It’s been a terrible month for hope.

September 2010 saw the suicides of four teenage boys who were bullied for their perceived sexual orientation or gender expression: Tyler Clemente, 18; Billy Lucas, 15; Seth Walsh, 13; and Asher Brown, 13.

The online community that I belong to, made up of parents of gender non-conforming kids, has been reeling with a collective sense of loss, horror, and brokenheartedness. Gloria Iorillo (a courageous parent who I’ve written about before, pseudonymously), wrote:

It just breaks my heart thinking of those kids who felt they were hopeless, helpless, lost, with no other recourse but to take their lives, leaving their families and friends devastated.

We have a responsibility to break this cycle of hate and intolerance. The only way is by teaching our children not only tolerance but acceptance for those different from us, and by taking a stand for those kids who are struggling, letting them know they are not alone, they have us, to help them, protect them, and to fight intolerance whenever we encounter it.

Our mere existence is a form of activism. Every time our kids go out the door defying conventionalisms, every time we talk to someone about our experience with our non-conforming kids, we are pushing the envelope.

Our job—our responsibility—is to talk to people. Within the bounds of safety, we need to speak to our families, friends, neighbors, schools, synagogues, churches, the press. We’ve got to share our stories, our sons’ stories, our families’ stories.

By talking we can help people contemplate: what if my child were so bullied he felt the best thing to do was to take his own life? What if my child tortured another child to the point of driving them to suicide? What would I do if I were a child so brutally treated by my classmates?

Jews say of their dead, “May their memory be for a blessing.”  I have always loved the expression, the way it conveys both respect for the deceased and the hope that something good will come of their life, if not the terribleness of their passing.

May the memories of Tyler, Billy, Seth, and Asher be for a blessing.



  1. Jvoor says

    I too have been reeling from the news coming in through the blogosphere about all the suicides the last few weeks, it is shocking. Thanks for sharing the Jewish saying, “May their memory be for a blessing.”

    There are two other teens that I have seen mentioned as having taken their own life, one just today:

    A project that I have been trying to spread news about online is the It Gets Better project. Perhaps you and your readers have already seen it elsewhere, but if not, check it out:

    • shoffman says

      Ah, more heartbreak. It’s good to know about, and so sad.

      Thanks for sharing about the It Gets Better Project–it’s been blowing me away with its message of hope and inspiration. I just watched one of the videos today–a gay man who was tormented in high school said simply, “Life gets better. The bigots don’t win.” We need this kind of hope to hold on to.

      And we also really need to change what’s going on in middle schools and high schools across the country, so that it doesn’t have to be such torture to grow up different.

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