Rash of gay student suicides draws national attention

Glenn Townes | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.

A recent spate of suicides by young teens and college students has raised questions and yielded an uncomfortable awareness about an issue that, historically, African-Americans are often too reluctant to discuss, according to various mental health experts and published reports.

Last week, Raymond Chase, an openly gay African-American college student at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, hung himself in his dorm room. Chase was only 19 and a native of Monticello, N.Y.

While the details of his suicide are still being investigated, officials and others strongly suspect that Chase was driven to end his life by bullying because of his sexual preference.

However, while the suicide of Chase has garnered only a modicum of media coverage, the same cannot be said about the recent suicide of another college student, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old white freshman at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Two weeks ago, Clementi leapt to his death from the Brooklyn Bridge after his roommate and another student recorded his sexual encounter with another male. The intimate moment was streamed live on the Internet via hidden webcam. The two students involved in the incident have been charged with invasion of privacy and additional charges, including hate crimes, which are pending.

Rutgers University officials ordered a moment of silence to remember Clementi at the school's homecoming football game on Saturday.

Clementi's suicide and the pervasive issues of homophobia, suicide, hate crimes, technology and the invasion of privacy have all been thrown into the national spotlight. In addition to Chase and Clementi, at least three other teens, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas, have committed suicide because of issues or circumstances regarding sexuality.

"We encourage all people who feel connected to these tragic events to pause for a moment of silence and reflection in remembrance of Raymond Chase, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown and Billy Lucas," said Charles Robbins, executive director of the Trevor Project in West Hollywood, Calif. "We mourn the loss of these young people and will take action to stop bullying crimes that lead to suicide."

The Trevor Project is a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention efforts among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth. "Our organization looks to stop the cycle that leads young lesbian, gay and transgender people to feel as if they are alone or have no place or no one to turn to," Robbins said.

To find out more about the Trevor Project, visit www.TheTrevorProject.org.