dribble the ball down the basketball court or wrestle in the gym, and bliss in the locker room. :evilgrin:

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It's easy to say it's the bullies' fault, but the school can always counter, "tons of students are bullied every day, often outside school property, and we can't always stop it." And even Ryan Halligan's father admits, "for every thousand kids who gets bullied, one of them eventually attempts suicide."

Halligan Sr. blames depression as the cause, and I think that's part of it. I think it's an unfortunate formula: depression + lack of social skills + physical weakness or ineptness + a lack of self-worth, and then when you add in the bully factor, god help you. There's always outside factors beyond just the bullying, though I agree, that's often the straw that breaks the camel's back.

All three of the above suicides had these factors in common. God knows I did when I was in school. The only things that saved me were 1) I had a real smart, sarcastic mouth, so even if somebody was going to punch me, I'd get out an insult or a funny line -- sometimes enough to disarm them; 2) I had a few friends who occasionally came to my rescue; 3) I was stubborn as hell and refused to let them get to me; and 4) I ran real fast. But I definitely got my ass kicked on a few occasions. The last time it happened, the other kid had a bloody nose, too, despite the fact that he outweighed me by about 50 pounds. He left me alone after that, at least physically.

Eventually I just hung out with a bunch of other misfits, and we all looked out for each other. Most of us were in the marching band (aka "band fags"), which I did for six years in middle school and high school. I was always safe with those guys. God help me when I had to go to Phys Ed, though. I made it through my last year of that class in a state of torture and bliss; torture when we had to dribble the ball down the basketball court or wrestle in the gym, and bliss in the locker room. :icon6:

I knew we had more in common than just our orientation.

My smart mouth got me into trouble more than once, but I constantly lived on the edge with my sarcasm as my only defence.

Stubborn was my middle name.

Despite my congenital hole in the heart (or maybe because of it) I could outrun most of the bullies.

By the time I reached 14, however, I was pretty much worn down by the bullying attitudes of the other students and most of the teachers.

My studies languished and I had to repeat my 2nd year of highschool. This put me at an unexpected advantage; the rest of the class were a now a year younger, and the 13 year olds in my class were now frightened of me. I didn't take advantage of that but I did make friends (Platonic) for the first time in my school life.

I can't say I entered into thoughts of suicide during those years, and I put that down to the words of wisdom from my mother who advised me that, "No man is worth killing yourself for, especially yourself."

I guess that led to me always being interested to see if things would turn out as badly as they appeared they would.

I am always amused to remember that in a highschool of 1100 boys, I was the only one who responded to the music teacher's call for "any boys who were interested in attending the opera, please see me after the assembly."

So he eventually got me a ticket to attend the opera with 20 girls from the neighbouring Girl's Highschool. OMG! I began to suspect that I might be gay, though we didn't call it by that name, back then. :hehe:

I did entertain thoughts of abandoning life in my 22nd year when, I lost my job, my boyfriend with whom I was deeply in love, and my mother's death all in the same week. I found that a somewhat depressing week, that took a year of self questioning and much reading to get me back to loving life.

Sometimes the only thing we have is the example of others, that life is worth living. They are the positive influences in life that give hope by daring to share the love of life, in the face of so much seeming adversity.

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I'm sincerely happy we didn't loose either of you two. Life would be far less interesting without either of you.

I think suicides come from giving up. Why some people give up and some don't given the same set of circumstances is something innate with each of us. It might be fear of dying, it might be curiosity to see life through, it might be a combination of many factors, but it's there, inside us, and it keeps most of us alive. It isn't there with others, and so they let their dark thoughts consume and direct them.

I doubt there are too many people in the world that haven't thought of suicide once or twice or even more than that during their lifetime. Very few actually take the step. Thanks goodness.

C

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AniAsianGirl300x250.gif

The Trevor Project was founded by writer James Lecesne, director/producer Peggy Rajski and producer Randy Stone, creators of the 1994 Academy Award?-winning short film, Trevor, a comedy/drama about a gay 13-year-old boy who, when rejected by friends because of his sexuality, makes an attempt to take his life.

When Trevor was scheduled to air on HBO? in 1998, the filmmakers realized that some of the program?s teen viewers might be facing the same kind of crisis as Trevor, and began to search for an appropriate support line to broadcast during the airing. They discovered that no such helpline existed, and decided to dedicate themselves to forming what was, in their view, a much-needed resource: an organization to promote acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, and to aid in crisis and suicide prevention among that group. Thus, The Trevor Project was born.

We can't do much as individuals to stop the bullying. But we can steer suseptable youth to available resources. Add the hotline phone number to your signature. Ask the gay forums you belong to make the resource available and easy to find on their sites. And more importantly, donate. Click on the Trevor project link and volunteer your money or even your time. It's a good feeling.

The cast of Queer As Folk discuss the Trevor Project:

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One of my best friends worked on the post-production for the film Trevor, and it's a wonderful story and a terrific show (also very well-photographed and acted). Basically, a chubby teenage outcast is befriended by an great-looking, hunky athletic kid; chubby kid naturally falls in love with him, athlete rebukes him, but (after a heart-wrenching finale) chubby kid vows to stay alive. It's a terrific story because it's very realistically told, with Hollywood production values, plus they never revert to any easy solutions. It deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject, and I can't say more good things about it. (Plus it features my all-time favorite Diana Ross song, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," so there you are.)

It's a story that could have had a terribly tragic ending, but the whole point was to tell gay teens that suicide is not the answer and that there are other options out there. BTW, you can see the trailer for free and/or buy a DVD of the movie for $15 at this link.

Tragically, a lot of kids keep making the same mistakes today, as witnessed by the stories above. Note that I'm not even sure that the kids involved were gay; they were merely being taunted as gay, and that was enough to make them kill themselves. About six years ago, I dedicated my second novel, Jagged Angel, to the plight of San Diego teenager Andrew Williams, who shot up his school after being bullied and harassed for six months. Again, he wasn't gay at all, but he was bullied as if he was, and that was enough to make him snap. In that case, he chose to shoot other people instead of himself, and the results were horribly tragic.

If I had had easy access to guns when I was a kid, I might have done something stupid like this. The type of person I am, I think I'd definitely shoot myself rather than kill anybody else, but you never know what you'd do when you're young and stupid.

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