Friday, 15 October 2010

"It gets better": Texas city councilman gives an emotional speech about teen bullying and suicide

I am really pleased and excited to hopefully be visiting the Trevor Project during my visit to America in November to hear them speak about the appalling cases of suicide and bullying amongst the adolescent gay or lesbian population of the United States. It is a situation which is particularly important and personal to me, because I happen to be writing about it right now and while I am happily not writing a story that involves suicide or self-harm, it is certainly a difficult thing to write about, nonetheless.

Of course, all bullying - especially when it becomes merciless, unremitting or physical - is to be deplored; all of it is tragic. The rise of suicides amongst American teenagers who either are or perceived to be gay is something that indicates within that specific segment of the population, bullying is becoming an endemic problem - the current number of celebrities working with the Trevor Project include Daniel Radcliffe, Kathy Griffin, Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Jay Manuel and Anne Hathaway, amongst others. They are all seeking to speak directly to the victims and to convince them that it does get better. If only 13 year-old Asher Brown had known that, before he put his father's pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.

The current spate of suicides or attempted suicides amongst young girls who have been targeted by a sustained bullying campaign of intimidation, which began to include cellular phones, Facebook and MySpace, is another worrying - rather, horrifying - trend, as the recent case of the suicide of Irish transfer student, Phoebe Prince (15), shows all too well.

All children get teased - myself included. But, for it to reach the stage where suicide is contemplated suggests that schools are fundamentally failing in their duty of pastoral care and if they are failing because they personally don't approve of homosexuality and are therefore loathe to correct the bullies, then may God forgive them. I'm inclined to think, or hope, that the latter is not the case - I hope that these schools are lethally incompetent, rather than lethally cruel.

My heart goes out to these young adults and, in some cases, children and I am not one of those who has a sufficiently bleeding-heart to say that I also feel sorry for the bullies, too. I don't. I feel nothing but contempt and disgust and as un-Christian as it sounds, for those who have been responsible for these suicides - I hope they have to live with that guilt until the day they die. What they did was beyond reprehensible.

I came across this video on the blog It seems to me, run by the Director of Pastoral Events for the Marin Foundation, which is a Christian organisation. It is from a Texas city councilman called Joel Burns, who speaks movingly about the recent spate of suicides. It is a very emotional speech and I applaud the Councillor for feeling strongly enough about the issue to share so much of his thoughts and feelings.

For Councillor Burns's speech in Fort Worth, Texas, please click here.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
In memoria æterna erit iustus,
ab auditione mala non timebit...

In paradisum deducant te Angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipat te Martyres,
et perducant te in avitatem santam Ierusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
æternam habeas requiem.



  1. I am not gay, but I was a victim of bullying when I was in school, back in the 80's and 90's, when it wasn't even called bullying. Bullies don't just tease you, they do much more than that: they take your self esteem, they cause you to be scared of everything, they turn you into loneliness. When I was in school, everyone saw what was happening to me, but noone did a thing about it! And yes, suicide did cross my mind many times. My heart goes to those who are being bullied: I understand what you are going through, I used to be you. It will get better. Eventualy.

  2. Anne Marie Barrios16 October 2010 at 04:04

    When I was in college, a classmate I had known in junior high killed himself by jumping off the roof of his dorm. I only recently found out, after 20 years, that he was struggling with his sexuality and whether or not he would be accepted because of it.

    My point is that suicide by young gay people is not all that new--but what is new is that possibly here in the U.S. the majority of people realize that being gay is really no big deal, nor should it be anyone's business.

    To see Asher's beautiful smile, and knowing that he lived very close to where I live, and that what happened to him could have easily happened in my own kids' school, breaks my heart. This child clearly had an inner joy that was robbed from him by others. I can only imagine what he could have done for the world had he not chosen to take his life.

    I applaud Councilman Burns for his compassionate and courageous speech. I hope that young people all over the world will hear his words and find the hope that they may need to know that their life will get better, and that they will find acceptance.

    Thank you so much for highlighting this important topic!

  3. So glad you decided to do a blog post on this, love, and so thrilled for you that you'll be able to be involved in something I know you care so passionately about. Also among those working with the Trevor Project is Tim Gunn, who as you know was already one of my favourite people in the world, who made this very moving video as part of the It Gets Better video project:

    I don't know if it's so much a case of feeling sorry for the bullies as understanding that they are a symptom of a wider societal problem in many places where homophobia is the last bastion of bigotry that is treated as okay and "just a joke" - even that through being open about their sexuality LGBT people are "asking for it". Many people in the States have spoken recently about how policies on gay marriage and Don't Ask Don't Tell further reinforce the idea that gay people are second class citizens that don't deserve the same dignity and freedoms as other people.

    This trickles down into the whole system - in For the Bible Tells Me So one of the families told a terrible story about going to a boy's teachers about the bullying he was receiving, only to be told that he had brought in on himself and that they would not act on it. As you say, this is an utter disgrace. In Britain we have a mildly more enlightened approach and so encouraging or condoning abuse of LGBT individuals is rightly treated as hate speech, but nonetheless violence, school bullying and general stigmatisation is still widespread. In addition, portrayal of LGBT individuals in TV and film is still seen as an anomaly and the coming out of public figures, from musicians to sportsmen to politicians, is still discussed in terms of how it may damage their career rather than as a positive decision that will benefit them on a personal level. The suicide of of footballer Justin Fashanu (who was rejected publicly by his family and subjected to taunts from the stands after coming out) still casts a long shadow over the entire British football world, and has prevented a single other British footballer from coming out since.

    Across the world, being gay is still treated as something that makes a person fundamentally ridiculous and somehow "less" - an utterly nonsensical and upsetting position that does untold harm on countless young people's sense of self-worth and identity. Not just for gay teens but for anyone who is questioning their place in the world and the relationships they share with others. A big congrats on choosing to get involved and try to make a difference - I hope that more and more people will start to make the same decision, and on a smaller level, to defend and support the people they care about and to never let bullying behaviour pass as "just a bit of fun".

  4. It's such a horrifying trend occurring in the US right now that I think many parents are still in the most ineffective of periods: complete shock. And while I hope it doesn't take us any longer to come out of it, I hope we move out of it with efficiency and not a little bit of grace. Bullying on one end should certainly and hopefully not lead to bullying in the other direction, but without a doubt it is something that needs to stop.

    Kids will always be mean because I truly believe they don't have inherent filters in them, but I think the value and sacredness of human life is something that parents, churches, schools and communities as a whole need to be instilling daily if we are going to rise and stay above this. Taunting and teasing is one thing, but cruelty, spite and vindictiveness seem to be the ultimate goal of these bullies today.

    I read a very good blog post recently and could not have agreed more with what she wrote.

  5. Indeed, very heartfelt responses to these terrible tragedies from both you Gareth, and Mr. Burns .

    The schools and bullies need to take responsibly for their non-actions and actions respectively.

    Perhaps if laws were enacted or made stricter making schools legally responsible for the well-being of each and every one of their students, they would be more pro-active in ensuring the safety of the students in their charge to avoid possible prosecution by the law and financial lawsuits.

    Those doing the bullying – no matter what their age - should be equally liable.


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