A 15-year-old took his own life last week in what is thought to be another suicide at least partially connected to school bullying.
Bullied for Being Different
Billy (William) Lucas, who was a student at Greensburg Community High School, was found hanging in a family owned barn on Thursday evening.
While reports say that Lucas made no reference to bullying in his suicide note, it has been suggested that he was the victim of a sustained campaign of bullying at the hands of some of his classmates.
In particular, it is reported that he was subjected to taunts about his perceived sexual orientation and was called “fag” among other jibes. It should be noted that Billy never self-identified as being gay.
“People would call him ‘fag’ and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he’s different basically,” said student Dillen Swango.
Students said on that same day, some students told Billy to kill himself.
“They said stuff like ‘you’re like a piece of crap’ and ‘you don’t deserve to live.’ Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever,” said Swango.
Principal Phil Chapple doesn’t deny that students are bullied in the high school, but he said he didn’t know Billy was one of the victims.
“We were not aware of that situation,” said Chapple.
“He was threatened to get beat up every day,” friend and classmate Nick Hughes said. “Sometimes in classes, kids would act like they were going to punch him and stuff and push him.”
Friends of Lucas say that he had been tormented for years.
“Some people at school called him names,” Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas’ sexual orientation, and that Lucas, for the most part, did little to defend himself.
“He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him,” Hughes said.
School Administrators Take Steps to Respond to Bullying
In the wake of such a tragedy, questions have been raised as to whether the school itself was doing enough to protect children from the harms of bullying despite having a general anti-harassment policy.
While recognizing that this is a somewhat standard response and that it is imperative to guard against blind finger-pointing, it seems that bullying has been a problem at Greensburg Community High School for quite a time, as it is in nearly all schools:
Parents said bullying is a pervasive issue, and some think schools aren’t doing enough to address the problem.”My opinion, I don’t think they’re strongly doing enough,” said Karla Scheibler, who said her son was bullied in junior high school. “They just picked on him and called him a geek and all this stuff. It tore him apart.”
A former student, who didn’t want to be identified, said he was 14 when he overdosed after being bullied.”I got picked on and bullied because I was gay,” the student said.
“I took a handful of pills one night, and the only difference is I got to live and Billy didn’t.”
Staff at Greensburg Community High School are said to have brought in counselors to help children deal with this situation and are creating a committee whereby staff and parents can discuss ways to tackle the bullying issue. But, sadly, this came too late for Billy.
Plans for comprehensive anti-bullying reform have met resistance from groups like Focus on the Family who recently claimed that LGBT inclusive anti-bullying policies are a way for gay groups to impose a “gay agenda” on schools and indoctrinate youth. Advocates point out that the only “gay agenda” here is this: to create safe schools free of harassment and bullying that leads to tragedies like this.
While this post has highlighted the awful treatment Billy is said to have received at the hands of some his peers, a great many students appear to have gathered on Billy’s Facebook memorial page to express their sadness and grief. According to that page, students in the school district wore black on Monday to mourn Billy’s death while, on Wednesday September 15, there is a candlelight vigil planned in his honor.
Facts About Suicide and Taking Steps to Combat Bullying
Billy Lucas’ death came during International Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, acting as an all too vivid reminder of this terrible issue.
Here are some facts about suicides relating to bullying and the school environment from the Trevor Project, the leading national organization on crisis intervention and suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ youth:
- In the United States, more than 34,000 people die by suicide each year (2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC).
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, accounting for over 12% of deaths in this age group; only accidents and homicide occur more frequently (2006 National Adolescent Health Information).
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses (2008 CDC).
- For every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts 2007 Youth Risk Survey).
- More than 1/3 of LGB youth report having made a suicide attempt (D’Augelli AR – Clinical Child Psychiatry and Psychology 2002)
- Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt (Grossman AH, D’Augelli AR - Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 2007)
- Questioning youth who are less certain of their sexual orientation report even higher levels of substance abuse and depressed thoughts than their heterosexual or openly LGBT-identified peers (Poteat VP, Aragon SR, et al – Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2009)
Charles Robbins, Executive Director for the Trevor Project, released a statement regarding Billy’s death which reads:
“We are saddened to once again hear of another young person who died of suicide as a result of school bullying. Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old at Greensburg High School stood out among the 630 students in the school because he was different. Other students perceived that Billy was gay and he was relentlessly tormented as a result.
While the school district does have anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies, the policies do not specifically protect youth from harassment due to real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression. Only eleven states in the country offer fully inclusive anti-harassment and anti-bullying education policies, and Indiana is not among them.
Currently, there is no national standard to protect all of our children from bullying and harassment at school. Yet, we know that as many as 1 in 10 sexual minority youth have been physically assaulted at school, and that when youth are threatened or get into fights, or have property stolen at school, their risk of attempting suicide more than doubles. That is why The Trevor Project supports fully inclusive federal legislation, like the Safe Schools Improvement Act currently under consideration in the Senate, to offer the protections all of our children need from torment and ridicule at school, regardless of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Only with an enforceable national standard that offers resources and support to educators and staff, no matter the size of a school district, will we be able to prevent future tragedies like Greensburg High School has experienced. The death of Billy Lucas is a tragedy, and one that might have been prevented if his school district had the support of a fully inclusive anti-harassment and anti-bullying law.
The Trevor Project runs a 24/7 helpline with trained counselors ready to listen if you or someone you know would like to talk about the issues dealt with in this post.
The Trevor Project Helpline number is 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
Trevor Project Links:
- Follow the Trevor Project on Facebook
- Follow the Trevor Project on Twitter
- Volunteer for the Trevor Project
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