It is hard to believe that in this century, and in this highly developed country, a rash of suicides has spread among adolescents who are relentlessly harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Several young people have had to die to bring to the national spotlight the devastating emotional and social consequences of gay-bashing that goes on not only in schools but also in colleges, and now in the cyber world. It's as if the Taliban were in charge of our society's rules.
Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself in his backyard. Asher Brown, 13, shot himself after coming out of the closet. Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself on the same day a group of students tormented him. Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped from a bridge because his roommate videotaped him in an intimate relationship and uploaded the images to the Internet. Raymond Chase, 19, hanged himself in his university dorm. The list goes on.
Christopher Alvarez, who studies at Broward Community College and graduated from Northeast High School in Oakland Park, understands how these young victims felt before taking their own lives. He needs only to look in the mirror and think back a few years.
"Suicide always seemed to me the easy way to get rid of 'the problem,' " confessed Alvarez, 20, who is openly gay. "When you feel that you're all alone and other people call you nasty names, you start to believe that you are what they say."
The first time he felt like ending his life was at the age of 10, as a student at West Hollywood Elementary School in Broward. He had no friends and no one wanted to sit near him; his classmates mocked him, his teachers would not listen to him and his mother had drug problems.
His high-school years were worse because by then he was out of the closet. The kids teased him because he allegedly ogled them. Once, a young man shoved him against the wall in the bathroom of the gym and assaulted him, holding him by the shoulders.
"I felt like I would be raped,'' he recalled. "I was convinced I was a second-class person.''
In 11th grade, a lesbian English teacher intervened and taught him that he was a beautiful human being like any other. He soon joined a gay youth group sponsored by SunServe in Fort Lauderdale. The suicide plans ultimately faded.
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