Jill Bennett’s National Coming Out Day Video: “For Them”

jill-whiteBy Jill Bennett

Back in February, I read a story about Jadin Bell, an Oregon boy who was bullied and subsequently hanged himself. I was brought to tears reading about his father’s quest to cross the country on foot in hopes of educating high school students about bullying and suicide.

I felt sad…angry…confused.  It brought me back to 2010 when Dan Savage created the It Gets Better initiative in response to the rash of LGBT suicides that year.  Every time a new story about another suicide broke, our community’s collective response was one of frustration and hopelessness.

How could this still be happening?   In this era of legalized gay marriage, GSA’s, Glee…how could our community still be struggling this much with self-hatred?

I had the idea for this tribute then, but it wasn’t until August when lesbian filmmaker Vanessa Libertad Garcia took her life that I finally decided to call upon some friends to help me say goodbye. While I did not know Vanessa personally, we exchanged emails and messages via social media on a few occasions.  She had actually reached out to me about an upcoming project just one month before her suicide.

Her public suicide note was an absolutely devastating and painful post to read, but I think it captured the hopelessness that these people must have felt in their final moments of life. We used portions of her letter in the video.

I read her post and once again, I cried. I cried for Vanessa, for Jadin, for all of them. I felt powerless, impotent. I wondered what more could be done.  I knew that I didn’t have the answer, but what I could do is say goodbye. This video is a tribute and a statement from us, the survivors.  My aim was to capture our pain and reaction to this epidemic.

All the actors featured in the video are members of our community – Dalila Ali Rajah, Conor Lane, Tyler Lowell, Haviland Stillwell, Tom Lowe and Lauren Neal. I asked them to read Vanessa’s suicide note, and simply filmed their response. We had to use Sia‘s song “Breathe Me” because her evocative, haunting words still remain the quintessential soundtrack to this tragedy, even almost a decade after its release.

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Jess is a pop culture junkie living in New York City. She enjoys endless debates about The L Word, Howard Stern, new techy gadgets, DVR, exploring the labyrinth of the Lesbian Internet, memoirs, working out, sushi, making lists, artsy things, anything Lady Gaga touches, traveling, puppies, and nyc in the fall. Find her on Twitter @jessxnyc or via email.

Jess has written 267 articles for us.

16 Comments

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    That was really hard for me to read. Suicide is a really difficult topic for me. I’ve tried to kill myself several times within the last year and a half, and I feel so guilty for what I’ve put everyone close to me through. At one point the hospital psychiatrist had a private meeting with my parents to tell them he thought I would probably kill myself within a year. In three weeks, that will have been one year ago. I’m proud of myself for deciding to live–it’s honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done–but it’s still really tough at times.

    The hospital was one of the first places I really connected closely with other queer people, and there were quite a few of them. They were all such amazing people and I couldn’t understand why they would want to die, but then they told me the same thing. It made me realize what a big problem suicide really is for the LGBT community.

    That list of names in the video was particularly heartbreaking. Far too many good people have died that way.

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      Katherine,

      it’s brave and honest and beautiful to share your experience here, even when it isn’t easy. I just wanted to say that I am so glad you found the strength and courage to stay in this world and be here to share your words today.

      Back when depression and I were far more frequent adversaries than today, the thing that made it so difficult was never hearing the story of anybody that won. Years later, I realize that SO MANY people struggle in their own way, but we all bring so much shame and isolation with us that nobody wants to talk about the fact we’ve had days we wished wouldn’t begin. Really we should be celebrating how awesome and strong it makes us that we got through it. So on that note, you are fantastic! Hats off to you! x

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        ”the thing that made it so difficult was never hearing the story of anybody that won.”

        This is so true. At one point, I was so overwhelmed by the avalanche of stories of this or that person (ordinary people, artists, whatever) who took their life after decades of struggling with depression, I had the impression that if you had been struggling with depression for a while, then pretty much your only choice was between suffering for a long or a short time, because it seemed like eventually you would take your life anyway.

        It’s really important that the message spreads that this is not true, that we really could end up as happily crazy old people, we’re not condemned.

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          “I had the impression that if you had been struggling with depression for a while, then pretty much your only choice was between suffering for a long or a short time, because it seemed like eventually you would take your life anyway.”

          @rhymeriver, *Internet hugs for you* I know that exact feeling! I remember feeling like there were only tragic ends to my story , when really I’ve lost count of the number of wonderful, successful, happy people in my life that have been through some really dark places. We pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and keep going. Then eventually, without you even noticing when, it starts to hurt a bit less, then its a dull ache, then you start to have a whole afternoon when you don’t think of it, or you laugh at a joke and think you can’t remember the last time you laughed that hard, then eventually its in the rear view mirror and you’re living in the world again instead of existing. It sneaks up once in a while, the best analogy I can come up with is an old sports injury. If you feel a twinge in your bad ankle, you’ll ice it and rest and not expect yourself to run a marathon today. I have days when I need to be gentle and not expect too much from myself.But even those days are so much brighter than I ever could have imagined for myself at 21.

          Life gets really awesome if you can just wait it out. Not in an “It Gets Better” way, although that’s also a good message but I always found it hard to picture the big stuff as relating to me. What changes is you, the fog eventually lifts. Things like the late summer strawberries in my porridge this morning, or my 2 year old nephew learning to pronounce my name properly are moments I can genuinely live in without feeling numb. So yeah, like rhymeriver said, we’re not condemned.

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    Being a leader in my local queer community within my college, which while actually very large is still a fraction of the city at large, in the last academic year we had 4 attempts out of a base group of about 100. These were people who had the support of a community, but had come from backgrounds that as a result of their sexuality, gender and other factors (poverty etc) had made their formative years almost unbearable.

    I think perhaps we like to think that once you manage to get a young queer person out of their teenage years – well done you survived! But people get damaged by their time as a queer youth. Queer suicide isn’t this removed problem that only belongs to kids being bullied in school. Queer people, of all ages, need to learn to reach out, to take care of themselves. The queer community needs to take steps to put in place services that understand queer people. You shouldn’t be stuck in a situation where you walk into a therapists office and before you do anything, you’ve to spend the first hour giving them a crash course on your identity and your culture. We are not that rare that mental health support services/sexual assault supports/ GPs etc shouldn’t know at least the basics about us.

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