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Be the Change, Help Prevent Teen Suicide

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Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 14 of Fox's "Glee," entitled "On My Way." This story includes some spoilers.

I just tried Nutella this week, it made peanut butter look like crap, and I love peanut butter. What are you looking forward to? What are the amazing experiences you think about? Think BIG! Mr. Schue had it right. Mr. Schuester was also right to not assume that the Glee Club was safe from suicidal ideology.

The episode people are calling "controversial" and "bold" reminded me of my high school experience more than any other Glee episode. An episode discussing teen suicide was needed, long overdue, and it shocks me that people are saying it is "bold." In a show about teens, played by twenty-somethings, this episode not only mirrored my experience almost 20 years ago but the experiences I hear from the high school and college students I work with. Bullying looks similar in many ways and now has a new tool: the Internet.

Since I left high school in 1995, the only two people that had anything to do with anything LGBT, out of my class of about 1,000, passed away due to suicide. I also lost my close friend in a car accident in 2000. This episode brought back so many memories.

Last year, a woman I know in her late 60s, was talking about the death of one of her friends. I was listening to her and then she blurted out that I "wouldn't understand." I couldn't believe she made such a huge assumption. I quickly set her straight, with anger in my voice; I made it clear that assuming that people who are, or appear, young have not encountered death is very off base. At 34, I have had more than my share of death and sorrow.

Mimi was the only friend I had at my new school. It was seventh grade, and at my last school I rocked the flute. Now there were about 30 flute players and I was last chair. I met Mimi because she was next to last chair. Mimi lived on the other side of town. The rougher side, the side my upper-middle-class parents didn't want me hanging out in. My mom could not resist when it came to Mimi's birthday party, a slumber party. She dropped me off at the small ranch style house out on a dirt road. There were plastic items in the front yard, things like buckets and stuff my dad would never let near the visible part of his meticulously manicured lawn. However, the yard decorations were not the only difference between my family and Mimi's. As my mom and I entered the house Mimi introduced us to her moms. I thought my mom was going to faint; I could feel her get tense next to me. To my amazement, my mom called Mimi's house within five minutes of leaving me there. It had to be at least a 20-minute drive and this was before cell phones were part of American life. My mom would do anything I wanted to get me out of there. I refused and had a good time at the party.

By ninth grade Mimi was first chair in the flute section. I was still last chair. Though she had improved in band and other areas of life, the kids in school started teasing her. I started hearing that Mimi was a lesbian, or at least her mom's were, so that must mean that she was. I went to a church that told me that homosexuality was a sin and that gay people would go to hell. Not only did I keep my distance, but also I started actively harassing Mimi. I teased her, called her names, and just ignored her. I didn't totally understand why I was doing it, and it made me sad at times to see her eating lunch alone. I often ate alone too.

My other friend Ezekiel was out-and-proud starting in 10th grade. To my knowledge he was the first person to go to prom with a same-sex date. We went to Poway High School in San Diego County. In 2006 the school was finally sued for its lack of support for LGBTQ students. The school supported the homophobes all the way to the 9th circuit court of appeals. In 1992-1996 being out was no small feat. Zeke was harassed regularly because of who he was. He was loved by the theater crowd but often was also alone. For some reason, I was a friend to him. We were in the same English class and unlike Mimi; I would stand up for him in small ways.

There are very few things I regret in my life. Most of the things I do regret don't play a leading role in my regular thought patterns. The way I treated Mimi, is something that I have to live with. Oh, I have forgiven myself, recognizing that my internalized homophobia played a big part in how I acted. If I was nice to Mimi then people might think that the queer girl in the baseball hat was really a lesbian. I didn't think I could survive that. I was barely surviving as it was. But, did my bullying drive Mimi to her death? I know that it played a part.

A few years after Mimi passed away I was planning to come out of the closet as a lesbian. I had been working as a missionary and youth pastor at a Pentecostal church, this was not going to go over well. I knew though that if I didn't come out and live true to who I was that I wouldn't be doing much living at all. It felt like I couldn't hang on much longer.

I started looking online for Ezekiel. I was sure he was out there doing queer work and that he might be able to help me through the coming out process. What I found was that while at law school at University of California Los Angeles. On April 29, 2004, Ezekiel Webber, 25, was found dead in his apartment in what authorities concluded was a suicide. Zeke was not there to talk to. I came out anyway. I had plans for my life, I had dreams, I wanted to experience everything from Nutella to sky-diving (still on my list).

Suicide is an awful thing. Karofsky and I are similar people. I was a bully. I was suicidal myself, but in my life, the person I bullied was the one who died. It is not fun and games though. Sebastian, the gay bully on Glee, says, "It's all fun and games, until it's not." I choose to differ. The words we say and our actions mean something.

I decided to blog about this because the young people I work with are telling me that high school has not improved much in the past 20 years. We all need to address these issues. Our young people need all of us. They need young adults and older adults. As long as you can pass a background check, getting involved with your local high school and/or youth center is often easy. They are looking for mentors!

Teachers, don't be scared to talk about suicide. Get trained and start talking! David McFarland, the interim executive director and CEO of the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, told MTV, "Overall, we need to do a much better job for our young people in providing safe environments and they need to feel socially, emotionally and physically safe and supported at home, in their communities and their schools." Be part of the solution.

What are you doing and... what are you looking forward to? Do something about teen suicide. Remind yourself of things you are looking forward to and tell a young person. It can make a world of difference.