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A Plea for Empathy

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The terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.

In the last week, it’s been absolutely heartbreaking reading these stories about queer kids discovering this secret firsthand.

  • 13-year-old Seth Walsh from Tehachapi, CA hung himself from a tree on September 19 after being targeted with taunts of his sexuality. He died nine days later.
  • 15-year old Billy Lucas from Greensburg, IN hung himself in a barn at his grandmother’s house, also a target of taunts about his sexuality.
  • 13-year old Asher Brown from Houston, TX shot himself in his parents’ closet also a victim of bullying.
  • 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to broadcast Clementi’s tryst with another man on the internet.
  • 19-year-old Raymond Chase of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI who was openly gay hung himself in his dorm room. The circumstance surrounding his suicide is still unknown.

As I type these words I can’t help but sob uncontrollably thinking about what had to go through these kids’ minds to make such a drastic decision when those words from Pump Up the Volume rang in my head.

It absolutely sucks being young.

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As a teenager questioning my sexuality in a Christian Korean household, there were times when the thought of erasing all the pain was a better alternative than being the isolated outsider with no one really to open up to. I admit that during my junior year of high school I did spend one night in bed with a steak knife and an internal dialogue debating a pro/con list. Fortunately (or unfortunately for you guys that have to read my blathering on a daily basis) the cons won out.

We’re all worried. We’re all in pain. That comes with having eyes and having ears. Just remember one thing: it can’t get any worse. It can only get better.

That’s what kept me going knowing that from that night with a steak knife it could only go up. And I keep thinking that these kids should know this message, that suicide is wrong, that they were such pussies for taking their own lives and leaving a mess for their families to deal with.

But how bad were things for them that even this dimmest of hopes weren’t enough to pull them out of their misery?

Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers broadcasted his tryst with another guy online. Most of the other kids on a daily basis were taunted and beaten because of their real or perceived sexual orientations.

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And hearing news almost daily that someone was bashed or killed on the streets for being gay, transgendered or for merely being perceived to be gay maybe told them that things will never get better for them.

I’m lucky that I didn’t have someone calling me a fag, threaten to bash my head in, vandalize my property, simulate rape on me on a daily basis. I’m lucky that I had the toughness to fight back at the first hint of homophobia against me.

While it seems noble that people are trying to address bullying in schools, it is completely misguided and unrealistic to think about legislating against bullying. How would you punish the kids? What even constitutes bullying?

Maybe I was in my own private la-la land in the 1990’s, but it just seemed there was more empathy in the world back then. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were out there preaching sensitivity. We didn’t have staffers of Senators or state attorneys general going on websites saying that, “Fags should die.”

But it just tears at me that we have lost any shred of empathy in this world so that my queer brothers and sisters feel it’s better to eliminate themselves than going on one day further to face their daily humiliation.

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I have no solutions, but I do want to make a plea for everyone just to love one another a little bit more. Republican or democrat, fag or breeder, Christian or Muslim, can we just take it a little easier on one another?