If you’ve happened to tune in to just about any news broadcast recently, you’ve most likely been confronted with at least one of the faces of the victims of suicide. Since January there have been, to date, at least 11 publicized suicides that are related at to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender teenagers. We are in the midst of a domino effect that is reaching crisis proportions.
As a concerned citizen, I’d simply had enough. Along with fellow entertainer Khloe Wold, I understood these issues needed to be addressed before one of these tragedies happen in our own community. On Monday, Oct. 11, we were astounded to play host to more than 250 area residents at a candlelight vigil held in Phoenix Park. Our intention with this event was to be the catalyst for a local discussion of how we can affect change in the Chippewa Valley and, in the process, to perhaps educate and promote compassion.
I’m happy to say it seems our intentions have proven effective. Following the coverage of our event on one of the local news affiliate websites, a heated debate about whether the vigil was an over-sensitive reaction to an issue that’s merely being overblown by the media ensued. The comment most reiterated was that teenagers of all backgrounds and differences have been bullied for years. Why not hold a vigil for those taunted because of their weight, their disabilities, their penchant for academic greatness? One citizen even went so far to make the statement that the current rash of suicides were a poor argument that LGBT citizens should be allowed to serve openly in the military if they couldn’t even make it through high school without “jumping off a bridge.”
As someone who calls the Chippewa Valley home, these responses did not shock me. There aren’t too many “clever” allegories that haven’t already been used to call me unacceptable or inappropriate. I, however, understand that remaining more civil than these arguments may help to give me more credibility in my response to these questions.
With 11 teenagers with one common factor dead, it ceases to be appropriate to compare these instances to a mere rite of passage. Yes, teenagers always have been bullied. Yes, everybody has at least one personal quirk that they can be taunted for. What sets these teenagers apart?