Recent suicides must teach lessons

Originally published October 8, 2010

Cody J. Barker, 17 years old, went to Shiocton High School in Shiocton, Wisc. He loved to garden and was an active member of choir. He was obsessed with James Bond and he enjoyed Lady Gaga. Now, he’s dead.

Barker killed himself on Sept. 13. He was gay and sick of being harassed for his sexuality and constant bullying. Despite attending a LGBT support group that was meant to help cope with a culture that didn’t understand, he took his own life.

Straight people vastly overlook the issue of their own sexuality. There is no persecution of the majority, no negative stereotypes.

This isn’t true for many people.

We’ve been culturally indoctrinated to view gays as aberrant. Movies and television use homosexuality as little more than a punch-line, an easy set up and joke that does nothing but play on age old stereotypes, like in “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Sex and the City” and “Will & Grace.”

They remain one of the primary contacts with gay culture that much of middle-America had at the turn of the century.

Now, gay and lesbian characters are slightly more apparent in TV and film, but most of the time, there is no defense of the lifestyle.

ABC’s hit “Modern Family” was criticized by many gay activist groups for never featuring a kiss between one of the couples in the series until last week, which the network eventually consented to, giving audiences the most chaste intimate moment ever recorded in television history.

It’s a culture that not only marginalizes these choices, but ends up demonizing them. The cycle of bullying is bound to continue repeating unless cultural changes are made. Which is what makes the It Gets Better

Project so great and so very vitally important.

Sex columnist Dan Savage and his boyfriend started with a simple YouTube video, talking about their experiences growing up gay, coming out, adopting their son and living their lives to the fullest, in hopes more gay teens will not succumb to suicide.

The point of the video, as Savage says “is that it gets better. However bad it is now, it gets better. And it can get great and it can get awesome. Your life can be amazing but you have to tough this period of your life out and you have to live your life so that you’re around for it to get amazing. And it can, and it will.”

Other celebrities have weighed in on their experiences, including “How I Met Your Mother’s” Neil Patrick Harris, “Project Runway” guru Tim Gunn and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, along with a host of other celebrities and people around the world alike.

These are issues that straight people never have to consider. Our lifestyle isn’t demonized. Our love isn’t questioned.

But bullying, stereotyping and harassment affect our friends, our classmates and our families. Movements like the It Gets Better Project should not only be embraced by the community that it is speaking to, but by all people who care about the welfare of one another.