Judy Shepard: A Lack of Empathy Helps LGBT Suicide Thrive
Judy Shepard, the mother of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a hate crime nearly 12 years ago, appeared on the CBS Early Show this morning to address the recent wave of news coverage surrounding the issue of LGBT bullying, and particularly bullying that leads to young LGBT people committing suicide.
Make no mistake, this is not a new phenomenon. For years we’ve known that LGBT youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and we also know that nine out of ten LGBT youth report being harassed in school. These have been talking points for years, as research continues to show a toxic climate for LGBT youth in middle school, high school, and even college. (Both of those links go to information documented in 2001 and 2007, respectively. This is not a new phenomenon.)
But there has been a noted uptick in media coverage surrounding the issue, particularly since July 2010. Then, Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old student in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, committed suicide after rampant anti-gay bullying. Here was a particular awful scenario, where anti-gay parents and adults in the district actively fought efforts to address LGBT bullying, and distributed information that suggested gay people were disordered and could change.
Since then, news media and blogs have covered the stories of Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, and now Raymond Chase, a sophomore at Johnson & Wales, a college in Rhode Island. Chase was found in his dorm room earlier this week, after he hung himself. All were gay students.
In the wake of all of these stories, Judy Shepard spoke to CBS about the connection between bullying, hate crimes, and suicide. But she added something sorely missing from this debate: that the way our politicians and legislators handle LGBT issues sends a damning message to LGBT youth that they are second class citizens, not entitled to full civil rights. It’s this sentiment, Shepard claims, that also helps foster climates where LGBT bullying and LGBT suicide can become heartbreaking realities.
“[Politicians] should be granting basic civil rights to the gay community instead of continuing to try to deny them. To me, that’s what it is, basic civil rights. To deny them service in the military or job security on the federal level, or even the right to marry and receive all those benefits that are derived from that, is just unfair and, in my view, un-American,” Shepard said, noting that even though it has been 12 years since the death of her son Matthew, the climate that LGBT people face can still be deadly in too many pockets of the country.
Particularly in our schools. That’s why there’s an increased push to get the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to officially address the subject of LGBT suicide, and to push for federal anti-bullying programs to include specific criteria related to sexual orientation and gender identity.You can add your name to help push Duncan to address this very serious problem.
It’s also an important reminder that all of us play a part in curbing the climate where violence toward LGBT people can thrive. Politicians have a role. Educators have a role. Students have a role. Parents have a role.
All of us have a role. And according to Shepard, that role is to be both proactive at addressing bullying, and to express empathy to try and understand the lives of people who are different from us.
“I just think it’s so important to try to communicate to our children and/or students empathy, to understand what other people’s lives are like, and a general rule of accepting everyone for who they are and respecting them, just for being here,” Shepard said. “What we do at school needs to be followed up at home. And what we do at home needs to be followed up at school. I think we just think someone else is taking care of it, and, evidently, they’re not.”
Check out the video of Shepard on this morning’s broadcast below. (Note: If the video doesn’t show up, check it out here.)