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Notes From The Field: Too Many Students Are Dying

The most inspiring stories can often be found in the most unlikely places. In Webster City, Iowa’s StuCamp was no exception.

First for some background: StuCamp is a day long mini conference hosted by students, for students. It follows the popular un-conference model where the agenda for the day is set in the beginning by asking the room of 50+ students, “What issues exist in your school that you want to solve?” The session suggestions ranged from “school lunch” to “What is the point of school?”

I could write a long post about every session I attended. Each was a flurry of deep, insightful conversation, but he one that stuck with me the most was added to the calendar at the last minute by a student who was clearly passionate about discussing this subject. I soon discovered why.

Iowa has a reputation of being full of extremely nice people and the reputation is well earned. Everywhere I went, Iowans greeted me with warmth and smiles. But I wonder if that greeting would be different if they knew I was gay.

First of all, it’s important to make clear that homophobia is not something unique to Iowa in any way; it’s international. But I couldn’t help but to be brought to tears by the stories of the students in this session.

One student recounted her experience as being bisexual in a Mormon household:

"When I came out as bisexual I got harassed and bullied. I get bullied at school, church, in the street and even in the classroom in front of my teachers. Most don’t care. I know that they would probably bully me too if they could. I don’t understand what I did to deserve this."

She later confessed that she hasn’t come out of the closet to her parents for fear that her mom, following the order of their church, would force her to leave home.

Another student spoke about being asexual:

"I am asexual. They teach you in health class that “eventually” you will feel the urge to be sexual with a guy. But growing up I never had that urge and so I spent all my time wondering if there was something wrong with me. I used to identify as demi-sexual. I’m sure most of your followers don’t know what that is. I didn’t either, but google it. That’s how I’ve had to figure out most things about myself."

She went on to explain demi-sexual to the rest of us in the room because as she suspected, none of us knew.

A third student described his experience being gay and attending a private Catholic school. He told us about how he fought hard to establish a gay-straight alliance in his school but met opposition at every turn. At times, he felt the need to resort to self harm but he had some advice for the others in the room:

"If you ever get to the point where you feel like you need to kill yourself. One, don’t. Two, it’s not worth it. Three, I love you; someone loves you. I have been there before. I have been in the hospital before. But I’m here and I’m telling you that even when you feel like you don’t want to get help….get help!"

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center synthesized several studies in 2011and estimated that between 30% and 40% of LGBT youth, depending on age and sex groups, have attempted suicide.

Safety and Wellbeing and Diversity and Inclusivity are not included in Student Voice's Student Bill of Rights by accident. These rights are important because students who don’t enjoy unfettered access to these rights in school face barriers—often times insurmountable—to their educational attainment. Stories like these highlight the necessity for schools to be vigilant of and responsive to the needs of all their students, not just the “normal” ones.

Too many students are dying for this not to be a priority. Andrew Brennen is a student, advocate, and consultant at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. You can learn more about his work here.

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