A tragic story in today’s Chicago Sun-Times demonstrates the continuing need for attention to teen suicide. The story details a “lovesick 16-year old girl” in Atlanta, GA, who crashed her car into another vehicle in a suicide attempt. In the moments leading up to the crash, the girl was sending text messages to the female classmate who spurned her. The girl survived. However, a woman driving the other car was killed, 30-year old Nancy Salado-Mayo, a mother of three.
The teenager, Louise Egan Brunstad, was charged with murder.
”There was what might be described as a countdown to the actual event — 10, 9, 8 . . . then the crash,” District Attorney Paul Howard said.
Prosecutors intend to try her as an adult. She faces an automatic life sentence if convicted.
Tragedies like this are all too common. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds, the sixth leading cause of death for 5 to 14 year olds.
And suicide is preventable. Thirty percent of all young people who commit suicide are gay or lesbian. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1989). This statistic is incredibly shocking, as gay teens only comprise approximately one-tenth of the teen population. This means that they are 300 times more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual youth.
- Change in eating and sleeping habits.
- Drug and alcohol abuse.
- Noticeable personality change.
- Violent reactions, rebellious behavior, running away.
- Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, falling grades.
In Searching for a Way Out: Stopping Gay Teen Suicides, Ciara Torres reports:
Examples of discrimination are ubiquitous. In 42 states, gays have no legal protection from employment or housing discrimination. Worse, laws put on the books during colonial times still criminalize homosexual acts in 25 states. These laws were upheld in 1986 by the Supreme Court in the Bowers v. Hardwick case.
Thus young gay individuals realize that they must hide their identity for fear of social and legal consequences which can destroy their lives. Homosexuals can be fired, evicted, kept from their own biological children, restricted from adopting children, and imprisoned for sodomy. The homosexuality of historical figures has been systematically left out of education in the public schools, giving gay youth the false impression that gays have never affected history in a positive way.
There is much room for hope, however. When schools support gay and lesbian teens, the positive results are phenomenal. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network reports on how Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have taken the lead in reaching out to gay and lesbian students. Sister Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D. and Laurel Zimmerman tell of a girl who stood in front of a class and reported of her friend Heidi. Heidi had been beaten, kicked, and reviled by her parents. When she was 14 she was told she could no longer live at home. She moved from place to place, stayed with relatives and friends with whom she was barely tolerated. She attended three different high schools. “Students and teachers at the schools she attended often treated her as an outcast, so eventually she learned to keep to herself and tell no one about who or what she was.”
Her sin? In her early teens, she had told her parents she was a lesbian. The girl concluded her remarks to the class, “I am Heidi.”
The Archdiocese took the lead:
We developed the following mission statement: “The Pastoral Care and Sexual Identity Study Group in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis exists to support competent and compassionate pastoral care for all students, families, and staff in the Catholic schools communities.” By the end of the year, we had identified four goals:
- Hold a workshop for all teachers, administrators, and counselors on the topic of sexual identity.
- Train faculty members in each school to function as “safe staff.”
- Teach students and teachers that homophobic behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable.
- Form an interschool support group for students.
Sr. Gevelinger and Laurel Zimmerman respond to the question, how can a Catholic school system reach out to gay and lesbian students? They cite many writings from Catholic bishops that show “less concern for homosexual behaviors and more concern for the pastoral care and just treatment.” They provide evidence with the followin statement from John Roach, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis (1991):
“Many homosexuals experience unnecessary pain and suffering … It is the firm intention of this local church not only to advocate for the rights of homosexual persons, but to provide care for such persons.”
There is hope. Sadly, Louise Egan Brunstad, age 16, is now charged with murder. And Mrs. Nancy Salado-Mayo, age 30, mother of three, is dead.