Suicide in the LGBT Community, What’s Driving So Many to Such Despair?
In December 2010, I came within 48 hours of committing suicide. At the time I was 54 years old. I had never before considered taking my life, but as 2010 drew to a close, I felt like I had nothing to live for.
My cat literally saved me. I’ve had Charlie, my then 12-year-old feline companion, his whole life. I was all he knew. He trusted me. If I was going to leave him behind, I felt that I should at least find another loving home for him. I couldn’t just drop him off at a shelter, where he would no doubt be put down.
An ad on Craigslist offering Charlie up for adoption produced not a single response. And so I put off my pending suicide for Charlie’s sake. A few weeks later, the desire to end my life passed. As I sit here, telling this sad tale, Charlie lies by my side, sleeping and purring peacefully. All is well in his world. Even though I no longer wish to die, my world has never felt right again.
Since 2010, I’ve read numerous accounts, in both the LGBT and mainstream media, which tell me that many others within the LGBT sphere are feeling the kind of hopeless despair that nearly killed me. We’re all aware of the escalating levels of suicide among LGBT youth. Bullying, both online and off, appears to be the driving force behind these tragic losses. But it’s not just kids.
On March 12, 2013, gay porn king Michael Lucas published “An Open Letter to the Gay Porn Industry.” Lucas’ piece was seen in Adult Video News, an industry trade publication. In the heartfelt letter, Lucas calls upon the industry to offer emotional support systems for gay adult models. Lucas walked the walk: he published his email address and let it be known that any performers who were suffering from depression could reach out to him.
Lucas was inspired to take this stand by the recent suicide of his friend and former colleague Wilfred Knight–Knight’s partner had himself committed suicide only two weeks earlier. The previous month, gay porn models Roman Ragazzi and Arpad Miklos had taken their own lives.
At about this time, Lucas made a shocking revelation on his Facebook page: 20 members of his gym, not one of whom worked in gay porn, had also committed suicide.
In an era when LGBT people are enjoying more visibility and acceptance than at any time in U.S. history, what could possibly be driving this horrifying epidemic?
In my own case, the answer is simple, yet profoundly disturbing. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in an ultra-conservative, virulently homophobic community. My sexuality became apparent at a very young age. On the advice of a Rabbi, my parents put me in a mental hospital when I was 8 years old. I was kept heavily medicated. I was also fed a heavy dose of Bible quotes during “therapy.” This, in essence, is the story of my childhood. I came out of the experience deeply wounded and scarred. I have since been diagnosed with PTSD–Post Traumatic Stress Disorder–for which now I take medication.
Decades later, in 2005, my now former partner found “the Lord.” He left me to live with Kathryn and Stephen Polich, a conservative, Christian identified couple in Surprise, Arizona. In 2007, for no reason at all, Mr. and Mrs. Polich took out a restraining order against me, then proceeded to harass me while the order was in effect. Their actions included sending me emails with phrases like “you emasculated Jewish bitch” and “you ignorant Zionist fool.” They also subjected me to publicly posted jokes about mental illness, comments regarding the “disgusting homosexual acts” I indulge in, and accusations of pedophilia.
I contacted Judge Gerald Williams of the North Valley Justice Court in Surprise, to inform him of Mr. and Mrs. Polich’s behavior. Judge Williams, who had granted them the Order of Protection, assured me that he would do nothing about this. I then turned to gay activists, and gay advocacy groups, and requested help.
The response I got was universal: “Ha ha. You’re boyfriend doesn’t love you anymore. Get over it.” Everywhere I turned in the gay community I was either ignored or laughed at. In 2008, I was subjected to two lurid stories in the Phoenix New Times regarding my situation. In the stories, I was referred to as “delusional.” I was subjected to further snarky innuendos about mental illness. Niki D’Andrea, the author of both stories, also made an issue out of my being Jewish, which I had never mentioned to her when she contacted me and requested an interview. I asked D’Andrea why she had done this. She had, after all, seen some of Mrs. Polich’s postings about me.
“My editor and I agreed to ignore your documentation,” D’Andrea told me. “But I’m an out lesbian, which makes it OK.” A quick Google search informed me that D’Andrea has a long history of such conduct.
In December 2010, the harassment from Kathryn and Stephen Polich continued to escalate. The Surprise police finally stepped in to assist me. Thanks to the kind intervention of Surprise police officer Officer Michael King, Mr. and Mrs. Polich ended their reign of terror against me. Through it all, gay activists and writers continued to either ignore or laugh at me. My PTSD symptoms, which had been dormant for a number of years, returned, and I had to go back on a medication regimen.
It was the combination of all that hate and abuse, from the gay and anti-gay alike, that left me wanting to kill myself. Neither one nor the other was powerful enough to by themselves drive me to that state. It was the combination of both.
To this day, I’ve been unable to find a single gay activist who will tell me that they’re sorry I was so horribly treated. I’ve told my story to literally hundreds of gay activists, all of whom know about my close brush with suicide. In August 2012, Times of Israel Magazine published “A Gay Jewish Man Learns That Hate Can Come From the Most Unexpected Places,” in which I shared a more detailed version of my story. Yet not one of the activists who claim to be fighting for our equality, or purport to be saving us from suicide, will offer me a kind word.
I am not alone in this experience. On April 4, SFGN courageously published “Bullying Is Not a Gay Right,” my expose on gay activist Kevin Patrick O’Neil, who has a history of bullying and threatening other LGBT people.
I’ve shared the O’Neil story with the LGBT activist community. This included showing them actual threatening emails that O’Neil sent to Rinna Hoffman, a young lesbian suicide attempt survivor. As with my own story, I showed Hoffman’s emails to hundreds upon hundreds of people. Again I was ignored.
Those who saw Rinna’s emails include Scott Rose, a gay blogger who’s been published by Huffington Post and The New Civil Rights Movement. In a series of Facebook messages dated February 5, 2012, Rose expressed his support for the manner in which Hoffman was treated by O’Neil.
Hoffman’s emails were also seen by Laura McGinnis of The Trevor Project, an LGBT youth suicide prevention organization. McGinnis told me she would offer a statement “if I can find the time”, she said. She never found the time.
Gay blog sites such as Addicting Info and Taboo Jive publicly declared O’Neil to be a hero; they also saw the emails O’Neil sent to Hoffman.
What does it say about us as a community when a victim of anti-gay bias can be ridiculed, and a young suicide survivor can be threatened? What does it say about our movement when absolutely no one will come forward to right these terrible wrongs?
There’s a great deal of validity to the argument that we’re a psychologically damaged people. Centuries of hate have turned us into haters.
At some point we have to own up to what all that hate has turned us into. In “Bullying Is Not a Gay Right” I stated that our kids were killing themselves in record numbers. We’ve been failing them, I pointed out.
But now we see that it’s not just kids who are dying. How many funerals must there be before we hold our leaders, and ourselves, accountable?