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David Groshoff

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Child, Please: How Much Worse Does It Have To Get Before 'It Gets Better'?

Posted: 01/13/12 12:41 PM ET

While at least 12 queer teens succumbed to hostile schoolground violence (HSV)-induced bullycide (bullying that leads to suicide) in the final four months of 2010, the anti-queer HSV-motivated bullycides rolled right into 2011.

A year ago this week, in mid-January 2011, after suffering HSV that included (but wasn't limited to) a broken jaw and cyber-attacks on a Facebook page created specifically to ridicule him in part based on his perceived sexual orientation, 14-year-old Kameron Jacobsen succumbed to bullycide.

I couldn't imagine what it would be like for a parent to live through the death of a child for any reason. I also couldn't imagine how a parent or sibling could live through the bullycide of their family member and then see other kids celebrating or mocking the death of the parent's or sibling's family member, at school, with the school refusing to meaningfully intervene to stop it.

Dan Savage wants us to think that somehow, someway, "it gets better." While I value Savage's intentions, laud his efforts, and adore his irreverence, I'm calling B.S. on the "It Gets Better" propaganda. Jamey Rodemeyer was proof enough of that to me, as last year, after he made an "It Gets Better" video, he ultimately succumbed to the torment of HSV by killing himself. It didn't get better. And as we unfortunately just learned, this week it didn't get better for EricJames Borges, who took his own life only a month after filming his video for the "It Gets Better" campaign.

While it sometimes does get better for queer adults, many queer or queer-perceived youth simply can never envision making it to adulthood, no matter who stars in the video.

And now, beyond more deaths of queer teens, we're sadly also seeing how it doesn't get better for the surviving families of these kids' bullycides.

Resiliently attempting to honor Kameron Jacobsen's memory following his bullycide last January by trying to help make "it get better" for bullycidal kids, Kameron's dad, Kevin Jacobsen, devoted the past year to fight against the HSV that can lead to bullycide. In the last year alone, Kevin helped create the Kindness Above Malice Foundation (KAM), an organization with a simple and noble goal: "Teach kids to be kind."

Even assuming kids are inherently kind and instead are socialized into their discriminatory and ignorant conduct, what a great and understandable message, right? How could you not praise Kevin Jacobsen for his efforts to create KAM following the heartbreaking bullycide of his son?

But whether because of the daily battle he faced to ease bullying and HSV for other kids or the arrival of the one-year anniversary of his son's bullycide or any other conceivable reason or combination of reasons that we don't know about that may have existed, earlier this week Kameron's dad, Kevin Jacobsen -- an advocate for kids to just be kind to each other -- took his own life.

So let me say this:

First, whether you're a queer or straight teen, if you're violently tormented for not living up to the gender-conforming behavior that peers, teachers, parents, or others want, please understand that so many people care about your well-being.

Second, if you're a K-12 student being treated unfairly for your real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, contact the ACLU, and email every teacher, administrator, principal, school board member, and superintendent (even anonymously) so that a permanent written record exists of your having put the school on notice of the violence occurring at their school. If you feel suicidal, please get in touch with the amazing people at the Trevor Project. If your parents kick you out of the house, then seek out a welcoming shelter that will help; do your best to not involve yourself with alcohol, drug use, or the sex trade, as so many homeless queer teens have regrettably done in their attempts to survive parental and peer rejection. You may not believe it now, but your life and health are precious. There are numerous people whom you probably don't even realize view your existence as a blessing, and many of us are fighting every day to make this world a better place for you.

Third, if you're the parent of a child of whatever real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, please embrace your child's development, and support who that child is as an individual. Please recognize that enforcing a socialized, collectivist mindset of what teens "should" or "should not" be, if they're not harming anyone else, can lead to scarring psychological damage.

Fourth, if you're the parent of a kid who has succumbed to suicide, and particularly bullycide, please find resources for counseling and companionship from understanding and empathic people and organizations.

Fifth, if you're like 20-year-old Kiersten Jacobsen, someone who has lost a brother to bullycide and, subsequently, a parent to suicide, please know that despite the unimaginable pain and numbness you are feeling, you have peoples' thoughts and prayers for peace and comfort. Stay strong; we're rooting for your success in life.

I'll digress slightly before concluding with a message for the bullies.

Several months ago, I was honored that the University of Maryland's School of Law flew me cross country to speak at the school's Symposium regarding anti-GLBT youth bullying, organized by talented third-year law student Brooke Irving. The panelists and attendees articulated numerous stakeholder perspectives to engage a common nexus to help ease this problem and those affected by it. I had the opportunity there to publicly discuss and debate strategies with ACLU attorney James Gilliam, who represented Seth Walsh's mom following Seth's publicized bullycide. As I generally stated in a prior column, what I've seen in laws, court decisions, and analyses of how schools evade laws demonstrates that anti-bullying laws don't work. And don't think that the bullies don't know that.

But not so fast.

If you're a teen physically and psychologically tormenting your peers because they're somehow perceived as different, please understand that projecting your emotional problems onto others has unimaginable consequences rippling across this nation. And know that you're the target of my work, and recognize that I and many others are pushing every boundary to strategically create legal frameworks that will exploit unthinkable penalties for you so as to deter your antisocial behavior and make life a little better and more peaceful for all bullycidal teens -- regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity -- their families, and our society.

 

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