Sunday, October 03, 2010

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Thousands of people sing "Somewhere over the rainbow" of a wet Washington Square Park evening, in hushed tones, perhaps like the lullaby in which Dorothy once heard of Oz. Rain mixes with our tears.

It was a beautiful moment of shared sorrow and of resolve, which followed a few minutes of silence as glowsticks were held high (no candles allowed in the Park), which in turn followed a few brief speeches. Wonderful Christine Quinn enjoined us not to let our sadness become bitterness and resignation; "our children are dying." David Paterson spoke movingly, too, of the scars of bullying and intolerance.
The occasion, of course, was the tragic suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi. And of the five other boys - at latest count - who were driven to suicide in the last weeks by homophobic bullying:

Asher Brown (age 13)
Seth Walsh (age 13)
Justin Aaberg (age 15)
Billy Lucas (age 15)
Raymond Chase (age 19)

One would like to think this was an exceptional month, but there's little reason to suppose it was. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered teenagers - and others suspected of being so - are harassed all the time. Nine in ten, according to one survey. One in four just within the last month, according to another. GLBTQ teenagers are four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers (and eight times, if rejected by their families, we learned from Governor Paterson). This month's toll is surely more than six, and many more than six will have attempted suicide.
What can be done? Bullying, especially cyberbullying, has to be checked somehow - not easy, but at least we can stop normalizing it, accepting it as natural and inevitable. Homophobia must be curbed - especially that of religious bigots (the most vociferous of whom, with a grim and tedious predictability, turn out to be closeted) - also an uphill battle. And something positive is needed, too. An affirmation not just of diversity and of the dignity of the individual, but of privacy: of a person's right to live a life free of the intrusion and judgment of others.

And to the Ashers, Seths, Justins, Billys, Tylers and Raymonds, the message we're all sending out, as hard as we can: It gets better. You are loved. You deserve to be loved. Two adorable old guys, Harry and Wayne (an Episcopal priest!), inspired to make their first youtube video for the "It Gets Better" series initiated by Dan Savage, put it perhaps best of all:

"You have to survive high school
because there's someone out there waiting
for you to be the love of his life or her life."

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