Six teenagers across the country committed suicide this month. We cannot have another suicide.
The nationwide vigil—of wearing purple en memoriam—resonated true at LAHS today. With so many donning violets and lilacs I thought, for a moment, we had changed our school colors. It was moving and powerful: It gives me hope that acceptance has the strength to rally a school so notoriously lacking in spirit.
It was also a terrible step backward for preventing teen suicide.
We’re all painfully aware of homophobia in this country. It destroys everyone it touches; bigotry rots the bullies, and it dehumanizes the victims. The six smiling faces above the “RIP”—Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas— are painful testament to that fact.
But this isn’t about homophobia. This is about suicide. This is about how in our haste to speak out for justice, we’ve created martyrs out of people who took their lives.
We’ve glorified suicide—not intentionally, not obviously, but we’ve done it nonetheless.
The event on Facebook that referred to this campaign phrased today’s memorial as “Wear purple in honor of the lives of the six gay boys who committed suicide … due to homophobic abuse ….” We can—if not must—speak out against the hatred which led these six to take their lives.
But because suicide is never an option, we can never suggest or seem to suggest that it’s a solution. Suicide doesn’t stop at one victim; each death only says to the next person on the brink that suicide is a way out, that it’s okay to take your own life. And by hosting a memorial “in honor” of suicide, we only glorify it, no matter how indirectly. We only encourage it as an emergency exit.
The flurry of purple we saw today—as honorable and well-intentioned as it was—sent out a powerful message to everyone. Most people will hear that homophobia is vile, and that we won’t stand for it.
For that I’m glad. For that I’m thankful.
But friends and strangers contemplating taking their own life will hear something very different. This memorial proves to the student losing the fight—desperate to be heard but incapable of crying out in any other way—that suicide will get them heard.
Six suicides are a tragedy, and we need to do something to ensure nobody ever has to go through the hell they couldn’t escape. But there are other ways; there are better ways. In the recent “It Gets Better” campaign, public figures decry homophobia, but more importantly denounce suicide as a solution to anything. Celebrities and politicians from Adam Lambert to Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns (in one of the most personal, touching and brave speeches on the web) recollect the joy and love they have after leaving high school, reaffirming life as sacred and worth living to anyone considering taking their lives.
Neil Patrick Harris, Daniel Radcliffe, Hillary Clinton, Tim Woods and even the Google Staff all rally to give hope with three simple words.
“It gets better.”
The promotion of optimism, of love, and of anti-suicide hotlines such as The Trevor Project is the way we should combat suicide—gay, straight or otherwise—not making martyrs out of tragedy.
I’d like to end on a note of thanks. It takes very little for me to sit here and type and criticize; it took compassion to wear purple to school today. In the end, when all is said and done, everyone who wore purple today made the world a better place.
But we have ever more work to do tomorrow.