Suicides raise concerns: Harassment leads to gay teens taking their own lives

By Danielle Alio
October 10, 2010

Rutgers University students hold a candlelight vigil for Tyler Clementi, 18, who took is own life after being filmed having sexual relations with another male student. Clementi is just one of five gay teens that committed suicide after facing harassment in recent weeks-- MCT

Imagine waking up everyday feeling isolated and alone.  Imagine having to face others everyday who torment and torture individuals whom they see as “different” or “not normal.”

These may have been the feelings felt by the recent teens who took their own lives because they were bullied.

Tyler Clementi, 18, Billy Lucas, 15, Seth Walsh, 13, Justin Aaberg, 15 and Asher Brown, 13, took their own lives this past month because they were either verbally or physically assaulted for being homosexual.

More recently, there have been hate crimes in the Bronx where three gay men were beaten and robbed by nine men on Saturday, Oct. 9.  This is the type of behavior that can destroy one’s self esteem and cause the feeling of loneliness with nowhere to turn for help.

According to Dara Herskovits of Cabrini’s Counseling and Psychological Services, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds and the second leading cause of death among college students. The most common cause of suicide is untreated depression in which there is a link between bullying and depression.

“Bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students continues to occur at an alarming rate,” Herskovits said.  “In general, anyone who is perceived as different from the norm may become the target of bullying.”

Ninety percent of students this past year who have identified themselves as LGBT experienced some form of bullying.  In breaking down the 90 percent, 66 percent had been abused verbally, 16 percent had been physically harassed and 8 percent were assaulted according to Herskovits.

“People pick on other people to make themselves feel stronger,” Dr. Melissa Terlecki, assistant professor of psychology, said.   “People see faults in other people that they may have in themselves and it’s much harder for you to identify faults in yourself so you pick them out in other people. That makes you feel stronger.  Putting down other people makes you feel better.”

Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his life by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly filmed and posted online a video of Clementi with another man.

“Suicide is huge. Usually people who contemplate suicide have been contemplating it for a while and usually there is a series of events that lead up to someone wanting to commit suicide and not just one thing, but this sounds very drastic so it could have just been the fact that this video came out and went viral versus a whole list of things that were going on in his [Clementi’s] social life,” Terlecki said.

Adolescents who are LGBT are more than twice as likely then heterosexuals to fall into a depression and contemplate or commit suicide.  Because of all the recent deaths and attacks, students as well as celebrities are coming together nation-wide to stop these events from occurring.

“I was affected by this in a very personal sense, because whether or not I knew the boy [Clementi], I know someone who is like him and I’m sure, at one point in time, I was him,” Byll Monahan, Cabrini College alumnus Class of 2010 and founder of Cabrini’s Sanctuary, said.

Monahan is currently living and working as a full-time-volunteer with youth in crisis, including children within the LGBT community at a youth shelter agency called Covenant House in Detroit, Mich.  He is teaching life skills and helping the youth get jobs and proper housing. He is also working one-on-one with individuals and helping them with emotional and spiritual needs.

“It’s funny that all of these things have started happening now,” Monahan said. “It was a week before the first suicide that I heard about a YouTube movement called, ‘It Gets Better!’ where young men and women video record their testimonies about how they have survived all of the discrimination and harassment they have faced over the years during their journeys as members of the LGBT community.”

This movement, launched by author Dan Savage, has influenced many to start rallying against anti-gay actions including celebrities such as Kristin Cavallari, Daniel Radcliffe and Anne Hathaway.  Monahan plans to post his testimony for all to see very soon.

“Love yourself and do what you love,” Monahan said. “Surround yourself with different varieties of good people and trust that they will support you and your decisions in life and always remember that life is so worth living, despite the bullies.”

“Life doesn’t get easier; I’d be lying if I were to say otherwise but it does get better. Talk to someone if you are being harassed for being different. You do not have to put up with that. You deserve better than that,” Monahan said.

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Danielle Alio

Danielle Alio
Cabrini College '12
The Loquitur Manging Editor
LOQation Executive Producer
WYBF FM - On Air DJ/Assistant Production Director
Cabrini College Theater-Stage Crew/Actress

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