Tag Archives: Billy Lucas

Dan Savage Tells Youth, “It Gets Better”

I recently wrote a blog about Billy Lucas, the 15-year old Greensburg High School student who took his life after months of relentless bullying from students who assumed he was gay. There was a reason for my writing about an incident that occurred last September.

I want to tell you about a wonderful message of hope that sprang from this tragedy; I want you to listen to Dan Savage, if you haven’t already done so. This is a truly inspirational plea to teens like Billy who face bullying due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Dan Savage is the creator of a syndicated sex-advice column called “Savage Love”. After reading about Billy Lucas, Savage said he wished he could have had five minutes to talk to him before he made his fateful decision to end his life. He wished he could have told him “however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”

That’s when he decided, although it was too late to help Billy Lucas, it was not too late to talk to the millions of kids who were growing up just like him; those kids who were dealing with harassment and bullying because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. He and his husband, Terry Miller, posted a video in which they talked about the issues they faced as teenagers because they were gay. They addressed the bullying and harassment they faced especially in high school and admitted that it was a horrible time in their lives.

But the real message of their video was that they not only got through it but have a wonderful life, surrounded by family and friends who support them. They talked about their favorite memories and the joy they have shared through the adoption of their son. They spoke of hope and living life fully. But most of all, the message that resonated throughout their video was: “Hang in there. You will get through high school, and things will get better.”

“When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for,” Savage said. “So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for after high school.”

This simple video was the birth of a wonderful project which has been embraced by other gay, bisexual, and transgender adults. The goal of the It Gets Better Project is to show youth who face bullying of any kind, but specifically bullying due to their sexual orientation, that life does get better. The goal is to encourage and fortify them so that they get through the rough years in order to enjoy the better years to come.

Their project received national coverage after the apparent suicide of 18-year old Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate and a friend posted a video of him in a sexual encounter with another man.

This time, Savage lamented that the videos were too late for Tyler. “Anybody whose privacy was invaded the way Tyler Clementi’s privacy was invaded would’ve been outraged, humiliated and embarrassed and angry, but we have to ask ourselves: What pushed him to suicide?” Savage said. “I believe that this video invasion of his privacy, this streaming of this intimate, private moment, this outing was the last straw. And I suspect that Tyler Clementi, as we find out more about him, we’ll find that he was a victim of bullying in high school, bullying in middle school … It’s really hard to look at this suicide and not see, perhaps, the culmination of years and years of abuse, and a moment — for Tyler Clementi — of despair.”

After the Clementi case, the It Gets Better Project was literally flooded with videos from all over the world submitted by LGBT individuals who wanted to share their stories as well. And while their messages of hope have been truly inspirational, Savage worried that once media focus shifted to something else, people would forget that there were so many other young people facing the same abusive behavior all over the world. Therefore, he has promised to continue sending positive messages to young people through It Gets Better as long as possible.

“It’s been so overwhelming, [and] we want to create an archive that lives online forever, for each generation of gay kids coming up, so they can go there and they can see these stories,” Savage said. “I’m hearing from mothers of bullied gay teenagers who are sitting down to watch these videos together and taking such hope for their futures, and that’s what I want to see. I want to see the people who need to see these videos finding their way to them. Not just today or tomorrow, but whenever.”

I know that these videos have been around for awhile, and some of you have probably already viewed a few of them. But, if you haven’t seen them yet, I encourage you, whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight, bullied, not bullied, or a bully yourself, to watch them. They are beautiful messages of hope at a time when so many young people need to hear words that will give them the courage to continue on.

Click on these links to hear President Obama, Adam Lambert, and Glee’s Max Adler’s videos on It Gets Better. Explore some more on your own, and if you know a young person who needs to hear words like these to encourage and strengthen them to hang in, please pass the message on as well as the website.

We must teach children that suicide is not the answer; it does get better!

Remembering Billy Lucas’s Suicide

Please allow me to take a step back in time and remind you of another sad story of a teen suicide. I do so to set up some future blogs regarding some positive things that have come out of this and other tragedies like it and to tell you how some very influential people are taking a firm stand to support bullied victims everywhere.

The date was September 9; the last day Billy Lucas would spend with his family and friends. Billy was a freshman at Greensburg High School in Greensburg, Indiana. He lived with his parents on a farm where he loved taking care of his horses and his club lambs. He won ribbons showing his horses at various events.

 But his fellow students thought he was gay, so all the things he was paled in comparison to what his peers suspected he was. In their intolerance, the only thing they saw when they looked at Billy was what they assumed he was, and the bullying began.

It started on the very first day of high school. He had chairs pulled out from underneath him, he was told to go hang himself, he was called gay and faggot, he was told that he was a piece of crap, and he was told to go kill himself. Apparently, as the school year went on, the bullying intensified.

On September 9th, Billy was suspended from school. The reason? It’s actually so perversely ironic that it breaks my heart. He was being harassed in class by some girls, and he fought back. He stood up and started cussing at his bullies, and he was suspended. Was this the moment Billy decided to commit suicide; this moment when he finally stood up for himself and was told he couldn’t? This moment when he compared all of the terrible things that had been said and done to him that were allowed to continue over the long first month of school to the one time he tried to speak up for himself? Was this the fateful moment when his life seemed pointless and all he could see were years of harassment and taunting with no opurtunity to defend himself? 

On that fateful evening, Billy’s mom said that he was acting very strangely. He even called 911 and told the dispatcher that he was causing problems for his mom and people should come. His mother spoke to the dispatcher and told him there was no problem and not to send anyone. In hindsight, I’m sure she wonders now if that phone call was made so that the police would find him rather than his mother or if it was a last cry for help.

Whatever his reason for calling 911 had been, his mother last saw him at 8 P.M. when he went out to the barn to be with his animals. She found him an hour later hanging from the rafters with the lead from one of his horses wrapped around his neck.

We will never know what made him make the terrible decision to kill himself. He left a suicide note which made no mention of bullying. But it is difficult to imagine, especially in lieu of what had happened that day, that the bullying was not a factor in his suicide.

Billy’s mother admitted that she knew he was bullied and that she had talked to the school. However, as expected, the school told authorities that they were unaware of an issue. But they added that they had plans “in the works” to develop a committee to combat bullying. Too bad that committee wasn’t in place when Billy was facing the daily harassment. Maybe he might still be with us today.

Billy’s friend, James Kriete, was the only friend who was allowed to see Billy at the funeral home with the family. Afterwards he said, “I’ve been bullied myself and that could have been me.”

Billy’s sister, Abby, said, “The community let us down.” She’s right; the school and the community let Billy down.

Friends knew he was being bullied, but there is no report of them standing up for him when the bullying was going on or reporting it to trusted adults at the school who might have intervened. Friends let him down.

Teachers let him down. Teachers hear, through students directly or in overheard conversations, things that are happening in their school. They have knowledge or suspicions of kids who might be having a rough time. Students who are perceived as gay are sitting ducks for teasing, and teachers know this. So a watchful eye and an occasional inquiry in private might open communication with a student letting them know they have someone to talk to who will stand up for them. Teachers need to remind themselves that they are not just there to teach; they are there to mentor and support these students who they are responsible for while they are entrusted to their care. Teachers let him down.

And the school administrators let them down. Why wasn’t a committee already in place to combat bullying in that school? Bullying is rampant in high schools everywhere. To wait until it is too late to set an anti-bullying policy in motion, is irresponsible. And according to Billy’s mother, concerns had been expressed to them concerning problems Billy was experiencing. To turn a blind eye to reported bullying is criminal. So, if the principal knew that bullying was going on, and there was no strong anti-bullying policy already in place in this district, the administrators let this family down, too.

Typically, our schools, like our society in general, do not tend to take bullying very seriously. There continues to be that mentality that says that bullying has always been around, we survived it, kids just need to toughen up, and they will survive it, too.

But modern bullying cannot be equated to the bullying we faced growing up. The Internet and cell phones have changed all that. There is no safe place anymore for a child who is being bullied. And the public attacks on Facebook and other social networks are devastating to young people who are trying to find their way in society and figure out how they fit in. 

So, what is the answer? Short of ending bullying, how do we keep children from choosing suicide over the misery of being bullied? How do we get them to hang in there? Well, my next blogs are going to introduce you to some people who are trying to do just that…