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October 8, 2010

Rash of teen suicides opens eyes to bullying

Greensburg, Ind.--The news stories came in from across the country along the course of the month, reading like casualty reports from the war.

In September, at least four teenagers committed suicide after anti-gay bullying and harassment.

The first report came from Indiana, where 15-year old Billy Lucas hung himself in his family’s barn on September 8.

“People would call him ‘fag’ and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he’s different, basically,” fellow student Dillen Swango told WXIN-TV news in Indianapolis.

It was a chilling echo of the case of Eric Mohat in the Cleveland suburb of Mentor, who killed himself last year after enduring anti-gay bullying and finally being told, “Why don’t you go home and shoot yourself? No one would miss you.” On the day Lucas ended his young life, other students had told him to kill himself.

A memorial page for Lucas on Facebook shows that, while administrators plead ignorance of the young man’s plight, other students at Greensburg High School knew he was being tortured.

The administration of Hamilton Middle School in suburban Houston, however, had no such excuses, as the parents of 13-year old Asher Brown had been complaining of the harassment leveled at their son for 18 months.

A straight-A student, Brown shot himself in the head on September 23.

David and Amy Truong, Brown’s parents, were livid after Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District spokesperson Kelli Durham, the wife of Brown’s assistant principal, said that there were no reports of Brown having been bullied.

“That’s absolutely inaccurate. It’s completely false,” Amy Truong told the Houston Chronicle. “I did not hallucinate phone calls to counselors and assistant principals. We have no reason to make this up. It’s like they’re calling us liars.”

Comments on another news story on KRIV-TV from parents and students indicated that the boy had suffered bullying since he joined the school district two years ago, but that the administration did nothing to stop it.

While Mohat and Lucas never said they were gay, and may not have been, Brown came out to his father the morning of his suicide.

David Truong said he and his wife were fine with their son’s revelation.

“We didn’t condemn,” he said.

Brown’s death came a day after Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, 18, apparently jumped off the George Washington Bridge a day after his roommate and one of his classmates secretly webcast him having sex with another man in his dorm room.

Dharun Ravi and his high school and college classmate Molly Wei are being charged with invasion of privacy for using a webcam to stream video of Clementi on September 19. Clementi had discovered his roommate’s perfidy and complained to school officials, who were investigating the incident, when Ravi tried again on September 21.

That time, however, Clementi noticed that the webcam was turned towards his bed, and disabled it.

On the same day Clementi ended his life, 13-year old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California died after spending ten days on life support. Walsh hung himself after suffering anti-gay bullying in his school.

Wrapping up the month, 19-year old Raymond Chase, an openly gay student at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, hung himself in his dorm room on September 29. It was not immediately known why he had done it.

Those suicides have sparked renewed attention to the problems of anti-gay bullying and teen suicide, with the Associated Press, CNN, the New York Times and other news outlets running stories on the issues. In what may be perhaps the only good to come of those dark days, major mainstream news outlets are now trumpeting the presence of organizations like Campus Pride, the Trevor Project, GLSEN and P-FLAG to millions of people who may otherwise never have heard of them.

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