Stories on gay teen suicides seem to be permeating national headlines. In a period of three weeks, six gay teens committed suicide and two anti-gay attacks occurred.
These tragic events have forced the nation as a whole to examine bullying and harassment of the gay community.
“I think that it’s gotten a lot of coverage, but it has been going on all the time. It’s good that people are noticing it, but we should be doing something about it,” said Shelby Juarez, treasurer of spectrUM, the LGBT alliance group on campus.
Juarez identifies herself as androgynous, a form of sexual orientation that identifies with neither male nor female gender norms, but accepts and lives within both.
She has not personally been a victim to harassment or bullying at the University of Miami, but she claims people sometimes mistake her gender.
In high school, however, the football team football team once circled around her and questioned her about her gender.
Juarez attributed their abruptness and concern with an inability to label herself and her choice not to conform to a stereotypical gender role.
Dr. Jill Kaplan, a lecturer in the department of psychology, teaches her psychology of gender class the causes of discrimination against sexual orientation in society.
“Even as young as 3 years old, children start to differentiate between boys and girls, they start to have ideas about gender roles and stereotypes,” Kaplan said. “Whenever something doesn’t fit in, we resist it; it is out nature to separate from those people.”
Kaplan explained a psychological theory called reaction formation in which people despise others with similar characteristics they tolerate in themselves.
A student might see that they have a lot in common with an LGBT student, but he or she does not want to be associated with those characteristics and ends up being prejudiced against the LGBT student.
To get over these types of prejudices, according to Kaplan, students should get to know more about the people against whom they are initially.
“The more you learn about someone, the more you will find similarities, make connections, even like them,” she said.
Kaplan’s psychology of gender class emphasizes an acceptance and understanding of all people- campus wide, National Coming Out Week is aiming at also achieving just that.
National Coming Out Week is observed all over the nation, including the University of Miami campus.
This week is a time to discuss LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual) issues, and participate in events and ceremonies that commemorate the lives of the recent suicides as well as unite the straight and LGBT communities.
“These events aren’t just for LGBT; they’re for members of the straight community and hopefully they will learn new things and be introduced to LGBT culture,” President of spectrUM Paige Giusfredi said.
Despite the attempts to educate students, bullying and harassment continues to have a high prevalence amongst the young gay community, and the effects are alarming.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the largest and most comprehensive survey of transgender discrimination ever conducted, more than half of transgender and gender non-conforming people who were bullied, harassed or assaulted in school because of their gender identity have attempted suicide.
Students that are struggling with gender issues and are considering ending their lives can turn to UM Lifeguards, a suicide awareness and prevention group, or the school’s new ‘Canes Care for ‘Canes program.
Implemented this fall by the Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Pat Whitely, the program aims to get the word out through posters and postcards to promote a caring community, as well as a list of resources that are available to assist students if they are ever in need.
In January, a Web site will be available where students can voice their concerns confidentially for themselves or their peers about topics such as suicide, depression and substance abuse problems.
“Being responsible to one another means you realize that your actions directly impact someone else. Knowing that the choice to act- or not act in some situations- can change your life of the life of another forever. The power and impact of the decision that you make should never be underestimated,” Whitely said.
Rebecca Zimmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.