Trigger Warning: Suicide
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Although Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ famously bears a metaphorical resonance with life and the journey towards death, somehow, it seems more fitting in this context.
As LGBTQ+ activists and supporters, we often get blindsided by the vibrance of pride parades, the glamour of elite, ‘Queer Nights’ at upscale bars and restaurants, and advertisements by mass media corporations, offering representation to the same community they’ve capitalized on for decade after weary decade.
Suffice to say, we lose interest in what really matters.
Frost was right, when he realized that he couldn’t stop by the woods, lovely as they might’ve been. As privileged members of the queer community, we too, have promises to keep. Promises to ourselves, promises to those less fortunate, promises to those, whose coffins rest heavy.
We’ve come a long way, but our struggle isn’t over yet. We have miles to go before we find peace. Miles to go before we find justice – buried under rotting piles of debris, faeces and skeletons.
One of the most heart-wrenching events than can occur – is a person giving up on themselves. On their lives, on their bodies, on everything that ever meant anything to them. Imagine being strong for so long that your body is more blood and rotting plasma than flesh. Imagine trying to be a different person every day – a happier, more palatable version of yourself; but somehow, it never seems to be enough. And you keep trying, keep swimming, keep suffocating on your worst fears and insecurities – until one day, you crumble. Like dust.
Upon synthesis of numerous studies studying the correlation between LGBTQ+ youth and suicide rates, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center concluded that between 5-10% of queer youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives – a rate, significantly higher than cis-heterosexual youth.
This could be due to a number of reasons – minority stress, institutionalized and internalized homophobia, poverty as a result of a lack of employment opportunities, mental illness, and a lack of access to healthcare and counselling services, amongst others.
As privileged members of the community, it is our responsibility to ensure, that someday, this statistic ceases to exist.
Here are a few ways we can create a safer space for queer individuals, in an attempt to prevent suicides within the community.
- Change attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community
Politically, regular community-building sessions, rallies and protests can go a long way in ensuring that the voices of the queer community are heard. But more importantly – in ensuring that their cries for change are listened to.
From a sociocultural perspective, mass media platforms and cultural festivals must offer representation to queer individuals and their art – to recognize the oppression experienced by the community, and to provide a platform which makes their art accessible.
On an interpersonal level, values of acceptance and empathy must be instilled into a child’s mind from the very beginning. It is imperative for families to sensitize their children towards the plight of marginalized communities by ensuring that they volunteer at NGOs or spend time with people from less fortunate homes. It is also a family’s responsibility to create a safe space for their children – a child should never cry themselves to sleep – with an aching heart, as their parent sleeps under the same roof. An environment of trust, comfort and sharing is a prerequisite to a child who grows up to become an empathetic, caring and mentally healthy adult.
- Transform the education system, to make it more inclusive of queer individuals
Inclusive is the key word here. Include us in text books, resources, prescribed readings. Include same-sex couples in sociology textbooks. Represent our struggle in history textbooks. Give transgender and intersex individuals a quiet corner in your biology textbook. We want to read books by queer authors – Tennessee Williams, Sarah Schulman, Ann Wendy, Kate Bornstein – we want to see men and women who look like us, who talk like us, who love like us. Make our community feel less alone.
- Use queer role-models or resources
It’s about time the education system employs queer teachers and support staff, who can pose as role models for queer youth. As demonstrated by the famous ‘Bobo Doll’ study conducted by Bandura whilst testing his Social Cognitive Theory – children learn from their immediate environment, through observation and recall. The presence of a queer person in a position of authority results in the normalization and humanization of the community – which is essential to ensure that queer youth don’t feel alienated in their struggle. It’s imperative to employ queer role-models in every field – teachers, doctors, scientists, actors and writers, amongst others – to offer representation to all queer individuals.
- Introduce and implement policies which protect queer rights
As common people, our political agency is limited to rallies, political protests, petitions and a fanatic frenzy of indignant e-mails addressed to the government. So be it.
Participate. Make your voice heard – as it deserves to be. We need better laws pertaining to harassment, bullying and abuse of LGBTQ+ people. Research has shown that bullying puts queer youth at greater risk of suicide, mental illness, substance abuse and risky sexual behaviour – and it’s about time we do something about this statistic.
- Start conversations about mental health
Often, the stigma surrounding mental health, coupled with a lack of financial or physical access to therapy – results in queer youth succumbing to their mental illnesses. All schools and workplaces must include sex-positive mental health units to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth have a safe space to voice their concerns and seek psychological help. Conducting mental health seminars, workshops and introducing a peer-mentor programme are examples of ventures which could be undertaken by academic institutions and workplaces to safeguard the well-being of queer individuals.
- Ensure equal access to education and employment opportunities
The correlation between unemployment and mental illness is well known. Queer people often remained uneducated and/or unemployed as a consequence of classroom or workplace discrimination – causing psychological disturbance, which often results in suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. A lack of employment opportunities, essentially means that people belonging to the LGBTQ community do not have access to an occupation, financial aid or healthcare professionals. Whilst employment doesn’t necessarily assure mental well-being of queer individuals, it definitely serves as a protective factor against mental illness, suicidal thoughts and poverty. Some of the ways we can enable queer people to retain access to education and employment, are: donating funds/academic supplies to queer organizations/individuals, ensuring that queer people in our environment are treated with respect, checking in with your queer colleagues every once in a while – maybe even initiating a peer mentor system, and spreading awareness about the queer community in classrooms, and at workplaces.
- Greater security controls to ensure online safety
In the present day, where people living in a different continent, are only 5 clicks away – it’s a well-known fact that the virtual world is a haven for predators and bullies.
Keeping this in mind, it’s essential that vulnerable and abuse-prone individuals install a set of safety features to protect themselves against virtual predators and unsavoury characters. Instagram word filters and comment blockers are examples of tools which can be used to filter out hate speech or offensive content.
Remember, it only takes one person, sometimes, even one word – to make a person give up on themselves.
For we have miles to go before we find peace.