Queer Bullying and Suicide: A New Perspective
The abundance of queer youths who have committed suicide since September of 2011 have received an incredible amount of media attention. While bringing the strife and struggle of queer youth to light is very important the media coverage of this recent phenomenon has not been a completely positive practice, portraying queer youth in a very limited and confining manner.
The first issue is that these news stories broke after queer (and perceived queer) youth had already committed suicide, and the focus and continuing attention grew with every suicide, however comparatively very little focus was on bullying itself until after five suicides in September 2011 (Meadow 2012). This shows the reactionary nature of the media and how queer bullying did not become a newsworthy issue until a great deal of tragedy occurred. Bullying is a major issue, especially within the queer community, one that media coverage has picked up only recently and still does not necessarily portray correctly or helpfully. Nan Stein brings up several issues with how media as well as schools have dealt with bullying in her article “Bullying, Harassment and Violence Among Students”. One major issue is that many evaluations of bullying do not accurately account for sexual harassment or gender based violence, a very important category as most youth who are chastised for being queer are perceived and not known to be queer, so it is violence based on gender expression (Stein 2007). Stein shows that bullying is reported at 30% while sexual harassment was reported at about 80% in surveys and research, one area of proof that labeling so many things as bullying is detrimental and leads to underreporting, more abuse, and less cohesive consequences since bullying can be characterized as so many things (Stein 2007). These issues and many other nuances of the harassment and turmoil queer youth face are not explored by the media, likely because they are intellectual and not easily sensationalized like other ways of portraying queer youth. This leads to another problem: the media possibly perpetuating queer youth suicide and self-harm by only covering negative stories and not focusing on instances of tolerance, success, or any other aspect of the lives of queer youth.
Media is often considered to be a mirror, one that replicates our culture but it is undeniable that the media also has a part in shaping our culture; from story lines on sitcoms to news reports, media can have a big influence on how we view things. Unfortunately the view of queer youth that news coverage and other media sources have focused on has been incredibly limited and negative. This is upsetting because of a phenomenon called “suicide contagion” which is when the publicizing of suicide leads to increased suicide, however this can be combated with a change in media coverage that shifts the focus from negative to positive, with new stories focusing on resilience, strength, and tolerance in the queer community (Meadow 2012). While the mainstream media has not had much positive news on queer youth the “It Gets Better “ Campaign has begun to put out a positive message for queer youth. The problem with the “It Gets Better” Campaign is that it has not acknowledged the “intertwining Isms” laid out by Barbara Smith in “Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?”. The biggest criticism of the “It Gets Better” campaign is that it does not explore the lives of queer people of color or lower class queer people, rather focusing on how fame, career success, and white privilege serve to erase many of the pains of homophobia. This ignorance of the struggle of non-white, non-rich, non-male queer people does nothing to address communities that already have a generally tougher time due to beliefs like ones that Barbara Smith lays out as problematic. Beliefs that homosexuality only manifests in white people, often leading to more stern, painful, and homophobic ideas of sexuality in communities of color, as well as beliefs that gay people are never thought to be poor, disabled, people of color, and often times women (Smith 1999). These identities and their intersectionality all need to be recognized if queer bullying, suicide, and other forms of oppression have a chance of being combated.
Smith, Barbara. “Homophobia: Why Bring it Up?” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader Ed Henry Ablelove et al New York & London: Routledge, 1993
Stein, Nan. “Bullying, Harassment and Violence Among Students” Radical Teacher 2007.