Bullying | Gay Youth | San Francisco

Has There Been An Increase In Gay Teen Suicide Or An Increase In Reporting The Issue?

Media attention on gay teen suicide has not subsided. Earlier this week, Larry King focused his entire show on the important subject while Rutgers University President Richard McCormick defended the way his school handled Tyler Clementi's case.

Yesterday, the LA Times published a piece on Seth Walsh, the 13-year-old from Tehachapi, California who hanged himself last month after being harrassed by several bullies, and his mother Wendy. The heart-breaking article details the events that led up to Seth's suicide as he walked home from a local K-mart.

Seth Accounts vary as to what happened next. There was a confrontation, according to the police. Four or five teens started to follow Seth, and he called his mother asking her to pick him up. She later told Jim and Judy that he sounded scared. But Wendy was studying at the time. She had been taking classes in Bakersfield, hoping one day to be a paralegal. She had grown accustomed to hearing fear in his voice and told him to walk home. It was less than a mile.

Not long after, he called again, and she agreed to meet him. When she arrived, she saw a group of teens, some of whom started to walk away. According to his grandparents, he was especially hurt that one of his friends who was there did nothing to help him. Once home, Wendy went back to her studies. Seth took a shower and later asked his mother for a pen. His younger brother, Shawn, was playing on the computer.

At some point, Seth had gone to the backyard. When Wendy took a break for a cigarette, she saw that he had hanged himself from a tree.

Has there been a sudden outbreak in suicide among gay teenagers or is the media finally paying attention to the massive problem? I spoke to Dave Reynolds, a Sr. Public Policy and Research Manager at The Trevor Project, who had this to say: "From what we know and can tell, there has not been an increase in suicide completions among lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth over the past few weeks.  Sadly, there are likely this many deaths every week, but the media and the general populace are just starting to realize the depth of this public health and social justice issue." 

Reynolds also revealed that 2/3 of all callers that come into the Trevor Project's suicide prevention line are from non-urban areas in the United States, a vast majority from southern and midwest states. He also confirmed that one of the most common issues from callers to the line is the bullying they regularly encounter. "The research available clearly shows a link between being the victim of anti-LGBTQ bullying and making a suicide attempt—our stories from the Lifeline and other services sadly reinforce this tragic link.  Also, youth who are transgender, gender non-conforming or gender variant face a particularly tough time at school," he told me.

Last night, hundreds of people gathered in the Castro to call attention to the problem. Watch a news clip of the "Stand Up To Youth Suicide" event, AFTER THE JUMP.

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  1. Thanks for the great write-up. One writing issue worth correcting:

    - In the first sentence of the second paragraph, it should read: "[...] who *hanged* himself last month after being harassed [...]"

    The past tense of "to hang" in the meaning of "to kill by asphyxiation" is "hanged", not "hung". The past tense "hung" is correct for all other meanings of the word, however.


    - GP

    Posted by: Grammar Police | Oct 9, 2010 12:30:36 PM

  2. This one is a no-brainer. There has been an increasing reporting. I don't even need a study to confirm.

    I'm sure it's partly helped by the fact that more teens and more parents are more willing to describe themselves or their kids as gay.

    The description of Seth's last afternoon is incredibly sad. How GP could read that and only provide copy notes is beyond me.

    Posted by: rustytrawler | Oct 9, 2010 12:36:47 PM

  3. Thank you for reporting this. I was trying to make this point the other day!

    Still I worry that people are now focused on the "bullying" rather than the other real issues gay teens face. especially in less urban areas.

    Posted by: Bob | Oct 9, 2010 12:40:21 PM

  4. We live in the Information Age. It's being reported more often, and far more people are hearing about then would have even 10 years ago. There's also a political slant to the story [gay suicides]. Suicides in general are much more common than I think most people realize. I spoke with a mortician 6 months ago and he told me [without prodding] that suicides were VERY common, and usually reported as something else, although law enforcement and insurance companies know the true figures.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Oct 9, 2010 12:48:05 PM

  5. it irks me when meaningless concepts like "social justice" are used. What is lacking is individual justice. These kids, not society, are lacking justice. Instead of using chic but empty political slogans we need to describe the problem. Individual kids are being harassed into killing themselves. Justice is always between individuals but that implies individual rights which many in the so-caled "social justice" movement don't believe i.

    Defend the kids. Point out how each of these kids was a victim of an uncaring state-controlled education system that allowed the bullying to go on. Seth was a victim, not society. Asher was victim, not society. We have been burying individual children — focus on the individual victim and leave vapid slogans to vapid politicians.

    Posted by: cls | Oct 9, 2010 1:13:33 PM

  6. it's social justice because we need a society-wide change to address the issue. The society-wide issue here is that many adults will ignore or refuse to address the events that lead up to this and potentially prevent the awful result and any kids don't see anything wrong with making a kid they perceive as gay's life miserable.

    If you think this tragedy can be pinpointed on one individual rather than a failing of multiple individuals to not act like total dickheads then you are wrong. The article its self says he was followed home from a K-mart by multiple people. According to the article, the random teens failed by being harassers, the friend failed by not sticking up for Evan, and mom failed to recognize the severity of the situation (not to kick a woman when she's down, but if she thought her son was about to kill himself I doubt she'd be reading about torts and blowing a fag).

    Social justice also plays into the fact that many people will then try to rationalize kids harassing another to the point of suicide as "Just being kids" and "oh they were good kids they never meant to do that." Even if that were true (which I don't believe, a lot of kids are shits and posses enough moral compass to not do this but I digress) it still doesn't address that we don't have anything in place proactive enough to prevent these suicides.

    CLS just because you don't understand what something is doesn't mean it's a "meaningless concept"

    Posted by: MadM@ | Oct 9, 2010 2:28:41 PM

  7. And no sure where I got Evan, meant Seth

    Posted by: MadM@ | Oct 9, 2010 2:30:11 PM

  8. Madam, I think CLS understands perfectly what 'Social Justice' means and how it's exploited and abused by some.

    There are some people who love ideas, love abstract concepts like 'Social Justice', but dislike and scorn human beings on a one on one basis. Some of these people are and have been willing to hurt, even kill other innocent human beings, and to exploit personal tragedies, to further their cause. They actually like it when 'bad' things happen, because it gives them more ammo

    Posted by: ratbastard | Oct 9, 2010 2:55:21 PM

  9. Fuck's this, a glenn beck love-in? LOL! There's nothing wrong using the concept of social justice, and it can used to adequately attempt to rectify and explain certain situations, like lgbt teen suicide. C'mon, next you'll be saying that "progressive" is a dirty word, too. Save it for the cult leader beck and other fellow travellers.

    Posted by: TANK | Oct 9, 2010 3:10:03 PM

  10. My paean to Tyler:


    Posted by: Jimmy | Oct 9, 2010 3:29:38 PM

  11. I think the media is finally waking up and the fact that families are starting to open up to these facts, rather than bury them in the family closet.

    Posted by: Christie | Oct 9, 2010 4:55:06 PM

  12. The LA Times article is devastating. So many things wrong there. I used to get teased a ton but I fought back, and it stopped. I realize that not everyone is over six feet tall and can do that.

    My high school had a spate of suicides my senior year, and one was by a guy who had been one of my lead tormentors, but was so obviously closeted and self-loathing. My friends said it was good that such a piece of crap was gone but I always thought it was awful. His self-hatred was so clearly hammered into him by his parents.

    I later learned that among the other tormentors, one had killed himself, then one tried to friend me on Facebook. It's not exaggerating at all to say that they're usually closet cases. It's just horrible that the same crap is still happening 25 years later.

    Posted by: Paul R | Oct 9, 2010 5:34:20 PM

  13. Suicides happen in waves, this is a well-known sociological idea. Sure, media attention is up as a result, but that doesn't mean this isn't a wave of suicides.

    Six teenagers in as many weeks do NOT kill themselves for being gay all the time. That's ridiculous. I'm not saying there aren't unreported cases (there are, absolutely), but the collective conscious that binds society together causes this -- this a well-studied phenomenon. Kids hear about other kids killing themselves and, whether consciously or subconsciously, decide to kill themselves too.

    There have been these kinds of wave-suicides for a long time for all kinds of reasons.

    Posted by: jason Fb | Oct 9, 2010 7:12:26 PM

  14. @Jason FB: Yes, wave suicides are well known. But it's estimated that an LGBT teen commits suicide every day or two. These cases just happened to be ones where the families were willing to admit that the kids were gay or had experienced bullying. Most families cover that up.

    Posted by: Paul R | Oct 9, 2010 7:35:03 PM

  15. That must have been so tragic. I can not even amagine what the mother went through in those past 10 seconds looking at him just hanging there. Im only 12 but im doing this subject for a school current event no one should be bullied or bully others. who cares if they are gay or lesbian! I love my life dont hate yours because others hate it. stand up to them. That is whaat I did. R.I.P <3

    Posted by: HannahG | Sep 28, 2011 1:55:52 PM

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