If they build it would you come?
The gay community lost another teenager this month. Corey Jones. We reported on his suicide here at The New Civil Rights Movement. We could tell you Corey was seventeen years old, went to Century High School, in Rochester Minnesota, and that around midnight on a Sunday night, he jumped off a pedestrian overpass. What we couldn’t tell you for sure is why. Corey had been open about being gay since he was a young boy. He went to a school promoting LGBT acceptance, where he was an active member of the gay/straight alliance group. He had friends who, after his death, spoke of Corey’s selfless character speaking up to defend other gay kids. He seems to have had a loving, supportive family. Now he leaves bereft a father who for the rest of his life will wonder the same thing we are all wondering; why Corey? Why?
We are left to speculate that it was bullying that caused Corey to give up on life. Corey’s father said he saw a change in his son since he began to attend Century High School, and that he knew there had been some verbal taunts. The school’s principal said he was aware of an incident, but didn’t elaborate. But the leader of a gay and lesbian support group he attended said of Corey: “He was looking for something, but he just didn’t know what he was looking for.” In a way, we hope the cause was bullying, because we know about that problem, and all over the country people both gay and straight are trying to address it. But was it bullying? Or was there some dark monster Corey battled we don’t know about, because even with all the people who loved him, Corey had no one in his life he thought would understand whatever it was he was feeling?
The time has come to make it a mission of the gay community to save gay youth. Every drowning LGBTQ kid who reaches out a hand needs to find a strong adult LGBT hand to pull him up and keep his head above water until it starts to “get better”. The Trevor Project has made a good start with their suicide prevention program. The next logical step would seem to be for the gay community to build their own LGBT Big Brothers Big Sisters Organization, with their own mission: mentor struggling LGBTQ kids through the coming out process.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) is a tremendous organization. For fifty years they have been helping kids of single parents, but their mission is not the same as the gay community’s. For the most part, they seem to ignore the unique problem of LGBTQ kids, and some of their policies even work against them.
If you go to the BBBSA website, it will strike you immediately that there is no mention of the crisis situation with LGBT youth. There is a plea for men of color to volunteer. There is no such plea for gay men. How can that be? We are in the middle of a suicide and runaway epidemic and a group dedicated to mentoring young people doesn’t mention it?
If you type “LGBT” in the BBBSA website search box, the result is: “Nothing Found”. If you type in “gay” you get two result; one is about a presentation the group made at the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland and the other identifies the picture of someone at a charity ball as Rudy Gay. If I had been a mother looking for help because my son had just confided in me he thought he was gay, and everything I said seemed to make things worse, I would have come away discouraged.
Here’s a dose of irony for you. In 2002, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America announced they would welcome both gay and lesbian volunteers who would be accepted and assigned in the same manner as any other volunteer. It was a courageous stance at the time, (and in many places continues to be a contested policy), and in the big picture, it is how we want the world to operate. But times are not normal. Until this LGBT youth crisis is over we need all of these gay men and lesbian women, who understand the significance of coming out, to mentor LGBTQ kids. Right now, every gay volunteer paired with a straight ”Little” (the BBBSA name for the kids they serve) denies an irreplaceable resource to an at-risk LGBTQ kid.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has one other policy that works against LGBTQ kids. Most chapters accept only boys who have no father or girls who have no mother in their lives. In the case of LGBTQ kids, this should not be a prohibitive factor in finding them a gay/lesbian mentor. Parents are often a big part of the problem. Any LGBTQ kid needing help through the coming out process should be able to find it, regardless of his family structure.
To their credit, many communities have recognized the shortcomings of BBBSA when it comes to the problems of LGBTQ kids and are trying to provide mentoring programs. But the problem has become so deep and so wide; it’s time to go big. Go national. Go high-profile. Make sure every kid and every parent knows where to go for help. And by the way, it won’t hurt in the battle for hearts and minds for the “ Christian family” crowd to see the gay community come together to save the kids they have failed.
The bottom line is there is no one who can help gay kids through the process of coming out like someone who has lived through it. No celebrity “It Gets Better” video can replace having a phone number in your pocket of someone you can count on to be there when you call. I don’t know if that would have been enough to save Corey. But I know I wish he had been given the option.
Perhaps an LGBTQ version of Big Brothers Big Sisters could operate in association with the veteran organization? There should be a separate website, and an 800 number where a teen, or a parent or a school counselor can get a speedy referral to the nearest local LGBTQ BBBSA group. But of course, none of this can happen without members of the LGBT community who will step up and volunteer to be a mentor. So I will ask my question again.
If they build it, would you come?