Another LGBT Youth Suicide—and the Love That Can Stop This

Kai Wright Oct 14, 2010

It just won’t stop. Blogger Rod 2.0 points out today that 19-year-old former Howard University student Aiyisha Hassan committed suicide late last week. She appears to be the seventh LGBT teen to make the headlines for committing suicide in the past five weeks. Rod writes:

Reports suggest the former HU student was struggling with her sexuality.

“She was having a lot of trouble with a lot of different things, but mainly her sexual identity and just trying to express that,” says 21-year-old Lauren Morris, a fourth-year student. Morris says she introduced Hassan to Howard’s LGBT student group, and both attended meetings.

There are few details on Aiyisha Hassan’s suicide.

I read this news just as I returned from taping a conversation for NPR’s Tell Me More on the recent torrent of awful news about LGBT youth. We talked about the previously reported suicides, some of which were the result of bullying. We talked about the group of young men in the Bronx who are charged with sadistically torturing two teens and a man the gang believed the teens to have dated. We talked about New York’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino’s hateful rant about “brainwashing” young people to be gay. In each of these ugly stories, one thing struck me most: We are all responsible for standing up and stopping this madness.

How many times did Rutgers student Tyler Clementi hear friends, fellow students, even adults hurl anti-gay slurs like “that’s so gay” and “stop being a fag” without hearing a challenge to them? How often did Aiyisha Hassan hear that she was loved for being a lesbian, not just tolerated? What unspoken shame lurks inside those Bronx boys that would allow them to rape another human being with a plunger? How many grotesque caricatures of manhood were they fed, unchallenged, before they came to believe such behavior is masculine? How often do jerks like Paladino spout off around a dinner table or a water cooler or a locker room without somebody saying, hey, that’s not right?

Justice is a big concept, often far too grand to wrap our individual heads around. And there are many, many difficult things we must do as a society to achieve justice for LGBT youth, particularly in places like the Bronx. But justice is also simple. It’s loving others as you would want to be loved, and the rest follows from there. A society truly built on this principle could not help but be just. And the first step in that direction is that all of us who believe in it must have the courage to stand up and act accordingly.

Howard University’s newspaper, the Hilltop, describes how Aiyisha Hassan’s death became a campus vigil where students began to share their own struggles with isolation, shame and fear. It’s a heartening addendum to this awful string of news:

Melech Thomas, senior communication and culture major, organized the impromptu vigil. He was in front of Douglass Hall around 1 p.m. Wednesday when he saw a young woman crying. He gave her a hug and asked what was wrong. The member of Misses at Meridian Outreach Society, an organization Hassan helped to establish, was crying because she found out about Hassan’s death.

Thomas immediately spread the word through Twitter, asking students to meet at the flagpole for prayer.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said at the start of the vigil.

Singular acts won’t end homophobia in our communities. But change has to start somewhere. Why not with each of us refusing to accept bigotry in any form, anywhere we see it? You never know what struggling young person may make it one more day because you had the courage to stand up for love.

This article was originally published on ColorLines on Oct. 12.