Gay teenage suicides in America: Resist US Christian fundamentalism

Earlier this year, a 19-year old who “friended” me on Facebook in 2009 in his matric year shot himself after taunts by his father and his peers. He often chatted to me about this hate. His death was a very deep shock. I imagined this did not happen in middle-class white Cape Town any longer. It happens everywhere. Gay teenage suicide on a faraway continent has been in the news last week.

19-year old Zach Harrington killed himself after a City Council meeting in Norman Oklahoma. I had not heard of this town before I read about this suicide this morning. Across the United States of America gay teenagers die by suicide. Hate is the cause of their deaths. Hate brewed by politicians, faith leaders, especially the “Christian” right-wing and Black churches in every arena of public life isolates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth especially in small towns. A documentary Out in the Silence by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson hauntingly speaks of people in small town America who resist this hate.

We spoke out against homophobia in Uganda because it is state-sponsored. In the US, the right-wing Churches are institutions that play the strongest role in its politics; defining “family” life; laws, controlling major media outlets that reach tens of millions. These fundamentalists are no different to the Iranian Ayatollahs.

It is equally important for all thinking people across the world to speak out against this hate in the US. Not only because these US fundamentalist buy the hate of African pastors but because the freedom of LGBTI people to live in peace in the US affects our rights as human beings regardless of sexual orientation.

Our LGBTI organisations should send a protest letter to the US embassy. “Christian” fundamentalism in the US is the foundation of hate used by politicians and school bullies alike.

This post contains three pieces:
(1) An article on bullying of LGBTI teenagers in the US from Live Science
(2) A speech by Aaron Shapiro of University of Maryland — a friend and former SJC volunteer
(3) The report on Zach Harrington’s death by suicide.

Zackie Achmat

Gay and Lesbian Teens Bullied More than Heterosexuals
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor
posted: 03 February 2010 02:09 pm ET
Kids can surely be mean to each other. And for those who identify as gay or lesbian, life can be particularly tough. A new study shows these adolescents get bullied two to three times more than their heterosexual peers.

While the researchers aren’t sure why this sexual minority gets bullied more than others or the type of bullying, which can include various verbal insults and physical assaults, they suggest in general those who are different from the social norm are often bully targets. Whatever the cause, the researchers say, the results have implications for parents and schools alike.

“Students, parents, schools and community organizations can work to create environments that are supportive and accepting of all students, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said lead study author Dr. Elise Berlan, a physician in Adolescent Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio and faculty member at Ohio State University. “Schools, in particular, need to work to increase the awareness of bullying.”
The research adds to accumulating results on the topic of bullying, with studies showing kids who bully at school are more likely to do the same at home; workplace bullying can wreak havoc at the office and is worse than sexual harassment; and key nonverbal cues could identify children who are likely to be bullied and rejected by others.

The new results also suggest older kids are still vulnerable to bullies, even though past studies have shown the prevalence of bullying declines after middle-school years. Lesbians and gays were the least likely to bully others, with none of the girls who identified as lesbian saying they had bullied others in the previous year.

The data analyzed by Berlan and her colleagues came from 2001 information collected in an ongoing study of American teens, which included more than 7,500 adolescents, ages 14 to 22. The participants were children of female registered nurses who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study II, and they may not be representative of the general population. The results are published online in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Of the male teens, about 0.5 percent identified themselves as bisexual, 1.4 percent as gay and 4.5 percent as “mostly heterosexual.” For teen girls, 1.9 percent identified themselves as bisexual, 0.3 percent as lesbian, and 9.5 percent as mostly heterosexual. The rest reported they were heterosexual.

No group was immune to bullying. Nearly 44 percent of gay male participants said they had been bullied in the previous year, compared with 26 percent of heterosexuals who reported the same. For girls, 40 percent of lesbians indicated they had been bullied in the past year, while just over 15 percent of heterosexuals reported such. About 35 percent of bisexual and mostly homosexual guys had been bullied and about 25 percent of their female counterparts.

Scientists have known that gay, lesbian and bisexual kids are more likely than their peers to experience any kind of victimization, whether at school or in other parts of their lives, Berlan said. Now bullying can be added to the list.

“The importance of that is we know that it’s not just that they’re bullied and that’s a normative experience for young people,” Berlan told LiveScience. “We know kids who are bullied have health consequences of those bullying experiences. Kids who are bullied are more likely to have physical and mental health problems.”

Though the study didn’t get at the content of bullying, some research has shown that regardless of the target’s sexual orientation, bullies tend to spout disparaging homosexual content, according to Berlan.


Speech by Aaron Shapiro

You are beautiful.
People cannot understand the paranoia, the fear, and the terrifying brand of loneliness that closeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people often feel unless they’ve been through that journey themselves or have held someone’s hand through it.
Sadly we have mourned five young gay students who died by suicide in three weeks. I am terrified to know how many other students were killed by bullying and simply didn’t make the headline news.
We have all been bullied. I remember being called a fag in high school. I still hear “that’s so gay” walking around campus. And no one says anything. If we do not stand up against bigotry and bullying we are apathetic bystanders. We cannot fall into this comfortable role because we do not know who is at their breaking point. We do not know if today’s “don’t be so gay” is the last bit of oppression that your classmate, your dorm-mate, that random kid sitting next to you in the food court, can take.
Homophobia pollutes our country. A gay man is forced to tell stories about Josephine, his girlfriend back home, when he’s really longing to be back in Joe’s arms. A transgender woman can still be fired because she showed up at work wearing a dress. The HIV rate among gay men is astounding because parents would rather their children contract an STD than have a sex-ed teacher stress the importance of condom use for anal sex.
What messages are we sending our children? What homophobic role models are teaching our younger siblings in school? Bullying is one of our most unaddressed epidemics. It’s each of our own responsibilities to get the courage to stand up and speak out.
For those of you who are still going through that hell: honey, hold my hand through it. We’ll get through it together. There are so many people here who care about you whether you know it our not. If you haven’t met Jay, the Graduate Student Coordinator of LGBT Student Involvement in the MICA office, go talk to him ( He’s wonderful. If you want to talk about what you’re going through with other students, the Pride Alliance runs five different support groups for you ( We also have an extraordinary office of LGBT equity whose staff will be there for you no matter what.
We all need to talk about things we’re going through. The Help Center is UMD’s undergraduate run counseling and crisis intervention service. Call 301-314-HELP (4357) to talk to a peer about anything that’s on your mind. The Counseling Center has Rainbow Walk-In hours every day from 3-4 and we have a great department of Mental Health based in the Health Center.
Visit Send your own videos to The Pride Alliance will be holding a Candle Light Vigil Monday, October 11th from 6-7pm in front of McKeldin to memorialize those we have lost, and to tell all of you who feel that you’re going through this alone that you’re not. We are here for you and we love you. Just reach out and we’ll be there to grab your hand.

Gay Teen Takes Life After Norman Council Meeting

By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

NORMAN, Oklahoma — A 19-year old gay man committed suicide following a heated Norman city council meeting that focused on homosexuality, the teen’s family said.

The family of Zach Harrington said their son killed himself after attending the September 28 city council meeting.

In a 7-1 vote, the council approved a proclamation that night recognizing October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in the city of Norman. But before the vote, dozens spoke to the council in favor and against the measure.

“I also think it’s not dark thinking or bigoted thinking to have an opposition to this…But it’s clear thinking,” said one Norman resident during the meeting.

“Recruiting children into these lifestyles will be very easy with this kind of open format,” said another resident during the city council meeting.

Zachary Harrington’s father said it wasn’t the meeting alone that drove his son to take his own life, but it certainly didn’t help. Van Harrington said his son, who was living in Arkansas, drove all the way to his hometown of Norman to see what the city council would do. What he and so many others got was a three-hour verbal debate on the gay lifestyle.

“So many of the comments tonight are made out of lack of understanding, a lack of education, and just plain ignorance,” said a Norman resident at the city council meeting.

Zach’s father said his son was a very private person who came out during high school. He said the Norman North graduate was bullied and harassed at school for being gay. Van Harrington said he feels a lack of acceptance from society and what he calls a “toxic meeting” last month is what finally pushed Zach over the edge.

Several events are planned this week to spotlight gay youth and bullying.

Tuesday, October 12 the University of Central Oklahoma’s GATE (Gay Alliance for Tolerance and Equality) organization is holding a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. at Hafer Park in Edmond to discuss the issue of bullies who target gay and lesbian youth.

On Wednesday, October 13 the University of Oklahoma Sooner Ally organization is holding a candlelight vigil at 8:00 at the Unity Garden on campus to remember those who have experienced harassment. ENDS

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