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Bill Donius

Bill Donius

Posted: October 12, 2010 02:24 PM

You never recover from losing a family member to suicide. I know from personal experience, my brother committed suicide at 23.

Teen suicides act as a mirror to our society. Teens take their cues about life, identity, purpose and social value from parents, society at large and too often from other teens. In most cases, teens receive support and love from all of these groups as they develop into adults. The unfortunate few are the recipients of hate, fear and bigotry. Their crime is being different from their peers. In too many cases, they attempt to hide their sexual orientation. Not surprisingly, research shows LGBT youth rejected by their families are eight times more likely to commit suicide, three times more likely to be bullied than their peers and twice as likely to experience major depression according to Friendfactor (see note below about sources).

Many of us were able to hide our sexual identities in order to escape certain ridicule on the school playground. We did not want to face those perpetuating bigotry, hate and biases. Where does all this hate come from? I suspect it is passed down from generation to generation. Why can't we stop the madness? After all these decades, why is there not a law against bullying at school? How many more deaths, suicide attempts and painful childhoods will we allow?

I recently met an individual who survived a suicide attempt. When he was a teenager he shared with his father he 'might be gay'. His father was immediately taken aback and stated if it were true, it would 'significantly alter their relationship.' The teenager did his best to deny his feelings, but ultimately attempted suicide. Eight years later he is still struggling with his sexual orientation. He wants to remain in his family's embrace. His father is not religious and is rather progressive in every other respect. So, where does the bias come from? The son feels his father wants him to fit in and not embarrass him. An important part of his son's life is essentially 'on hold.'

After decades of groundbreaking research on sexual orientation and sexual identity, is it possible some haven't gotten the memo? It's too bad there's not a manual for parenting. Worse, there isn't one on how to treat a fellow teenager, or fellow human being. Growing up in our fast paced society is difficult enough, without having to hide your innermost thoughts from those closest to you.

It is not possible, like flipping a switch, to change one's sexual orientation. I know. I struggled with coming to terms with my sexual orientation as a gay man. I did not want to disappoint my parents. I knew my life would be more difficult coming out in the late 1970's as well. Not to mention working in the business world and perhaps someday in banking. I prayed a lot in both Catholic and Baptist Churches. My prayers were ultimately answered as I became fully aware and comfortable with my sexuality. I believe God made me gay and it is not a choice, no more than I chose to be of Polish and German descent.

My parents were initially saddened when I shared the news I was gay at age 28. However, within minutes, they stated I was still their son and they still loved me. I am one of the lucky ones. I cannot imagine a different response from them. Since we had already lost my brother to suicide, I was afraid to upset my parents. That's why I didn't share my news with them until I was 28 years old. Waiting over ten years to deliver this news was difficult for me. I felt the distance that crept into our relationship with my parents, as I was not able to fully be myself or be honest with them. I missed the closeness we previously shared. After coming out to them, I was able to resume a fully inclusive, much more satisfying connection. They were again typically the first ones I called with both bad and good news.

Parents will never have kids who are perfect or behave perfectly. I hope they understand. It's a big mistake to think it's better to disown our kids than accept them for who they are. Most kids will recover if their parents disown them, I'm not sure the parents ever do. And, you never recover from a suicide in the family, even if the family was fully supportive of the one who chose to commit suicide. That's why it pains me to think there are parents who make suicide eight times more likely simply because their child is gay or lesbian.

Note: Friendfactor is the first social network dedicated to friends -- gay and straight -- helping friends get basic legal freedoms. The sources they cite for statistics above are: "Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults." Pediatrics Journal. Vol. 123 No. 1 January 2009, Elise D. Berlan,"Sexual orientation and bullying in adolescents." Journal of Adolescent Health. February 2007 (Vol. 40, Issue 2, Page S28); Caitlin Ryan, PhD. and Archives of General Psychiatry.

 

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