Are Anti-Bullying & Gay Rights Activists Exploiting Teen Suicides?

Posted by on October 31, 2010

The family of Billy Lucas, a Greensburg (Indiana) teen who took his life in September, are “furious” about what happened after Billy’s suicide, according to a Greensburg Daily News story on September 16th:

They feel people may be trying to benefit, either monetarily or politically, from Billy’s passing.

An issue that has struck a cord revolves around questions about his sexual orientation. The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender) community has latched onto the story in recent days and, his family does not wish to have Billy become ‘a poster child’ for their cause.

“He’s not gay. He was not gay,” Abby Lucas said.

His mother said he was too young to know what he was.

“I know everyone has these assumptions. But they’re not true. I know he was bullied,” Annie Lucas said. “It wasn’t (that he was gay). He was bullied for everything. I don’t want Billy to have a label.”

The family asked advocates, including those, “…trying to spin this as an issue of homosexuality…,” to stop attaching Billy’s name to their cause.

My Take: Multiple Interests and Agendas Abound

There is no debate that activists with social and political agendas have used a number of recent teen suicides to put a personal face on their advocacy causes.  Are they doing it maliciously?  I have no reason to believe so.  I believe it stems from their passion for their cause.

There is also a cottage industry of bullying programs, anti-bullying products, and bully prevention services popping up faster than anyone can track.  Twitter, other social media, and email are on fire each day, buzzing with new “solutions” to what many have questionably characterized as a bullying “crisis” in our nation’s schools.  Their mission: To sell products and programs, many with the intent of helping to address a legitimate concern, some with the intent of making a fast buck in an areas where they have no real experience or expertise. 

Our politicians, including a number of high-ranking elected and political officials at the state and federal government levels, have jumped on the bullying bandwagon to propose dramatic and questionable laws and policy changes.  Again, many with good intentions and some with the primary goal of political grandstanding to get votes.

Caution Needed to Avoid Contagion, Politicizing of Teen Suicides

As a 25-year-plus school safety professional, I have serious reservations as to how anyone can determine in hours, or even days, what actually caused a teen suicide.  To see news stories, Twitter posts, blog articles, activist vigils, and traditional media stories claiming within days of a teen’s death that it was directly caused by “bullying” or “anti-gay harassment” or anything else is dangerous and irresponsible. It takes months or years to uncover the causes leading any particular individual to suicide, and the truth is the reasons may never become known, especially in a public forum.

Suicide experts consistently report that up to 90% of those individuals who complete suicide have diagnosable mental health illnesses at the time of their deaths.  Media and suicide research consistently warns about the contagion effect — where media accounts which glamorize or otherwise dramatically report on suicides can contribute to a suicide contagion.  Yet many, ranging from the media (traditional and social) to the political activists, seem either oblivious or indifferent to these established facts.

Are anti-bullying and gay rights activists exploiting teen suicides for their political purposes?  Billy Lucas’ family thought so. 

At a minimum, I think the media and the activists need to take a closer, more responsible look at their actions. 

What say you? 

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com

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