by Reginald David Broadnax
My heart breaks for Channing Smith, a 16y year old high school student in Tenn. who died by suicide after being outed by fellow students on social media for being gay. My heart breaks for Channing and for all students who were driven to commit suicide due to being bullied because of their sexual orientation.
My heart breaks for Abel Cedeno, who at 18, fatally stabbed a fellow 15yr student who Cedeno alleged had been bullying him for being gay. Cedeno received 14yrs in prison for manslaughter, assault and criminal possession of a weapon. My heart breaks for the life that was lost due to this incident; the pain which caused Cedeno to commit this act, and for the years he will spend in prison because of it.
I rejoice for Devon Stephenson. Devon is a 26-year-old student at Wright-State University, studying to be a social worker. I rejoice for Devon because he’s a student who survived. He attempted suicide in 2018 due to depression and anxiety due to his identity as a gay man. While I rejoice that Devon is a surviving student, my heart breaks for those who are driven to thoughts, even attempts of suicide due to bullying because of their sexual identity.
While bullying is a serious problem across the country, LGBTQ bullying is an acute problem; particularly for children in school. 9 out of 10 LGBTQ students reported being harassed or bullied last year and one-third of LGBTQ students are physically assaulted at school due to either their orientation or gender identity. 1
Recently, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed using a 3-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline instead of the current 10-digit number (800-273-8255). Mr. Ajit said that more than 1 in 10 young adults are having suicidal thoughts, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death on college campuses. As alarming as that is, LGBTQ youth consider suicide at a rate almost 3 times as high. More than half a million LGBTQ youth will attempt suicide this year. 2
Bullying has become increasingly more dangerous in recent years. More than just verbal intimidation and verbal abuse, bullying now is threatening, physically abusive and dangerous to the individual who is bullied. Schools, Churches, and other institutions where children and teens regularly either attend or participate were slow to respond to this increasing threat to young people; but particularly to LGBTQ young people because of biases towards them. It is these increasing threats and abuse which has led to the increase in the statistics cited above.
Bullying occurs from a perceived difference of an individual or a group. That difference is perceived to be outside of the norm and therefore capable of being ridiculed and then bullied. This perceived difference is the cause of bullying, but there is also something within the bully. The bully, who perceives difference in another and makes assumptions about that individual or group, makes these assumptions due to a lack within their self. As James Baldwin said, “The key to why these assumptions are held has something to do with some insecurity in the people who hold them.” What this insecurity is we cannot say; but there is an even deeper malady at work here. While there is an insecurity within the bully, there is also a deep and abiding failure; a failure to see the other person (or group) as their self.
The “Golden Rule” is very simple: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the language of Matthew 7:12 from the King James Bible, but this “rule” shouldn’t just be for Christians only. In many ways, this has become a universal rule because it is so simple and sets a standard for how we should treat one another. However, there is a flaw in this rule: the rule assumes that we will be able to see the other person as we see ourselves. The rule assumes that we will see the other person as a full individual, equal to ourselves in every way. However, this is our particular failure with respect to those within the LGBTQ community; our failure to be able to see and understand these persons to be equal to ourselves.
So, the problem is not with the members of the LGBTQ community, the problem – indeed, the failure is with those who are incapable of seeing members of the community as persons equal to their self in every way. This is the one thing I wish to say to those LGBTQ persons who are being bullied; who are being verbally and physically assaulted; those who are contemplating suicide, the problem is not you; nor is it anything that you have done. The problem is with the bully and the bully’s deep and abiding failure to recognize you as a complete and equal individual.