Ways to help gay teens avoid suicide

November 1, 2010 2:45:44 PM PDT
Parents can feel helpless when their kids are bullied, and it can be more difficult when those kids are being bullied for their sexuality. Research shows lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Seth Walsh's family knew he was being bullied at school, but they didn't they didn't realize how bad it was. The 13-year old hanged himself from a tree in his Tehachapi backyard near Bakersfield this summer.

"He was a very unique and wonderful child and he left us too soon," Seth's grandmother Judy Walsh said.

Seth had been picked on for years because he was gay. His suicide is one of many that have made headlines across the country in recent months -- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens who take their own lives.

We sat down with Alex, Andre, Sinai and AJ, who all came out in high school, at the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose

"If I was going to go the bathroom, they would follow me and group around, and see which one I was going to use," AJ said.

"I've been dragged across the quad from my collar," Sinai said.

"I only started getting bullying when I got a boyfriend, that's when I would hear words like faggot or queer," Andre said.

They say the bullying is relentless and it's not always from other teenagers. Alex says that during a national day of protest for gay rights, even teachers weren't very supportive.

"We put tape around our mouths, like 'silence' and we had a couple teachers from my school come up to some students two of them in particular they were like, thank God your silent for a day," he said.

A recent nationwide study by Glsen found nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school, three-fifths felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about one-third skipped a day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe.

"Because you're being targeted all time, you feel ashamed of yourself you don't want to turn to help or you feel extremely weak if you're going to tell your parents like something, you know. I feel very isolated because of my harassment," AJ said.

One key to solving the problem is getting teens to talk to their parents. Caitline Ryan is the director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.

For the last nine years, Ryan has been studying family acceptance and rejection, and how that affects the health of LGBT children. She says fear can lead to depression, drug abuse and raises the risk of suicide.

"What we learned in our research was that so many of young people were terrified to come out to their parents because they thought they could never support them," she said.

Ryan says parents typically see bullying as part of life and they are unaware of the potentially deadly consequences. Her research shows parents don't have to accept or even understand their child's struggle with their sexual identity to make a difference. Even a small level of support from parents has been shown to dramatically decrease the percentage of teens who try to kill themselves.

"Silence and secrecy are risk factors, they are actually health hazards," she said.

Ryan says ignoring the issue increases the likelihood a teen will try to commit suicide. She says parents can make a teen feel more supported by calling the school to express concern about bullying, even if the school doesn't take action, and at home parents need to be aware of what's happening in their child's life, and tell them they care.

"We tell parents even if you are sitting and talking with your child; touching their hand, telling them you love them, that you'll be there for them this is so important to give them hope," she said.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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