The other day I was taking the boys to my parents when, on a whim, I drove down a street a near the one I grew up on. My kids are still young enough to find tours of dad’s childhood interesting rather than excruciating.
So as we headed down the street, I pointed out my sixth grade teacher’s house, where my friend Clay lived, the mayor’s house, you get the picture. As we passed a small cul-de-sac filled with duplexes, I debated whether or not I should tell the boys that’s where the haunted house used to be.
It had been an old farm house set back from the street in the middle of a couple of acres of what had once been farmland. But by the time I came along, it was an abandoned, dilapidated heap. Nevertheless, every day on my way to and from school, like all the other kids, I dutifully crossed the street rather than risk walking right in front of it.
The story went that on a dare, a young teenager tried to spend the night in the house, but when his friends came to retrieve him the following morning, they found his body hanging from the rafters.
A couple of years after the house came down and the duplexes went up, my best friend and I asked his mom if the story was true. She said there was no such thing as ghosts, but a tragic suicide had indeed occurred there. A young man, devastated after his best friend dropped him in favor of a new girlfriend, had hanged himself. She said the young man liked his friend “too much.”
It took me a few years to understand what it really meant: a gay teenager had committed suicide.
According to The Suicide Prevention Resource Center, depending on the age, 30-40 percent of LGBT teenagers attempt suicide. That’s four times more often than their heterosexual peers. With more than 34,000 suicides a year, it is the third most common cause of death among teenagers.
So why am I talking about this? Because it’s the role of every father to protect his children. I just happen to think it’s also the duty of every person to protect every child.
Having worked — at least peripherally — in mental health, I know that suicide is a complicated matter that can stem from a multitude of triggers.
However, when LGBT students are over three times more likely to say they feel unsafe at school, and 90 percent — NINETY PERCENT — say they’ve been harassed or assaulted at school, it’s not hard to figure out what is the root cause.
And that’s why it’s so important for every parent, every sibling, every uncle, aunt, cousin, friend and neighbor to stand by LGBT youth. That’s why everyone must stand up and be a voice against homophobia, and for acceptance.
That’s why it’s so important that we support organizations like The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention resource for LGBT young people. They’re the folks behind the “It Gets Better” campaign.
If you’re reading this, if you’re a happy, content lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender person, you know it does get better. So pay it forward: join me in donating to The Trevor Project at thetrevorproject.org/onetimegift
In the end, I didn’t tell my kids about the haunted house. Honestly, I don’t know if the tragedy associated with that place was true or an urban legend. Besides, I know it gets better. Instead, I decided to focus on the good memories from childhood and showed the boys where the local candy store owner had lived.