Schools Battle Suicide Surge, Anti-Gay Bullying

Gay teens Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, and Justin Aaberg all committed suicide in 2010 in the face of alleged anti-gay bullying. Personal Photos

Gay teens Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, and Justin Aaberg all committed suicide in 2010 in the face of alleged anti-gay bullying.
Gay teens Asher Brown, 13, Seth Walsh, 13, and Justin Aaberg all committed suicide in 2010 in the face of alleged anti-gay bullying. (Personal Photos)


NEW YORK (CBS/AP) Asher Brown was just 13 when he killed himself last month. So was Seth Walsh. Both were allegedly targets of anti-gay bullying.

According to gay activists, so were recent suicide victims Justin Aaberg, 15, Tyler Clementi, 18, and Billy Lucas, 15.

Now schools are trying to combat the apparent teen suicide surge among young men dealing with anti-gay abuse, but the politics of sexual identity threaten to get in the way.

Gay-rights supporters insist that anti-bullying programs must address harassment of gay youth. Religious conservatives call that an opportunistic manipulation to sway young people's views of homosexuality.

The invective is "some of the worst I've ever seen," said Dennis Carlson, superintendent of Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District, where Justin Aaberg killed himself in July. "We may invite the Department of Justice to come in and help us mediate this discussion between people who seem to want to go at each other."

Case in point.

"We believe the bullying policy should put the emphasis on the wrong actions of the bullies and not the characteristics of the victims," said Chuck Darrell of the conservative Minnesota Family Council.

Not so, said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "Policies have to name the problem in order to have an impact," she said. "Only the ones that name it see an improvement."

The ideological battle comes on the heels of new research which suggests that the mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people is severely compromised by bullying and harassment they receive in school.

The study examined the school-related experiences of 245 LGBT adults between the ages of 21 and 25. It found that LGBT young adults reported higher levels of depression and decreased life satisfaction.

"Our research makes it crystal clear that anti-LGBT bullying is a major reason that youth who don't conform to gender rules or expectations have poorer mental health later in life," study co-author Stephen T. Russell, a consultant with the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, said in a written statement.

But that logic hasn't swayed conservatives who worry that an anti-bullying law before Congress would "incorporate mandatory pro-gay propaganda." That's Mission America president Linda Harvey speaking out against the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

Perhaps the most level-headed advice comes from Minnesota teen Rebecca Dearing, who belongs to her school's gay-straight alliance.

"This shouldn't be a political issue any more, when it's affecting the lives of our students," she said. "It's a human issue that needs to be dealt with. They can be doing more and they're not."

  • Neil Katz

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