This month, I had the pleasure and privilege of working with a slew of Charlotte organizations that had come together to present a special candlelight vigil in memory of gay youth who’d taken their lives as the result of bullying, harassment and depression. Nearly a dozen local groups partnered to present the “It Gets Better” Charlotte candlelight vigil on Oct. 11 — a true community-wide effort to raise awareness. It’s an example of public outspokenness and media savvy I’d like to see more of in Charlotte.
In September, the national news media picked up on a string of gay youth suicides. Their in-depth and relatively friendly reports following the tragedies focused on the plight of our young people as they navigate growing up in often tumultuous, negative and hostile climates at school, among their families and faith institutions and communities-at-large. Though the epidemic of gay youth suicide is nothing new, the widespread attention paid to it last month was a rare opportunity in which LGBT communities across the country got to be heard, be seen and reach out to vulnerable teens and young adults.
In the aftermath of the news coverage, gay columnist Dan Savage initiated a brilliant new media campaign. Utilizing YouTube, he encourage people to film short clips with one, simple message: “It Gets Better.” Savage’s campaign has been a hit and served as the inspiration for the Charlotte vigil.
“It Gets Better” is an entirely appropriate message to send to young people. It’s a message I wish I could have heard earlier in my coming out process. Though I never actually attempted suicide, the thought crossed my mind more than a couple times. In one instance, I found myself sitting in my bedroom, crying with blade in hand, wrist turned up. Thank God I never went through with it. Thank God I had the opportunity to grow up and learn first-hand that, indeed, life does get better.
That’s a message countless numbers of young LGBT people will never hear before they succumb to the hostility and outright hatred thrown at them daily by family members, friends, elected officials, school officials, faith leaders and others.
In his book “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” — to which I also contributed — North Carolina philanthropist Mitchell Gold says the situation facing young LGBT people today is a silent, mental health epidemic.
“There are teenagers all over the world today in crisis mode because they fear what will happen if others discover their sexual orientation,” Gold says. “They suffer debilitating depression, isolation, addiction, and possibly suicidal thoughts. I hope and pray that not one more teenager will have to live this way, the way I grew up.”
Fortunately, the crisis facing our young people is preventable and has a solution: Swift and definitive action by governmental, social, civic, educational and religious institutions to both fully include and fully affirm the lives of all LGBT people will put an almost immediate halt to the trauma young people are facing. There can be no compromise. No waiting. No broken or unfulfilled promises. If we truly want a society in which all people are treated equally, with full dignity and respect, these things and more will have to happen — no ifs, ands or butts about it.
There is also a second component to this solution, one which must come first: LGBT community organizations and leaders will have to stand up and speak out as never before. Until our young people receive their God-given right to life and happiness, and until we have our full legal, social and religious equality, we must take a principled stand, quit playing “straight face” and be ready at any and every moment to defend ourselves and our children.
People can call us militant or radical all they want, but our equality must not ever be up for discussion or debate. We demand it. We demand it now. We’re here, we’re queer and we ain’t gonna shut up until we see real changes. This is what our movement should be — for our sake, for our young people’s sake, for our future and theirs. : :