The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that gay and lesbian youth make up about 5% of the total teenage population in America. But gay and lesbian youth make up over 40% of the teen suicides each year. Forty percent. The raw totals are impossible to calculate, but somewhere between 600-1200 teens kill themselves each year in part because of their sexual orientation.
We are loosing hundreds of kids a year because they somehow get the message that there is something about themselves that is so awful that they would be better off dead.
That’s why the ballot initiatives last night mattered.
Because what runs through my head is the image of a fifteen year old teenager sitting alone on his bed watching the election returns. He has braces, is a bit gangly, and he curses Jessica Simpson for recommending ProActiv, because it clearly doesn’t help with anything. When he looks in the mirror each morning his hair is a mess and he assumes that he must be the ugliest guy in the entire high school. And on that bed while watching election returns he hears CNN call over and over:
Voters resoundingly reject gay marriage in Florida.
Voters give thumbs down to gay marriage in Arizona.
Voters send message in Arkansas that homosexuals are not fit to adopt childen.
California voters put a halt to same-sex marriage.
He sees pictures of happy, ordinary people jumping up and down and cheering at the news. He sees their smiles and faces and they look just like his neighbors. They look just like his family. He looks at himself in the mirror and thinks about the things that he’s never talked to anyone about…the thing that he is ashamed of. He looks in the mirror and can’t remember a single time in the last year when he was actually happy about anything. He looks in the mirror and wonders if he is going to be just as miserable for the rest of his life.
Then we lose him.
Gays will get married. We will be allowed to adopt children. Of that, I have no doubt; after all, we live in America.
But how long will it take to get there? And how many will be lost because we went too slow?
It’s very cheesy, yes, but its a reminder to me of the real faces behind all of this. I can argue the politics and the policy until I am blue in the face. But I never want to forget what matters in the bitter end.