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Not Every Gay Teen Who Dies Is A Bullycide Victim. So Why Do We Rush To Claim Them?

At least seven of the queer blogs that I read on a daily basis all reported that 18-year-old Minnesota teen Lance Lundsten killed himself over the weekend. Truth Wins Out, The Bilerico Project, the Advocate, Joe.My.God, Towleroad, the Dallas Voice, and Queerty all initially got it wrong, or at least reported Lance’s death without all the information, and now only a handful of those blogs are reporting that Lundsten may have died from a heart condition (even though his medical examiner isn’t sure). Is the queer press so desperate for youthful victims in this “It Gets Better” age that we’re willing to make a martyr out a dead gay teen without first confirming how he actually died?

I know that blogs prefer to be first with breaking news and that they can’t always confirm accurate details all the time—that’s why some publish updates and redactions as new info comes to light. But all the blogs I mentioned have large readerships and influence behind them, and each one spread the unconfirmed information about Lundsten’s presumed “suicide” faster than a mangled sentence in a game of telephone. In fact, Zachary Sire at The Sword (NSWF) was one of the first queer bloggers to mention that the suicide rumors started on Lundsten’s Facebook page, adding “Is this the right way to determine a gay teenager’s cause of death? Facebook?”

Don’t get me wrong, it seems the kid was openly gay and bullied despite his school having anti-bullying policies and the latter is an important fact we should focus on to prevent future queer suicides. But ruling Lundsten’s death a suicide and then pointing to it as proof that we need to sue schools who don’t do enough to prevent them seems especially perverse now that we’re admitting that no one knows how he actually died.

It speaks ill of our community and is an immense disrespect to Lundsten and his family for us to make a martyr of this kid. The already contentious battle for decreasing anti-gay bullying in schools isn’t helped by such mistakes. Reporting such misinformation discredit the gay blogosphere and set us up for being accused of using dead kids to score political points—truly a massive fail on our parts.

That’s not to deny the countless queer kids who have committed suicide due to intimidation nor is it to imply that highlighting actual queer suicides somehow cheapens them by merely seeking to make political fodder from tragedy. Moreso, it’s important for queer blogs to get information on such stories correct because: 1) we owe queer kids the basic respect of at least reporting their deaths accurately, 2) our opponents could easily take this mistake and throw it back in our faces by saying that we seek to politicize tragedy, and 3) as we increasingly get our breaking news from social media networks, people may seek to exploit the gay blogosphere by having them repeat baseless news stories for shock and free press rather than social justice.

Take the case of ManCrunch.com for instance. When CBS rejected the Super Bowl ad for ManCrunch.com’s gay dating service, ManCrunch cried “discrimination.” Many queer websites repeated their version of events only to discover later that the ad ManCrunch supposedly spent thousands of dollars on looked like shit, offended gays, blacks, and straights alike and that the shoddy upstart could never have afforded the Super Bowl’s exorbitant advertising fees.

Basically, the company played queer blogs for free press by appealing to their appetite for an anti-gay scandal. In the end, ManCrunch got their names and crappy commercial in the faces of thousands of gay readers (much better than a Super Bowl ad could have provided) and got to wear the mantle of gay victim all while cashing in on clueless queers willing to repeat their sob story.

Yes, queer media in the digital age is still in its adolescence, but it needs very badly to grow up if LGBT blogs hope to retain the trust of their readership, the respect of the greater community and avoid harming our community in the endless race to provide shocking news first.

By:           Daniel Villarreal
On:           Jan 24, 2011
Tagged: , , , ,

  • 31 Comments
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      I didn’t say anything about this death because I didn’t have the facts, or the information was conflicted. People were even quick to label this a “copycat suicide”, as if gays were martyr seeking terrorists or commit suicide for an audience. I think this shows that people commit suicide for multiple and personal reasons, and one explanations doesn’t fit all. But I think it’s better to report the death, with questions, than to not report it.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jonathan
      Jonathan

      So the bullies gave the kid heart attack. If you have a heart condition and suffer at the hands of merciless bullies, why is anyone surprised that this beautiful young boy’s heart couldn’t sustain the daily fight to survive another day at school and now joins the growing ranks of GLBT youth throughout America lost to victimization.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • greenluv1322
      greenluv1322

      Ummm Queerty didn’t you guys run this story, too? It’s on the right side of my screen right now…lol…You guys keep me in stitches…

      Jan 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jeffree
      Jeffree

      We humans seem to have a deep need to explain events that may or not be random: crop failure, eclipses, weather, and so on. After a string of suicides by LGBT teens, we probably jumped to the conclusion that Lundsten’s death suicide because that likelihood was still fresh in our mind. We too easily forgot that more teens die of natural causes and accidents than by their own hand.

      I’m guilty of thinking bullying is to blame for all teen suicides, even when I know that teens do off themselves for other reasons: relationship breakups, family probs, drugs, loneliness., etc.

      The rush to get this kind of story out first affects old media too, not just blogs, but the fact checking and investigative resources are likely but not always better in TV/print.

      Lesson: learned for all of us: Check all assumptions. Think of alternate explanations. Follow up when a mistake is made.

      @Daniel V.: I knew it was your prose as soon as I started reading this post. Nicely done. More, please.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • RomanHans
      RomanHans

      I’m with Greenluv1322. Why are you asking US the question? Queerty, if you don’t know why you guys posted an apparently-false story, can’t you ask around the office?

      Jan 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Liam
      Liam

      Thank you. Jumping to conclusions and crying “Wolf” trivializes a teenager’s death and the overall issue.

      @Jeffree — lots of important points in your post, especially the fact that there are almost always multiple triggers for suicidal ideation. I tried (and thankfully failed miserably) to kill myself when I was 14, which was a while ago. Certainly a good piece of it was bullying because of my sexuality (which the bullies took a good guess at b/c, when and where I grew up, no rational 14-year-old would have come out). A good piece was derivative of the bullying — loneliness, isolation, fear and depression. But, a good piece was external to that — abusive and neglectful home situation, among other things.

      That’s not to denigrate the issue — I thing significant focus needs to be placed on the other factors as well. Parents, teachers, friends, neighbors need to be alert for signs other than bullying.

      I am going to take issue with your comment that these events “may or may not be random.” Certainly, the visibility of gay teens attempting suicide has grown dramatically over the past year or two. However, I doubt there’s been a spike in attempts. Gay teens have always been more susceptible than other teens. I think, especially with out teens, the issue has come to the fore. Public interest groups and activists have finally “gotten” the issue. I don’t think it’s a rise in suicidal ideation among gay youth, I think there’s a rise in the public’s and the media’s recognition of the problem. That, of course, is a good thing, and it bothers me when some GLBT folks suggest on blogs and the like that the issue is “so last week.” The focus is important. Recognizing the full range of issues and looking beyond anti-bullying programs is too.

      YMMV

      Jan 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Daniel
      Daniel

      @Jonathan: It’s disingenuous to say that bullying contributed to his possible heart-attack. By that rationale, so did all the exams, school lunches, and PE classes… which makes anything that ever taxed his heart a gay basher. That’s absurd.

      @RomanHans: I contribute to Queerty yes, but this issue permeates and effects all queer media, not just our piece of it.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Casey
      Casey

      Because you guys want people to have sympathy for homos. Gay suicides have remained constant for the past 3 years but the gay left has been sensationalizing this to make people feel sorry for weak homos.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Soupy
      Soupy

      Dear Casey, were you just rejected again by another gay man? Sounds like it.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 7:51 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • justiceontherocks
      justiceontherocks

      @Casey: This is a topic to be addressed by grown ups. It doesn’t concern you.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      @justiceontherocks: Mighty Casey has struck out.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Craig
      Craig

      It’s soo good to hear calls for maturity in the gay blogging world. Last night I was blocked by a gay blogger who didnt like me pointing out flaws in his blogs. Very sucky. It’s good to see that Querty not only shows feedback, but also updates stories when it’s found the story was flawed.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 8:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dennis
      Dennis

      I don’t know that it’s a “rush to claim”. Knowing the statistics on teen suicide connected with being gay versus the statistics for teens in general dying spontaneously of a congenital heart abnormality… if I were presented with the story, I’d be more likely to think suicide. Doesn’t mean I would absolutely state that it was… as you mentioned, the ME hasn’t ruled one way or the other. But I would definitely lean toward the suicide theory.

      Having said that, yes, claiming it as “another gay teen suicide” was premature at best. Of course, the non-gay blogosphere and main-stream media do that all the time. Balloon boy, anyone?

      Jan 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Daniel
      Daniel

      @Casey: Doesn’t every story that brings attention to individual suffering do so in hopes of attaining advocates willing to speak out on behalf of the powerless? While I think it’s interesting that queer politics has been more successful in the mainstream media by focusing on individual stories (like Dan Choi and DADT) rather than abstract social concepts, like fairness (in the ineffective Prop 8 ads).

      But it’s unfair to write-off bullied queer teens as “weak homos” because they’re at an institutional and societal disadvantage with little redress available for their abuse, especially because of their age. Furthermore, it’s facile to write off every story of homophobic discrimination as at attempt to “make people feel sorry for weak homos.” By your estimation, I wonder who is not “a weak homo” and how you’d expect these amazingly self-sufficient homos to get help should they ever find themselves on the business end of a baseball bat.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 8:24 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lorraine
      Lorraine

      Queerty and a few other gay blogs also reported that the self-inflicted death of 14 year old Kameron Jacobsen was because of his sexual orientation and being bullied about it.

      This also was not the case.

      I understand that there is a terrible campaign of bullying gay teens and that it needs to be reported and people need to understand how pervasive it is. But, they should not jump on every story without first finding out the facts.

      Kameron Jacobsen was bullied and he was not protected by his school. He couldn’t take it anymore. He was the second in the school in as many weeks. He did talk to his family about it and they tried to do something about it. The school felt they needed to put the blame elsewhere and said it was cyber-bullying. I don’t know where the reporters came up with the gay thing. Possibly something written on a facebook page like “you’re so gay” or “that’s so gay” which although it’s wrong, is unfortunately just things kids say.

      The family feels like they are being used for a gay agenda and it’s wrong. The issue at hand is about the bullying, not about his sexual orientation.

      We loved Kameron and we would and will do anything we can for his memory to live on and for his life to make sense and help others in HIS situation. If it were about his sexual orientation we would all be out there screaming and ranting about it, but it simply isn’t our issue right now.

      If you have any respect for the family you would issue an apology and you would rant and rage against bullying any innocent child for whatever reason it is done.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      @Lorraine: If Kameron was bullied with homophobic taunts or percieved as gay, resulting in his decision to commmit suicide, it’s a gay issue. Homophobia is a problem for gays and for those taunted and percieved as gay. The problem is homophobia.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jeffree
      Jeffree

      @Liam: You make very thoughtful points. My comment on “random” events has more to do with cycles of things happening. Early humans didn’t have the scientific knowlege to understand eclipses, for instance.

      The incidence of suicide is hard to track reliably. Standards of listing “cause of death” have varied from decade to decade and still aren’t consistent from place to place. The shame of having a relative suicide is still pervasive. Toxicology results can take weeks to process. An overdose may or may not be intentional. Not everyone leaves a note behind….

      The stuff I’ve read on the “contagion effect” with suicides has been mixed in supporting / refuting that hypothesis. Unfortunately, the person who usually helps me with statistics isn’t here to ask now, so I’ll have to wait.

      I’m glad that we’re looking at the issue. Losing any of our LGBT sisters/brothers to something that can be prevented is always sad. It’s not something I ever want to stop caring about.

      Jan 24, 2011 at 10:55 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mike
      Mike

      “Is the queer press so desperate for youthful victims in this “It Gets Better” age that we’re willing to make a martyr out a dead gay teen” What about the forty year olds that have spent twenty years of being abused? They kill themselves too. No one ever talks about them. Gay isn’t just about being young and pretty or feeling sorry when the young and pretty kill themselves. Who talks about the 35 yr old guy who spent a lifetime being beat down for being gay, then faced even further humiliation from the gay community because they didn’t have a six pack and a pretty face? When our main advocate (GLAAD) only gives awards to mainstream talent they can attach to the “gay cause” whether or not they actual contribute to the fight, but deliberately excludes individuals who actually fight for the right because they don’t fit the mainstream gay agenda, why wouldn’t gay teens want to kill themselves knowing what they have to look forward to. You know what would help? Standing up for gay people regardless of their age and looks. Standing up for the chubby, balding fag might help bring attention to the cause a lot more than focusing on the just the guy with a six pack and license that can’t buy him alcohol. 90% of us aren’t that guy, we’re the other guy. We’re here too. We’re queer too. Get used to it.

      Jan 25, 2011 at 3:57 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kev C
      Kev C

      @Mike: “why wouldn’t gay teens want to kill themselves knowing what they have to look forward to.”

      I was also wondering if this doesn’t have something to do with it. Some bright kids committed suicide; a 14yo atheist, a classical violinist, and yet they chose death rather than live in our screwed up world.

      Did they want a Starbucks coffee or a Big Mac? Nope, they chose to end it. How about an iPad or 4g network? No. Did they want to shop or work at Wal-Mart? No. Did they want to see another episode of Survivor, TAR, JerseyShore? Nope. Did they want to hear Lady Gaga’s new album? Nope. Did they want their MTV? No.

      Ever see those PETA videos of how livestock are raised in cramped factory conditions and slaughtered for meat? If those animals knew what sort of life they would have, what would they choose to do?

      Jan 25, 2011 at 5:30 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lorraine
      Lorraine

      He never was… the newspapers started this. He was bullied by larger boys who picked on him for his size. He was 90 lbs. They need people to pick on. It was that simple.

      It was never homophobia. There were about 5 suicides in this school. No one who knew Kameron ever mentioned gay-bashing, homophobia, sexual orientation. It simply wasn’t.

      Stop reporting that it was because eventually people who really should be paying attention to the ordeals of gay teens will start to think you’ve just made up another story. Homophobes will be able to point at you and say “see, it isn’t true, they are twisting the reality for their own agenda”

      Jan 25, 2011 at 8:28 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lorraine
      Lorraine

      I’m sorry that last comment above was for Mike re Kameron Jacobsen

      Jan 25, 2011 at 8:31 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ousslander
      ousslander

      For hits to their websites just like queerty did. also to keep up the me that gays are weak victims who need special protections

      Jan 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • WindsorOntario
      WindsorOntario

      We also need to apply caution when referring to chronological age. I came out at 15 under great circumstances. I’ve met 45 year olds who are suffering incredible despair and grief over coming out and never finding their niche, and a LOT of gay men who regret coming out at all because the friendships, relationships and liberation they expected never happened. Keep in mind, the initial act of coming out feels good. Its how your life looks 10-15 years after coming out, when your peers are married, have kids and sense of family and you’ve yet to meet anyone who can have relationships. Most of us are very excited about marriage rights, but if we have no idea how to be in relationships, then it’s pointless to have it.

      Also it’s worth saying that (particularly in affluent metro areas) gay men can be as rejecting and hurtful as the straight bullies many of us worked so hard to move away from. The suicidal ideation often occurs when you discover that not only do you feel alienated and misunderstood by most straight people, but other gay people look at you as if you’ll never be good enough, and love to remind you that they have that masters degree you don’t have, they have more money, nicer living accommodations, etc…we bully each other in a way that’s pure evil because WE KNOW BETTER.

      Jan 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jonathan
      Jonathan

      @Daniel: That’s only if you equate the pressure attendant to “all the exams, school lunches, and PE classes” with the pressure from bullying. I do not.

      Jan 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jonathan
      Jonathan

      @Mike: I’ve waited far too long to see in writing what I’ve been thinking for years myself and wanted to thank you for your acute and critical observation.

      Jan 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jonathan
      Jonathan

      @WindsorOntario: Another brilliant observation. Where were you guys during the past 20 years?

      Jan 25, 2011 at 2:08 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Timothy
      Timothy

      What you said: “even though his medical examiner isn’t sure”

      What the medical examiner said: “the teen did not die from an enlarged heart”

      One of these things is not like the other.

      Jan 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Timothy
      Timothy

      What you said: “even though his medical examiner isn’t sure”

      What the medical examiner said: “the teen did not die from an enlarged heart”

      One of these things is not like the other. But I do agree that “we owe queer kids the basic respect of at least reporting their deaths accurately.” I wish you had.

      Jan 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Daniel
      Daniel

      @Timothy: Touché. I meant to write that even the medical examiner isn’t sure how Lundsten died.

      @Jonathan: Still, seeing as Timothy is right and Lundsten didn’t die from heart trouble, your “bullies gave him a heart attack” conjecture is still a moot point.

      Jan 26, 2011 at 12:47 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Tackle
      Tackle

      @WINDSORONTARIO

      Great points made. But the one thing you left out is this obsession with bady image within gay male culture. Too many gay men will discriminate against other gay men baised on body type.

      Jan 26, 2011 at 4:07 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Brittany Young
      Brittany Young

      Lance wasn’t gay or bullied.

      Jun 23, 2011 at 2:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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