I have previously commented that we as adults must be proactive and cautious about how LGBT+ teens receive support when they are vulnerable. The tragic death of 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer from Buffalo, NY simply adds weight to this warning. He took his life earlier this week.
Jamie posted a testimonial video on the “It Gets Better” website. He ended up being horrendously harassed by online bullies. The purpose of the “It Gets Better” project is good – to provide a 24-hour online support resource where adults can encourage LGBT+ teens struggling with suicide. No doubt, thousands of such teens have been cared for well by this project.
My concern is not with “It Gets Better.” My concern is for ANY person – teen or adult – who is suicidal and posting open forum comments, stories or video testimonies about their private lives online. When it comes to an LGBT+ suicidal teen, my concern rises 100 fold simply because their lives are already so vulnerable. They often cannot withstand any additional stress.
Jamie was active on Formspring, a social networking site for adolescents. He received hateful messages like this: “JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” And this: “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more happier!” These kinds of attacks are apparently quite common on Formspring. Parents beware.
Jamie just started high school three weeks ago. During Suicide Prevention Week, he posted online this message: “No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down. I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. What do I have to do so people will listen to me?” It is clear that school bullying increased his stress load.
People assume that the support of counselors, family and friends will counter the weight of online and school bullying. This can certainly help, but in some cases the support that is received away from these venues has little impact in taking away the pain of enduring the abuse in such venues. The abuse in these venues, then, but be stopped – or avoided.
I realize that most teens will have an online presence in our world today. Yet the tragedy of Jamey’s death reminds us that IT IS BETTER for LGBT+ teens who are suicidal to NOT seek support in online open forums. It is best to receive live support, real-time, from face-to-face interactions with parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, pastors and friends. This support saves lives.
Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better project, responded to Jamey’s death with the following statement: “The point of the It Gets Better project is to give kids like Jamey Rodemeyer hope for their futures. But sometimes hope isn’t enough.” Without criticizing Savage, I prefer to put it this way: online forums can steal hope from 14-year old teens who are vulnerable to suicide.
Young people, protect yourselves: go to real people for real support, and avoid hostile venues that threaten your emotional health. Parents, provide oversight: some online limits are necessary. Bullies, feel your shame: your words and actions actually cause others to die. Your surrogate form of murder is REAL murder. Everyone: let us not assume the Jamey’s of our world are ok. Let us spend time with them, serve them and stand up to protect them – yes, 24-hours a day if that is what it takes.
God, provide rest for Jamey’s soul in your eternal kingdom. Comfort his parents, extended family and friends who loved him dearly. Penetrate the hearts of those who bully. In Christ’s name, amen.
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