Suicide among young queer people is not a new problem. It’s been going on since before I came out in 1965. I wasn’t out more than a couple months before I heard about the suicide of a fellow member of the small queer community. It’s been a constant issue ever since, with most suicides going unreported. The only difference today is that some families are finally willing to openly acknowledge that homophobia caused their loved ones to kill themselves.
School boards and administrations continue to wring their hands and argue over policy to address bullying but seem squeamish about addressing the root cause, offering excuses such as “Kids will be kids,” and “We have to recognize that we serve varied families with varied values.” What kind of family would support bullying someone to the point where they kill themselves?
The latest suicide that has become public was that of Jamie Hubley, the son of Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley. Hubley was 15 when he took his own life on October 14. In his blog he wrote, “I am tired of life really. It’s so hard, I’m sorry, I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to wait three more years, this hurts too much. How do you even know it will get better? It’s not.”
He was referring to the It Gets Better campaign founded by syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage to reassure queer youth that they just have to endure a few more years of hate and intolerance before it magically “gets better.”
Hubley also wrote, “I’m not really anything special, just depressed. I wish I could be happy. I try, I try, I try… I just want to feel special to someone. I’m gay?!”
The Harper government’s response to Hubley’s suicide was to produce their own It Gets Better video. This from a government that has within its ranks the most homophobic politicians in the country who’ve never been averse to speaking in hateful tones about queer people.
The poorly produced video begins with an MP who informs youth that, while today they may be fighting “some of the fiercest battles” of their lives, “when you get through them life is beautiful.” Tell that to those in our community who continue to struggle with self-esteem, substance abuse and mental health issues that originated in adolescence.
Another speaker tells youth, “you are not alone,” but one wouldn’t know that from the lack of government policy addressing queer issues. We are then treated to a succession of dour-faced Conservative MPs who each parrot the phrase “It gets better.” Included is Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who has opposed anything related to queer issues, and John Baird, the not-so-openly-gay Minister of Foreign Affairs. Not one of them utters the word gay.
Is this the best that our government can do? Videos aren’t going to keep our youth safe. We need programs that provide support and comfort for queer kids, and that are accessible to every young person in this country. We need programs that educate kids about the impact of bullying, and programs to support kids who are bullied.
I didn’t see anything in that video that would suggest that Harper and his flock are prepared to get serious about addressing queer youth suicides. In fact, Harper’s Conservative caucus continues to cut programs that support queer initiatives.
I just spent the summer closing an organization that had been bringing the issues of queer health into the forefront. Unfortunately, the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition is no longer. During its heyday it brought together queer activists and allies to learn from one another and to develop resources and strategies to bring about real changes in the health of queer people. As a national organization it looked to the federal government for support but outside of a one-time 27-month project grant, the cupboard was bare.
It’s time we all rose up and demanded that our governments stop wasting their breath on empty platitudes. Instead, they should get serious about supporting the queer community through progressive policies, strategies and funding to allow queer communities to develop the programs that our youth so desperately need.