This post contains opinions that may be considered offensive to some readers on the basis of religious sensitivities. We make no attempt to hide the role that religious bias plays in this subject. With that said we have made no attempt either not offend any given religion or to target any given religion. Please read with an open mind and remain open to thinking critically about how our religious beliefs play a role in the subject discussed below.
Thank you, from all of us here at Alder's Ledge.
The Path From Bullying To Opting Out
There are many reasons that children target one another for bullying. Just looking different can cause a child to become the victim of bullying. The affects of bullying regardless of the reason for it are clear. Children who are bullied have a higher rate of suicide, they suffer depression, become anxious, and can become withdrawn. All of these highlight the isolation that bullying can create for it's victims.
When left unhindered the symptoms of bullying can create emotional and mental issues that can take years to recover from. For some the scars left from bullying can become so incredibly painful that they seek more permanent ways of dealing with them. For these children the path from bullying can lead them to choosing ways of ending the pain once and for all.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in Americans between the age of 15-24 years of age (according to the CDC). On average there are 4,400 children in America who commit suicide each year. In a recent survey of high school aged American children an alarming 14% admitted to having contemplated suicide and 7% admitted to having attempted it before. In a study by Yale University it was noted that children who are victims of bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide. For children suffering from bullying suicide is a last resort to ending the pain.
In the popular HBO series "The Walking Dead", in a world where the characters are surrounded by suffering daily, the act of committing suicide was called "opting out". This callous way of describing the last act of desperate souls best illustrates how society as a whole views those who turn to suicide. They are not seen as having lost hope but rather often portrayed as being cowards.
This harsh view of suicide only serves to add insult to injury. The life that is lost in this, the most desperate of acts, cannot be returned. Every decision that individual would have made for the rest of their lives is decided in one horrific act. All they had to give the world, all the blessings they had to bestow upon others, and all their future joy is erased with just one act. But it isn't cowardly at all... it is just plain desperate.
For these individuals the pleas they made were sadly left unanswered (4 out of 5 who do commit suicide gave clear warning signs). For these; the rejected, the helpless, the downtrodden, there isn't a better tomorrow. They are simply gone... dead to a world that would not help them.
Homosexual teens in America have recently received more attention when the subjects of bullying and suicide come up.
"Gay Iowa Teen Commits Suicide, Was Allegedly Bullied By Classmates"
"Gay New Mexico Teen Commits Suicide After Years Of Bullying"
"Another Bullied Gay Teen Commits Suicide"
For some the media attention to this year's rash of suicides amongst homosexual teens was seen as a media ploy. The conservative right tried to write it off as a method of the left to capitalize upon the deaths of children to push politics when talking about marriage equality. And for both sides, the callousness with which they viewed these deaths once again reflected the heartlessness that HBO showed in nicknaming the act "opting out".
Far too little effort has been made in trying to understand how we can help stop these children from taking their own lives. We have for far too long only offered our condolences to the families they leave behind. And yet the solution to the crisis seems so simple it is painful to ignore.
Answering Their Cries
Children who are being bullied show warning signs just like those who are contemplating suicide. There are moments where a parent or guardian should be able to spot these signs. All it takes is the effort to understand where your child is coming from and the courage to step in. For some the second part is the hardest of all. There is a fear that your child will resent you or the fact that you are perceived to be interfering. Yet once you have identified your child's suffering you must then ask yourself how can you not intervene?
In cases where a child is being bullied the following symptoms may appear (not always):
- becoming withdrawn
- becoming anxious about social interactions
- wanting to skip school without being sick
- signs of depression
- a decline in school performance
- a noticeable decline in self-esteem
- signs of physical assault, such as bruises or cuts
For children who are contemplating suicide there are also signs that must be addressed once identified. It is important to remember that 4 out of 5 children who commit suicide will display clear warning signs, like the ones listed below:
- trouble sleeping or eating
- becoming increasingly withdrawn
- signs of depression
- losing interest in hobbies or activities
- giving away favorite possessions
- saying goodbye to friends or family
- expressing that they can't handle things anymore
- engaging in self harm or dangerous behaviors
- increased interest in death or dying
- and past attempts at committing suicide
For homosexual teens who become suicidal the bullying can also come from sources outside the school system.
Bullies In Faith And Family
Growing up many of us here at Alder's Ledge were exposed to several influences that openly portrayed homosexuality as morally wrong. Whether it was through Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or for some of us an officially atheist state mantra; these influences were put in place from the moment we were able to comprehend what it meant to be "normal". The church (or the state) told us that we were meant to pair off with one member from either sex and create more empty minds for their congregations. That is just plain and simple how the cycle of indoctrination is supposed to work. You are supposed to be born into the system and live by it.
Over the years we each broke free from the framework that either G-d or country decided for us. For our Chinese members this was harder for the rest of us. But for those of us in the West it wasn't exactly easy either. In both cases it took a moment of rebellion... a moment where our eyes came open and our hearts finally began to beat.
We can't express why our given faiths tried to teach us to look down upon another person simply because of who they loved. For many of us it took years to rationalize our religion with our views of our fellow man. But in the end we all came to one conclusion... whether it be society or our religions, the prejudices against homosexuality are unbearable.
That is why we decided to highlight this subject. The facts about this subject may not pertain to genocide (yet in some cases they do). But they do speak to the human rights issues that Americans and the rest of the world tend to overlook. And one of those happens to be the treatment of homosexuals as second class citizens.
This is only further complicated by the troubles homosexuals have to face when dealing with their family and individual faiths.
It is reported that nearly half of all gay males face negative parental reactions when coming out as homosexual. Of these nearly one quarter of them face being thrown out of their parents' homes as a result of openly admitting their sexuality. This contributes to studies that have indicated that anywhere from between 25 to 50 percent of homeless youth are homosexual or transgendered.
For many homosexual youths the reality of remaining "in the closet", or not admitting their sexuality to their parents, is something they will live with well into their adult years. Fear of rejection is only more so amplified by the fact the person they fear it from is their own parent.
As for faith...
Christianity in America, more often than not, cast homosexuality onto a long list of sins. Though the Bible tells Christians that they are not allowed to judge others (and that only G-d is supposed to) this classification opens up homosexuals to increased prejudice from the church. It allows for pastors (priest, fathers, or whatever else they might be called) to scrutinize the sexual orientation of certain members. Not only that, but the scolding is delivered from a pulpit in front of friends, neighbors, and family.
Islam on the other hand makes no attempt to hide it's condemnation of homosexuality but permits the given authorities the right to punish it as they see fit. This is one of the leading reasons why governments like Iran are able to openly kill homosexuals without much condemnation by Muslims across the world. While the religion of peace should be opposing the excessive abuses committed against homosexuals across conservative Muslim countries there is an eerie silence over the mouths of the faithful.
Judaism on the other hand has a far more hypocritical stance when it comes to homosexuality. We tend to portray ourselves as the open-minded branch of the Abrahamic faiths and yet strong prejudices against gays still exists. Beneath a facade of being "liberal", Jews across the world still tend to isolate homosexuals through the same practices seen in any other religion. So while we may lie and say we accept our gay brothers and sisters... we are just as vile perpetrators of prejudices against them as any other. The main difference is that we are lying to their faces while we do it.
Religion should never be wielded like a sword. The jihad (inner struggle) to accept that which we cannot change should not drive us to an outward struggle. We are to treat our fellow man as we wish ourselves to be treated. This is the greatest sign of maturity in our faiths. It is the one and true way to show the love that G-d first showed to us (even when we did not deserve it).
Most of us at Alder's Ledge do not view homosexuality as a sin. Those who do believe that they cannot judge someone else for sinning differently than they do. The main point, however, is that we had to break with the established views of our faiths to be able to embrace, in love, those G-d has given us. And that is something that needs to change.
The faiths we embrace should not need to be rebelled against to allow us to express the love they claim to embody. The masses that make up these faiths should be fighting against the prejudices they have helped to sow in our societies. They should be a place for people to turn to not be afraid of because of, or hate due to, the way they have treated them.
When a child is bullied due to their sexuality there are two things they should be able to turn to for comfort; their family and their faith. If these two things are left off the table then why do we expect society to fix the mess these two created? The family that cast them out to the wolves and the religion that rejected them are as much to blame as the bully itself. The contributions these two have made to the ongoing prejudice cannot be ignored.
Love may not fix everything.
But what better place to start?
Want to learn more or have questions for the author(s)?
Contact us on Twitter: @alders_ledge
Or FaceBook: Alder's Ledge
(note: not all sources listed)
The Jason Foundation