MANATEE — The news of several young gay men around the country committing suicide after being bullied or harassed has reverberated around the nation and Manatee.
In response, a local religious leader, gay columnist and youth center executive have banded together to stress to troubled young people that help is available in times of distress.
Tyler Clementi, an accomplished violinist and a 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, apparently jumped from the George Washington Bridge last month after he was clandestinely videotaped during an intimate encounter with another male.
The case has set off a wave of concern about cyber bullying.
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“If you see a young person being bullied, raise your voice, that’s how to stop a bully,” said Harold F. Caminker, rabbi at Bradenton’s Temple Beth El.
“If you don’t do it, you, too, are guilty if you sit idly by while your neighbor bleeds,” he said.
Simple kindness and a willingness to listen are a good way to help such vulnerable young people, the rabbi suggested.
“People can reach out in a personal way to these individuals, a young person in distress, either suffering or feeling rejection or humiliation,” he said. “The most important thing you can do is go to the person and be a listening presence.”
A gay columnist who acknowledged he had made a number of desperate suicide attempts urged young people to seek help if they’re in emotional pain.
Johnny Faro, a columnist for the website www.tampabaygay.com, a monthly online entertainment and resource magazine, wrote: “I thank the Lord all the time for not taking me, because he gave me a voice to be heard.”
“If you are a gay teen reading this PLEASE seek help, from someone you know is gay or bi-sexual, they will not ‘out’ you...” he wrote.
Faro, who speaks at high schools about gay issues, said students often tell him they feel pressure to deny a gay orientation.
“They’re afraid to lose their friends, their families might turn their backs on them,” said Faro. “They’re afraid if they do come out, the bullying gets worse.”
Locally, youngsters may turn to Sarasota’s Also Out Youth program, which serves Manatee and Sarasota counties with a 24-hour emergency crisis hotline at (941) 544-7016 and a website at www.alsoyouth.org. It also offers counseling and advice, social and educational programs, and a drop-in center.
The center at 1470 Boulevard of the Arts reaches out to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning youth, aged 13-21, said Sue Westcott, its executive director.
“Gay kids are four times more likely to attempt suicide than your average teen, probably because of the bullying and harassment,” said Westcott.
Ironically, the Clementi case has aided the center by attracting new volunteers, she said.
“We’ve gotten a huge number of calls from people who just want to volunteer,” said Westcott. “Our kids all share the thread of being the victims of bullying and harassment; it’s really nice people are doing something about it.”
Beau Hartman, 18, a State College of Florida student who was at the center Friday, said she found the Clementi case “disgusting.”
“Obviously, coming out is a tricky subject, and not everybody can handle it,” she said.
“It makes it even worse if you’re not out, and it’s being aired over Twitter.”
Sara Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.