Trigger Warning: This post contains mentions of suicide.
The tragic death of Denver nine-year-old Jamel Myles by suicide following extreme anti-gay bullying at school has shaken LGBTQ and allied communities around the country, and comes as students are heading back to their classrooms.
Myles had come out to his family over the summer and was excited to start the school year and tell his classmates because he was “proud of himself,” said his mother Leia Pierce, reported by KDTV. But just four days into the his new school year, all of that had changed. According to family members, classmates told Jamel that “he should kill himself.”
“Will you do my son and I a favor?” asked Pierce in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Stand together as equals and show love to everyone, with acceptance of everyone.”
HRC and the University of Connecticut’s 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report found alarming trends among more than 12,000 respondents, ranging in age from 13 to 17:
- More than 70 percent reported feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week;
- Only 26 percent of youth said they always feel safe in their school classrooms -- and just five percent said that all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people;
- Only 25 percent of LGBTQ youth have families who show support for them by getting involved in the larger LGBTQ and ally community.
And, heartbreakingly, the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that LGB youth were four times more likely than non-LGB youth to attempt suicide in the previous year. The reporting on transgender students is expected to be published later this year.
Myles’ story reinforces that children even younger than this age range are hearing the same dangerous messages, and are too often made to feel hopeless and alone simply for being who they are.
Addressing these startling statistics starts with schools and communities alike working to foster safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ young people.
HRC’s Welcoming Schools program provides specific guidance to parents, teachers and the wider community for preventing anti-LGBTQ bullying and aggression in schools. This can be as simple as responding appropriately to anti-LGBTQ comments in the classroom, or encouraging educators to promote inclusivity and diversity in their lesson plans.
Parents and families can start by learning the facts and educating themselves about issues that impact LGBTQ youth. Whether or not families have openly LGBTQ children, it is vital to make home a safe and affirming space for all identities. We all can play a role in our communities to ensure that LGBTQ youth feel safe and supported.
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re a young LGBTQ person and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project’s 24-hour crisis hotline for youth at 1-866-488-7386. If you are a transgender person of any age, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
To learn more about supporting LGBTQ youth in their homes, schools and communities, visit www.hrc.org/youth. For more information about how HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools Program can help schools work to become more inclusive and welcoming of LGBTQ young people, check out welcomingschools.org.