Unless you’ve been too busy viewing Facebook photos catching up on progress notes to watch the news, you’re probably aware of what’s being called an “epidemic” of suicide amongst teens who either are gay, or are perceived to be gay. Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, Tyler Clementi, and Raymond Chase all took their own lives in the past month.
Wow. It’s even exhausting to write.
It’s being discussed ad nauseum all over: MTV, CNN, the Times, Jackass Central Focus on the Family, and a variety of other blogs. (Apparently, there are other blogs.)
I felt the need to bring it up here. Because this is a social work issue.
Some of us work in schools. A lot of us work with children and teens. All of us work with gay people, whether that is the focus of our work and our agency’s mission or not.
This is a social work issue, because this is affecting our kids.
I used to work with a ten year old boy who got bullied mercilessly in school. He was sweet and sensitive. His mother loved him, but she just couldn’t understand him. His father desperately wanted him to toughen up. The school staff thought if he stopped whining and “being such a target,” the bullying would stop.
I assumed that this kid was gay. He never mentioned anything one way or the other, but it seemed likely. (I noticed him staring at my chest one day, and thought maybe I had the kid pegged wrong. Until he looked up at me and said, completely genuine, “Miss, I love your necklace.”) His parents also never brought up his sexuality, but it was clearly their number one fear.
I no longer work with this family, or this child. But I worry about him. Whether he’s gay or not, that’s the perception people have of him. Was Billy Lucas gay? No one knows, but his peers tormented him because they thought he was.
GLSEN, a great resource, tells us that nine out of ten LGBT middle and high schooler experience harassment at school, and they’re four times more likely to commit suicide.
This is a social work issue because we can do something about it.
These kids talk about wanting staff and other adults to intervene on their behalf, and to protect them. Social workers have a long, usually proud history of working with marginalized people. We have a commitment to serving people who need us the most.
This past month has sent us a clear message about who needs us.
One of my coworkers works with a fifteen year old boy who identifies as gay, and as of late is considering that he might be trans. He’s figuring himself out, but he’s comfortable. He loves wearing make up, and his manicure is always much better than mine.
And he is mercilessly tormented in his Bronx public high school. The school has admitted that they can’t protect him, and recommend that he stay home until they can get him a safety transfer.
This kid is fortunate to have a supportive mother, and a great social worker. When my coworker went to this teen’s school to talk about his future, she brought a male coworker of ours as “backup.” Not because she was concerned about being attacked by the students if they started to harass him. Because she thought she wouldn’t be able to hold herself back from slapping a child if the harassment occurred.
That’s a Mama Grizzly for you, Mrs. Palin.
Even so, we’re concerned about how much he can take.
We’re planning to start a group for LGBT teens, and our traditionally Catholic agency is surprisingly receptive. I’m hopeful that it will have some effect in convincing these kids that they’re not alone, people do love them, and that it gets better.
We all need to work on this. I would sincerely hope that anyone reading this is pro-equality in all respects, including marriage, ending DADT, and other issues. It is the social work way. But whatever your political leanings are, these are kids we’re talking about. And we can help them.
Because this is a social work issue.