I read recently — and sadly — of another suicide by a gay teen. Josh Pacheco of Michigan took his own life in January and his mom believes it was in response to incessant bullying because he was gay. Once again I can’t help wondering why, in an era of increased acceptance of gay marriage and ever-growing numbers of gay parents, have we not gotten beyond this? It’s 2012, not the 60s or the 70s! And why, with the sophistication we have in so many areas, do we still fall so short when it comes to how we treat our fellow humans? I’ve said it before here, and — unfortunately — I’ll likely say it again: what happened to decency and common courtesy…to treating others as we want to be treated? And, like I’ve also noted before, what is the matter with the adults in our society: the parents who allow their children to pick on others (or worse, treat their own children in such a way that they are so insecure that they harass others); the teachers and administrators who turn a blind eye to the abuses happening in their hallways; or the religious leaders who preach hate in the name of faith and their god?
While I’ve not yet had the opportunity to read John Schwartz’s Oddly Normal, his interviews with the Huffington Post and others sheds light on the fact that, even if one of the pieces is in place — say, a child has actively supportive parents — it may not be enough. Given each teen’s individual insecurities, level of maturity or social skills (to name just a few), even the most supportive parents may not be enough to help a kid navigate the emotional and interpersonal challenges of adolescence. Layer on top of that sexuality and coming out, that’s a whole lot to deal with.
Schwartz’s son wrestled with and, thankfully, overcame all of these — an awareness of his sexuality coupled with a physical and an emotional life taken over suddenly by the unseen forces of adolescence. Sadly, as we’ve seen far too often in recent years, this is not the case for many teens, those who have succumbed to outside forces telling them that they are not worthy.
So, in addition to supporting our children and teens as they come out, we also must be supportive of them while they don’t. We must be mindful of the turmoil of adolescence while continually striving to restore kindness, compassion, decency and tolerance to the society into which gay teens will emerge once they’ve outgrown the closet.
While I couldn’t agree more — in theory — with those who say that everyone who identifies as LGBT should come out, In practice, however, it’s not so cut-and-dry, particularly in a society that has become more violent and seemingly more divided. What Schwartz’s interview did for me was to remind me of the responsibility we share as members of the LGBT community to come out when we can, to lead by example and to work to break down barriers to build a stronger, safer and more compassionate society into which our children, and peers, can come out. This goes for allies too — the friends, families, coworkers and others who rightly care about us because of who we are and not what we are.
Those of us who can, should, so that those among us who for whatever reason are not yet able, might. Especially for the kids who, because of the mysterious and diverse ways their adolescent brains and bodies work, may not understand fully the possible repercussions of throwing open the closet door until it’s too late. We need to be an ever-growing safety net to catch those for whom coming out proves perilous. And, to lead by example, hopefully helping build a society that makes it safe for everyone to embrace their individuality…and to one day make the safety net obsolete.