Friday, October 15, 2010

Where Gay Teen Suicides Start - My 'Viewpoint' is Published in The Palisadian Post!

So reading my local paper last week, there was a short piece by a parent who described an incident at a local AYSO children's soccer game. In one moment before the game, the coaches were busy, so one father jumped in to get the kids moving - he challenged them to race to the goal and back, telling them:

"Last one is a sissy!"

The parent said: "Sure enough, the last kid was called a sissy by several players."

I couldn't get this out of my mind.

So the next day, instead of working on my novel, I found myself writing this piece to my local paper. It was printed in yesterday's edition.

Here's the text:


Five Gay teenagers killed themselves in September.

Billy Lucas, 15, in Greensburg, Indiana, bullied for being Gay, killed himself on September 9th.

Seth Walsh, 13, in Tehachapi, California, bullied for being Gay, killed himself on Sept 19th.

Tyler Clementi, 18, at Rutgers University in New Jersey, killed himself on Sept 22nd, after being publicly outed as Gay.

Asher Brown, 13, in Houston, Texas, bullied for being Gay, killed himself on Sept 23rd.

And on September 29, openly Gay Raymond Chase, 19, at Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island, killed himself.

Five suicides in three weeks.

And suddenly the media’s on the case, the country’s paying attention, and headlines (like in People magazine) shout: “Why did this happen, and how can it be stopped?”

And then I read in last week’s two cents column about the father at a local soccer game, who challenged the players on his boy's team to race to the goal and back, telling them, “The last one is a sissy.” The Two Cents caller said, “Sure enough, the last kid was called a sissy by several players.”

This is where hate starts. In small moments like this. A thoughtless comment, meant to motivate, but what did it actually teach? Being last is bad. Being a “sissy” is the same as being a loser. You don’t want to be a loser. You don’t want to be a sissy.

Similar to “You run like a girl,” this is the kind of lesson that teaches our kids to hate and look down on those different from themselves – girls, gays, the weak, the slow – and teaches our kids who are different that maybe they should hate themselves, too.

Why do these Gay teen suicides happen? They’ve been taught to hate themselves. They couldn’t hear the messages of hope over the noise of hate. They didn’t know about the books out there for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning teens. They didn’t hear the voices of out, proud and happy GLBTQ Adults, telling them “It Gets Better,” an important project Dan Savage started on youtube. They didn’t call the Trevor Project’s Lifeline (1-866-488-7386) to talk to someone who could help.

How can these Gay teen suicides be stopped? We can start at the AYSO games right here in Pacific Palisades – when our kids are 5 and 6 years old. We can start by thinking before we “motivate” children by teaching them to feel better about themselves by putting others down or beating them in a meaningless foot race. We can start on the path to a better world, today, just by changing what we say.

We need to.

(Lee Wind, a resident of Pacific Palisades, writes “I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell do I Read?,” a blog about books, culture and politics for GLBTQ teens and their allies. He leads Smashing Stereotypes Workshops in middle and high schools, and can be reached at

I'm so pleased to get the word out about this. And I want to thank the Palisadian Post for running my piece in this week's print edition - on the top of page 2!



fairyhedgehog said...

Way to go, Lee! Sometimes it seems like a long hard grind to change people's minds but it's worth it.

ivanova said...

That is so right on! I hope some people will read that and stop making thoughtless comments.

Anne M Leone said...

Wow. A GREAT letter, and I'm so glad you took the time to write it and that your local paper printed it. Hopefully people read it and spare a second to think about their actions.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Lee! You are so right about the "small moments" in young children's lives... that's where it all begins. We can sow seeds of acceptance or exclusion by the smallest of words and actions.
--Mary Cronin

Denise said...

Great entry. I think I'm going to plug this on my blog today, your site and this article in the paper.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks all for your comments and kind words.
Fairyhedgehog, you're right - it IS totally worth it, and we are changing the world.
Ivanova and Anne, II also hope it gets people to think. We need to think about these invisible ways we perpetuate hate in our culture.
Mary. I love how you put that - seeds of acceptance or exclusion. And here's the thing: if we recognize we've done it, before the seed of hate grows too big, we can start weeding! I hope the dad in the article recognizes his power to go back to the same group of kids and apologize and say he was wrong, and that he's learning, too. That would be some excellent role modeling.

Thanks again for being on this amazing adventure to make our world a better place.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks Denise!

Hayden said...

I think that misogyny has a lot to do with homophobia, i.e., anything that's even remotely "girlish" is considered weak and ineffectual. A boy looks or behaves "girlishly"? A fag, ergo, worth bullying and putting down.

I can hear their brains work: "Ew! He's like a girl! That's so wrong!"

Gender roles and stereotypes suck.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Awesome letter, Lee. Thanks!

Ashlee said...

Just came upon your blog today as I'm working on a YA novel. My main character is a gay teen himself. I just wanted to say thanks for what you're doing and the lives that you're changing.

Pat Schmatz said...

I spoke to a woman this weekend at the Wisconsin SCBWI retreat who said her 14 yo daughter had come to her in tears, saying she thinks she's bisexual and does that mean she'll have to kill afraid of the violence and the news and all of it. Made me realize, on a deeper level, the responsibility that those of us who survived homophobic childhoods have to kids now. Lee, I referred several people to your website this weekend as THE best resource for teen lit. So grateful to you for providing all of this vital connection and information.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Sarah, Thanks.
Ashley, let me know when your book is out - I love that you're writing a main teen queer character!
Pat - oh, what a story. I feel so for that 14 year old girl. Thanks for getting word out about this blog and the community - together we can all raise the volume on hope and joy and love - and change our world for the better.

Kristen Kittscher said...

Hear, hear! I don't even need to shop for my purple shirt to wear on Wednesday; it's all ready to go.

Glad you put the novel aside for a day to speak up -- great piece.

Laura Lee said...

With the media deciding we are in the middle of an epidemic of teen suicide (because they decided to pay attention to something this week) I've been giving a lot of thought to this question of bullying, and you are quite right about where the hatred starts. I believe that much of the time that bullies tease someone for "being gay" they are actually just using words like "gay" and "sissy" as general pejoratives and not saying something personal about the target. I was called things like "lezzie" by bullies in school even though I am not gay. When we accept that kind of language and taunting with indifference and ignorance, and it lands on a target who actually is questioning his or her sexuality and is sensitive to that perception, then it can have terrible effects.

Ellen Hopkins said...

I'll be wearing purple tomorrow, Lee... and thanks for your thoughtful letter/post. Small moments can become big issues in the lives of our children. Small moments can also teach tolerance, acceptance and love. I do prefer the word acceptance to tolerance, but if we can only have one, tolerance will do. To start, anyway.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Lee, THANK YOU for making the world a better place!!

Madigan Mirza said...

Lee, this brings tears to my eyes! Beautifully said. Thanks so much for voicing this.

Jessica Love said...

Great letter, Lee. Thank you.