When I was an 18-year-old, closeted Private in the United States Army, after dealing with seemingly endless torment from superiors and coworkers that was both homophobic and racist, I waited until all my roommates weren't home, took a bottle of vodka and pills into the restroom and closed the door behind me. I didn't expect to come out alive. I wanted to kill myself, because I felt isolated, alone and shunned by my coworkers as well as by my conservative Christian mother. For me, suicide was both an escape from my problems and a solution to them. Thankfully, I have an older sister who was there for me when I needed her, and her calming voice on the other end of the phone line stopped me from making a serious mistake.
I have traveled all across the country speaking about my own experiences with suicide, coming out and "don't ask, don't tell," and there is not a single place I visit where someone doesn't share with me his or her own story about a friend or family member who has been touched by these issues. Sometimes they just want a hug, and I can feel their bodies quake with the sobs as they remember their friends or loved ones who have been lost forever.
When I read yet another story about a gay youth who has committed suicide, I feel so many things. I feel pain that another bright and talented gay youth has decided to end it all far too early. I feel anger that we live in a society that is all too willing to turn a blind eye to homophobic bullying. Most of all, I feel the deep-rooted fear and worry that as we give a voice and a face to these youth who have gone too soon, who truly are our fallen angels, we are in some way inadvertently inspiring other gay youths who may be right on the brink of an attempt to take their own lives to move forward with it.
I don't speak for the Trevor Project or any other official suicide prevention organization. I don't know the suicide rates. I don't know what was going through any of these young people's heads before they decided to take their own lives. What I do know is my own experience and what I was feeling as I was planning to take my own life. I know that I wanted it to be over. I know that I was feeling a deep-rooted pain. I also know that I was feeling a very selfish emotion, which was to make everyone who didn't see my greatness or pay attention to me stand up and do so. I wanted them to miss me. I wanted them to realize what they'd missed. I wanted them to pay. I thought my lifeless body would've caused the homophobic soldiers in my platoon to rethink every time they called me a "faggot." I thought my lifeless body would've caused my mother to rethink every time she told me I was going to hell for being gay. My suicide would've been the ultimate selfish act, because it was about picking an escape hatch instead of truly dealing with my sexuality, my homophobic mother and the homophobia of my fellow soldiers.
I simply cannot stop myself from wondering if, by giving a face and a voice to the gay youth who have been lost to suicide, we are inadvertently motivating and triggering these emotions in other people who are already suicidal. By turning suicide victims like Jadin Bell, Jamey Rodemeyer and Carl Walker Hoover Jr. into our fallen angels and giving them the attention, love and empathy in death that they never received in life, are we in some way fulfilling the baser impulses of suicidal behavior while inspiring others on the cusp to follow through?
It is a question that is painful to ask, but one that I cannot get out of my mind. Is it time to stop covering gay youth suicides in our LGBT blogs and media? I think it very well may be. I don't want to ignore or cover up the issue, but I also don't want the outpouring of love and support for these victims to inspire any other impressionable gay youth in the wrong way. I don't want any more fallen angels.
Rob Smith is a gay Iraq war veteran, lecturer, author and LGBT activist. His memoir, Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming of Age as a Gay Man in the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Army, will be released January 2014.