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Posts for September, 2011

Jamey’s Bullies Celebrate His Death

Jim Burroway

September 28th, 2011

The parents of Jamey Rodemeyer, the Buffalo-area teen who killed himself following constant bullying, told NBC’s Today that the bullying is still going on even after his death. This time, they’re being directed toward Jamey’s sister:

The parents of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who was found dead at their home on Sept. 18, indicated in an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Ann Curry on Tuesday that their daughter endured further taunts at a school function immediately after Jamey’s wake. At a homecoming dance she attended shortly after her brother’s death, a potentially poignant moment turned ugly after a song by Lady Gaga, Jamey’s favorite artist, who recently dedicated a song at a concert in his memory.

“She was having a great time, and all of a sudden a Lady Gaga song came on, and they all started chanting for Jamey, all of his friends,’’ Jamey’s mother, Tracy, told Curry. “Then the bullies that put him into this situation started chanting, ‘You’re better off dead!’ and ‘We’re glad you’re dead!’ and things like that.

“My daughter came home all upset. It was supposed to be a time for her to grieve and have fun with her friends, and it turned into bullying even after he’s gone.’’

“I can’t grasp it in my mind,’’ said Tim Rodemeyer, Jamey’s father. “ I don’t know why anyone would do that. They have no heart, that’s basically what it comes down to.’’

Jamey’s parents said that he often spoke openly about the bullying at Heim Middle School, but he became more withdrawn at the start of his freshman year in high school.  His parents discovered an online post after his death, reading, “I always say how bullied I am, but no one listens. What do I have to do so that people will listen to me?’’

Amherst police are investigating whether Jeremy was a victim of harassment or hate crimes before his suicide.

Beware The Heroes We Create

Jim Burroway

September 27th, 2011

First, let me stipulate one thing: Lady Gaga’s advocacy on all manner of LGBT-related topics are powerful and heartfelt. While some might see her advocacy as just another means of self-promotion, I just don’t see it that way. And I don’t even see her advocacy as being “loyal to her fan base,” a poor excuse for advocacy if I ever heard one. It’s another way of saying an entertainer simply knows where his or her bread is buttered. I think Lady Gaga would be a strong advocate regardless of what her “fan base” may be. Her career is built upon many things, including image and self-promotion, but her advocacy seems, to me at least, to be genuine and passionate.

And yet, as I watch this video of her performing “Hair” and dedicating it to Jamey Rodemeyer at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, I can’t help but thinking that, in some small way, Jamey achieved in death something he never had in life: a song dedicated to him from the star performer who he described as a huge inspiration to him. If he were alive — and I’m assuming he was like most star-struck teens who worshiped their musical idols — his thrill at her mentioning his name before thousands of adoring fans would have been unmeasurable. But he’s not alive. He killed himself last week after enduring yet more bullying, even after he himself had made his own “It Gets Better” video last spring.

I don’t think there is a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person alive who hasn’t experienced bullying, peer rejection and torment. For some of us, that experience has been indescribably brutal. But the fact that we are alive is proof that suicide is not a natural response to bullying. If it were, we’d all have killed ourselves. For some, however, there is at least one other ingredient in the mix somehow which leads then to kill themselves while others press on. Those ingredients vary from individual to individual, but suicide research shows that one common denominator is often depression, which can express itself in many ways. It brings an extra vulnerability for teens to carry, a vulnerability which makes it extraordinarily difficult to predict the specific incident which could trigger the next suicide.

As I watch this video, I can’t help but recall moments of darkness and despair in my own life when I imagined the huge wave of grief that would be unleashed by my own funeral. I dreamed of my tormenters’ lives forever ruined by their guilt for having pushed me over the edge. Everyone else would know who they were, and they would shun them the way I was shunned. Who’s sorry now, huh?

Who among us haven’t imagined something like this for themselves? The wailing and rending of clothing as people finally realized that their cruelty and neglect would haunt them for the rest of their days, the outpouring of love in death that we felt was withheld from us in life, and, in the scene’s dénouement, a song in our honor because even the greatest pop hero (in my version, it was either Bobby Sherman or, later, Cher ) would know our names.

I needn’t point out the obvious that I never did try to make my fantasy a reality. My self-esteem was so low that I feared that I was too incompetent to actually kill myself and I’d end up a life-long vegetable. I guess you could say my depression was so deep it actually saved me. But we do know the phenomenon of copy-cat suicides, where the aftermath of one person’s death may begin to look pretty good to others who are watching. Which is what makes watching this video for me so horrifying. Jamey talked about his love of Lady Gaga in his “It Gets Better” video. But to most of us watching that video, we would naturally come to the conclusion that it didn’t get better. And, for most of us, it will be obvious that with Jamey gone, it will truly never get better for him on this earth because he’s not here on it.

But is it so obvious to other Lady Gaga fans? To other teenage, bullied, depressed, and hopeless Lady Gaga fans? A Lady Gaga fan who would kill for that kind of a shout-out, even if it is a posthumous one? The LGBT Movement Advancement Project, a joint effort of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, GLSEN, GLAAD and others, have a very informative 12-point guide for talking about suicide (PDF: 642KB/4 pages). Points 7 and 8 are particularly relevant here:

7. DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as the logical consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBT people often experience. Presenting suicide as the inexplicable act of an otherwise healthy LGBT person—or drawing a direct, causal link between suicide and the bullying or discrimination that LGBT people often face—can encourage at-risk individuals to identify with the victim (or the victim’s life circumstances) and increase risk of suicidal behavior.

8. DON’T idealize suicide victims or create an aura of celebrity around them. Research shows that idealizing people who have died by suicide may encourage others to identify with the victim or seek to emulate them.

As I look through the list, I see several important points which show that there have been times when BTB did not do such a good job in talking about teen suicide in the past. I do know that we have broken some of the recommendations in this list. Our mistakes were honest ones, but we can ill-afford to keep making them. This isn’t to say that we cannot talk about suicide or report future cases in which teens take their own lives. Not talking about suicide won’t make it go away, and not talking about bullying won’t make things better for gay teens. But there are things we all can do to better respond to our collective grief and anguish when the spark of yet another young life flames out in self-destruction, particularly when we can easily identify with the pain that led to those final moments.

We don’t know what final spark led Jamey Rodemeyer to kill himself. And chances are we won’t know the actual trigger for the next person who reaches that moment of despair where the only option they believe they have is to follow in Jamey’s footsteps. But we do know that we can chose to honor Jame’s life in a way which can be helpful to other teens who might be at a similar point of hopelessness in their lives. If Jamey’s death is to mean anything, it must be found in the commitment to ensure that people like him can find the help that they need when and where they need it, and to surround them with supportive adults to help them — whether those adults are inside their families or outside; in the schools or off school property. Let Jamey’s death be not an occasion for another poignant music video, but a call to action to make sure every teen knows that there is someone they can turn to. And to make sure that when they need to turn to someone, there really is someone there to help.

For more information on general suicide prevention, research and help-seeking resources, see the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). If you or someone you know needs help, see The Trevor Project’s web site or call the Trevor Lifeline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

Buffalo Teen Latest Suicide Following Anti-Gay Bullying

Jim Burroway

September 21st, 2011

Fourteen-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer posted an “It Gets Better” video last May describing his struggles with the constant bullying he experienced at school. He expressed confidence at that time that his family and friends could carry him through the difficulties. But when he started  a new school year as a high school freshman, the bullying got worse. It turns out that that support wasn’t enough:

Soon after coming home from a family camping trip, Jamey was found dead Sunday. His parents say he was always under pressure because of struggles with his sexuality.

Jamey’s mother Tracy Rodemeyer said, “So he hung around with the girls a lot, so then the teasing started happening like ‘Oh you’re such a girl or you’re gay or whatever and that bothered him for many years.”

Now, they want to carry in his message in hopes of preventing another tragedy like this one.

Jamey’s father Tim Rodemeyer said, “To the kids who are bullying they have to realize that words are very powerful and what you think is just fun and games isn’t to some people, and you are destroying a lot of lives.”