Sunday, October 3, 2010

Combating Gay Youth Suicide - It Gets Better Project

In many ways, homophobia in our culture is a men's issue (which is not to say that there are not homophobic women). Nearly all violence committed by heterosexuals against GLBT people is committed by men (and there is also a lot of relational violence within the GLBT community, but that is a whole other issue).

As boys in this country grow up, the two most powerful ways to shame them into traditionally masculine roles is to call them girlish or fag - and being called fag, gay, queer, faggot, and so on carries a much greater shame factor. Homophobia is a powerful tool of shaming.

For those boys (mostly) and sometimes girls (rarely) who suffer relentless shame around their sexual identity, including violence and/or physical humiliation, the burden can become too much. The rate of suicide and suicide attempts among gay youth is staggeringly high:
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey. A 2009 study, "Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes" led by Dr. Caitlin Ryan and conducted as part of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, shows that adolescence who were rejected by their families for being LGBT were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).
As I said above, it is generally boys who do the taunting, shaming, and other forms of gender role enforcement. Here is a brief overview of the dynamics from The National Sexuality Resource Center:
Homophobic taunting is especially intense during adolescence, a time when sexuality and romance are at the fore of social life. For boys, and not just those who are branded as gay, walking through a hallway is like running a gauntlet of homophobic insults as their male classmates imitate effeminate men and hurl homophobic slurs. My book, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, examines this ubiquitous homophobia. During my year and a half of research at River High, I found that these comments, when coming from and directed at boys, often have as much to do with shoring up definitions of masculinity as they do with reinforcing notions of “normal” heterosexuality.

This is particularly true of the slur “fag.” While the term “gay” is frequently used as a synonym for stupid, it lacks the gender loaded skew of the term “fag.” Oftentimes when boys call someone a “fag” they simultaneously imitate effeminate men (in other words, behavior they consider to be “fag-like”). Their homophobic comments, jokes, and interactions, in a sense, serve to punish others into behaving in stereotypically masculine ways. Though homophobia is usually thought of as fear of same sex attraction, in high school, boys’ homophobia is also about policing gendered norms.

Finally, some people are reaching out to gay youth in a more direct and public way - and this week, with several gay-bullying related deaths in the media (see below), is the perfect time to give the project more attention.

Selected NPR Stories

The It Gets Better Project posts video segments from happy and successful gay men and women - each of which reveals their suffering as adolescents and teens, and how life DOES get better as you get older. The effort is designed to prevent suicide - it may suck to be gay teen, but becoming a gay adult allows you to be happy, successful, and fulfilled.

Here is Dan Savage (who started this project) and his husband Terry talking about their teen years and their relationship:

You can read more about this project at Dan Savage's column, Savage Love (scroll down, it's at the end).

If you are a teen and are having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE talk to someone. Here are some numbers:

The Trevor Project - 24-hour suicide prevention hotline for gay youths. Call before you fall: The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization named for the short film about a 13-year-old boy who attempts suicide because of his sexuality, has established a national toll free, 24-hour suicide prevention hotline for gay youths. 866.488.7386 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 866.488.7386 end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Gay and Lesbian National Hotline - 888-843-4564 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 888-843-4564 end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Gay and Transgender Hate Crime Hotline
- 800-616-HATE begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-616-HATE end_of_the_skype_highlighting

(GLBT) Youth Support Line
- 800-850-8078 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-850-8078

Or if you are feeling suicidal, please read this first . . . . it may save your life.

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