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Seth Walsh’s Brother Shawn: ‘One Word’ Can Make Gay Teens Want To Kill Themselves

I’m standing behind my declaration that Nate Berkus hosts a terrible, sometimes unwatchable talk show, but this week he did something just terrific. He invited Wendy and Shawn Walsh, mother and brother to dead gay teen Seth Walsh, to tell the story of what happens when kids are bullied: they die.

Wendy has already cemented herself as a hero in this space, becoming one of a growing number of mothers using their personal tragedies to reach other parents. And, hopefully, school administrators. In Seth’s suicide note, which he left before hanging himself from a tree in September (which would land him on life support for 10 days before he ultimately passed), he asks his mother to “make the school feel like shit for bringing you this sorrow.” She’s been on a mission to do exactly that, even managing to get the Department of Education to investigate the Tehachapi Unified School District in California for turning a blind eye to Seth’s torment.

But it’s Seth’s brother Shawn, at just 11-years-old, who stands out as a remarkable human being. He tells Berkus that he knew of Seth’s bullying, and says he encouraged Seth to tell his mother, but Seth feared it would only make his classmates’ attacks even worse. “I want people to remember that bullying isn’t okay,” says Shawn, “because one word can make them have suicidal thoughts.”

Along with Chely Wright, Berkus and the Walshes this week unveiled a new gay teen lounge at the New York City community center YES. And Chely bestowed Shawn with her first-ever Chely Wright Like Me scholarship, which will go to five teens a year who act as advocates in their schools. Well deserved.

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    Bravo to Wendy and Shawn for attempting to somehow wrangle some good out of the absolute devastating loss they suffered…..

    Teachers and administrators always know which kids are being tormented. I hope Wendy brings a world of hurt to all those who had a hand in Seth’s death…………

  • Mountainword

    Seriously, hunt the bastards down and show them no mercy. No more Mr. (and Ms.) Nice Gay!

  • bob

    He didn’t say one word can make gay teens want to kill themselves. Why specify bullying to labels? It’s not just gay people that get bullied and kill themselves, it’s not okay for anyone to be made to feel like that.

  • alan brickman

    zero tolerance is what normally works…

  • khemminger

    This was the episode I thought made his show really stand out. We need to put an end to gay bullying, not just to teens, but to all LBGT persons as well. Probably the one of the best episodes I have seen on his show so far.

  • David Ehrenstein

    I love him saying “Now’s the time to tell who the bully in the class is.” Bullies always feel they’ll NEVER be called on for their actions. This must end.

  • hephaestion

    @David Ehrenstein: Exactly. NOW is the time for everyone who knows who the bullies are to stand up and report them to authorities, including the police and the US Dept. of Education, since local school officials often do ZILCH and are often homophobes themselves.

  • Kamrom Dichu

    A systemic pattern of ultimate rejection and helplessness in the face of ongoing harassment, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, is all that it takes to make someone feel alienated enough to want out. Its not the path I would take. But I can see how someone might.

    Take me for instance..I was harassed on a daily basis at school, for reasons Id prefer not to get into. But I was literally harassed by at least a dozen kids a day, and thats not counting the classrooms that’d laugh when I walked in–No im not exaggerating. For all of sixth and half of seveth grade i did every single thing i could, week after week, to get the hellish abuse and threats and constant tormenting to end with the school officials.

    Not only did they not do anything, they told me that *I* was going to have to find out the names of the people who were harassing me on a daily basis if i wanted something done. Everyone up to the principle said this. If it doesnt sound unreasonable, well, heres what they wanted:

    I was to go up to the people who were actively harassing me and doing things like yanking down my pants or pulling my hair. No, im not exaggerating. I was then to ask them to give me their full names. Yeah, im sure that wouldve gone over well with people who were already violent toward me.

    And that was it. I snapped. I had nothing going for me expect day after day after day of harassment. So, half way through seventh grade, I stopped going. Just stopped. I couldnt take it anymore, not for a day, not for a minute. I was failing all my classes, and would be harped on endlessly for it, since it was clear I understood what was going on. It didnt help that I never did my homework; the moment i got home i’d shut myself in my room and play video games, anything to not have to think about what was coming again tomorrow. Depression became the rule, and i spent every night with ‘heartbreak’ style pain shooting through my chest.

    I felt really alone.

    Eventually they forced me into special ed, while lying and saying i was being skipped ahead. This involved a small bus picking me up, at my house, right as those who harassed me were walking t oschool. It also served to further isolate me from the one friend i had, since it was a 7-hour schoolday and a 1.5 hour drive each way for the bus. I snapped again after a few months of this hell, and was put into a mental hospital for like a week. I threatend suicide, not truly meaning to do it, simply because I could not stand to spend one more minute at that hellish special ed where they refused to treat me.

    The funny thing? compared to the special ed, I *Enjoyed* the mental hopsital! Agian, no exaggeration, no mincing words. I tried to get them to let me come in for day treatment instead of the special ed, but no dice.

    Eventually I moved. But of course, it was too late. I had been so destroyed by this stuff, so alienated, and so distrustful of any human to do anythin gbut be ultimately selfish. I tried to go to school in 10th grade, and then 11th grade, both times just kinda fading off from it.

    I got my GED eventually, and did astoundingly well..99th percentile in science. Granted its the GED, not the SAT or somesuch, but thats still pretty good..Unfortunately, as much as i’m a science savant, im a horrifying dyslexic; 56th percentile in math, barely enough to pass. I started to go to college, a year or two earlier than had i put up with pointless, painful high school…

    Unfortunately, my depression had led to self-neglect, as is often the case, and this was the year it finally came crashing down utterly. I’ll skip the details, except to say that I went through three years of hell getting every tooth replaced with a screw into my jaw. That was not fun.

    And today, it continues. Im too depressed to go and trust anyone. Im too depressed and too frightend of other humans to get a job, and live only thanks to a boyfriend. Though he says he understands, i cant actually be intimate with anyone. I just..cant. Years ago, I ruled out suicide. I decided that it was the only way i could absolutely ensure my life would not improve, and that it was better to take the pain of each day.

    But im still paralyzed. Still cant even look at my email or check my phone without fear, and refuse to go outside a lot out of fear of other people. I suffer from panic attacks and very horrific delusions: I am in constant fear of my heart just stopping. Constant. Usually 2-3 panic hours a day spent desperatly watching my neck in the mirror and ascribing every twinge and stress to a condition which i have no evidence exists, ever, in any way. Its not real. It doesnt matter, because itll come again. Im too exhausted to try and improve things.

    The stress, of course, led to a real problem, as i started showing symptoms of a mitral valve prolapse. So now my heart actually HURTS, even though theres nothing major wrong. (its the very minor kidn of MVP). And I still am depressed, still dwelling over the years i missed, the pain i was dealt, the pain im in now, and the outright awfulness of how people treat each other.

    I know pain; its why i cold never hurt someone. But all I can do then is take it into me, and let the disgust churn in my head. But on the bright side, in the whole of the world, of all time and space, theres only a single person who I cannot forgive for their actions; my fraud of a therapist who in two years never let me talk without threatening me or lying to me.

    Well, thats about it. Im 25 now and my only ambition in life is the infinitesimally small chance that a portal to a universe that has healing magic opens, or The Doctor comes in his TARDIS to do neat stuff. Pretty slim chances, but I’m not going down quietly or by my own hand, thats for sure.

  • T.

    @Kamrom Dichu: Wow you sound stronger then me and I know I kinda have the same thing. I can’t hold down a job or be on my own cause I’m scared to be on my own in a homophobic world and I don’t believe in myself because of all the people talking shit about me. I’m taking the steps this year to change all that but its still gonna take some time to do it. Do you have a myspace? Lets me friends Kamron!

  • Kev C

    @Kamrom Dichu: Hey Kamron, as someone who’s suffered from panic attacks and PTSD, I can tell you some things that helped me. First, the Basics are very important: 8 hours sleep. At least 1hr of exercise a day, 2hrs is even better, every day, prefereably outdoors with fresh air and sunlight. And always eat healthier foods and reject unhealthy foods.

    Vitamins and supplements are also useful. Stress and anxiety weaken the immune system, so to repair it, you should be taking Vitamin C, D, and B Complex with Omega 3s (fish oil). Streghtening your immune system is important for better mental and physical health. Additionally, St. Johns Wort and Rhodiola Rosea are excellect at reducing depression and stress.

    It isn’t difficult to do, but doing these things every day really makes a big difference.

  • khemminger

    @Kamrom Dichu – WOW, that took a lot of courage and strength to survive such a horrible ordeal and such horrible abuse. It makes my story in junior high look like easy street compared to yours! Keep talking about it, there are plenty of people who are not biased and would be more than willing to support you no matter who you are and what you do!

  • mark snyder

    @alan brickman: Zero Tolerance is 100% stupid. Sorry. As someone who was severely bullied by many people in my school, and had an administration turn the other way, I know that throwing a few of the bullies into detention or even jail would have only made my situation worse. We need full comprehensive bullying prevention which includes diversity in our curriculums, and trying to understand the bullies, trying to reach them and why THEY are suffering and acting out, enabling them to become role models, that’s how you change a school – not this zero tolerance militaristic/prison like stuff. It doesn’t work in society and it won’t work in schools.

  • ait10101

    I was lucky. I reached the end of my tether in 10th grade, and started drinking, increasingly heavily, and skipping school by going out, coming back into my bedroom window, and catching the train for downtown, where I hung out and caught plays and movies. I got into MIT without finishing high school, thank goodness. I am sure that another year of high school would have killed me. Nobody dared actually bully me, as I had supposedly beaten up the top bully in the school my fist year. He hit me in the locker room; I felt blood, and I grabbed him and threw him into the lockers a few times until he looked woozy. I asked him if he had enough, and he said yes, so I let it go. I never said anything about it, but apparently it got around the school (perhaps I should say that unlike a lot of victims I was a very good athlete,and got the highest marks in gym on record). The point I am making here is that even though I had (relatively — I find fighting abhorrent) little difficulty dealing with the physical aspects of bullying, it still affected me in a very negative way that at 60 I have still not been able to fully shake. I am really sure I would not have survived another year of high school. I like to think things are better now (college was no smooth swimming either — joke, my sport was swimming), but I am not sure they are, by any means. Actually, I still resent having to defend myself, even though my attacker and I became on good terms later (he really didn’t have much choice, did he?)

    So standing up to bullies physically, though it may protect you physically, is not nearly enough. Even being able to overpower them psychologically in each instance is not enough. It wears you down, and I am not surprised that many young people just decide it is not worth it, if life is going to be like that. Not everyone reacts that way. I did not, but I was sure close to the edge, and haven’t entirely recovered yet, even though I have been fairly successful and I am now quite happy to be out (since I was 23 — 37 years now). It could have been so much easier without ignorant bigots, may their souls eventually find peace.

  • bang

    100% agree with Mark Snyder. Sure, we should bring perpetrators to justice, but the only way anything’s going to change is if we start curing the disease rather than the symptoms. At the end of the day, even if you expel 1000 bullies, 1000 more will just replace them. Of course we should punish bullies, but we should be aware that it’s just an ineffective temporary stop-gap. The only way to really fix the problem is the change the curriculum itself, include more diversity in teaching, sensitivity training for staff and faculty and some way to monitor how they treat kids, making the schools themselves an environment that embraces those who are different. Instead of punishing bullying, we should figure out how to prevent bullying. We’d also need to work on being sensitive to racial and class differences, and figure out how to keep kids from feeling so angry and violent that they pass those feelings onto others. All that sounds like a lot of work, which is why it won’t be done, and gay kids (and probably fat kids and “weird” loner kids too) will continue to die. Such a shame.

  • Kamrom Dichu

    @Kev C: Eight hours sleep would be great! Unfortunately, in a…mostly unrelated issue, im a terrible insomniac. I dont usually go for more than 30 or so hours up, but i seem to have no ability to reasonably figure out the passage of time. This problem increased during the bad years — I figured if i was gonna go through such awfulness, I’d like some time to myself, and started staying up til dawn a lot of nights. Before this it was just incidental, not related, but it was easy enough to push farther. And since then, well, it just kinda stuck. I literally simply forget to go to bed, often wondering why i feel so terrible because I forget that ive taken sleeping pills (well, tlyneol PM.)

    And thats assuming nothings gone wrong lately. I cant wear earplugs when I sleep if im actively depressed (rather than my usual passive depression), because i need white noise to drown out the unpleasant imagery which so likes to pop into my head.

  • Kamrom Dichu

    @T.: Nah, not on myspace. Ive gone to great lengths to disconnect who I am online from who I am offline. It makes it hard to make friends, but it makes it very easy to open up for a change.

    @Kev C: Nearly forgot; I cant exercise much due to former head and neck injuries. I went flying off a trampoline into a drainage ditch when i was 10, and later landed on my neck on the same trampoline.

    @khemminger: Thanks for your support, but I’m sure your problems felt just as severe at the time. I dislike comparing myself against others troubles, since thats not even sort of fair to certain people. In the same regard, Ive been told to stop complaining because people in africa dont have food, or something. Which is a valid point but I’m not a person in poverty, I can only reflect on whats gone on with me. And in the end, we have to treat and help each other based on how things feel to us personally; doing otherwise will only lead to people being afraid to talk about their problems, due to the “minor” nature of them…Think Dave Chappelle in half-baked getting ridiculed for a mental addiction to pot.

    @mark snyder: I totally agree, zero tolerance is quite lame, and doesn’t work. I largely got out of school before the unpleasant laws were implimented.

    One time, in elementary school, I brought a ‘switchblade’ comb. No one cared. if i did it NOW, i’d probably be attacked by police dogs or giant teachers tackling me.

  • robin

    I’m not gay, but I was bullied my entire school life. From K thru 12. I was teased because I was a poor girl, who had curly wiry dry hair, a flat chest and the name “Robin”. I hated every day I had to walk into school. I went to 4 different schools through my life and they were all the same. And it is true…the kid is afraid to say anything for fear that their torment will only worsen…. as if it could. Many nights I cried myself to sleep. I got sick just getting up in the morning. My entire childhood sucked.

    I never considered suicide because I didn’t want to hurt my family, but I often wished I’d just get hit by a bus or something–which of course would have still hurt my family but kids in pain don’t think that way.

  • Kev C

    @Kamrom Dichu: Try some Melatonin before bed. Very safe, cheap and effective. Kamrom, you’re suffering from a physical depression and you need to take better care of your health.

  • McMike

    Well this is definitely a step up from the sister whose ONLY sentence when being interviewed by Anderson Cooper was “My brother wasn’t gay.” It was beyond sad and pathetic this sister was too clueless to realize her attitude was the exact reason why her brother killed himself.

  • Rikard

    @Mountainword: I support your pov and your enthusiasm, but showing mercy is where we change minds and open hearts. i’m not christian, but those beatitudes contain hopeful expressions of our potential for good.

  • GregorVonK

    @robin. For the life of me, I can’t see anything teasible about the name “Robin.” The bird or Batman connectins maybe? I always thought it was kind of cute, trendy name. Probably more problematic for a BOY since the 60s or so, which is when I think it became a girl’s name primarily.

    Speaking of names the headline was a bit of a scratcher. Not too many boys named “Sean” would have a brother named “Shawn,” unless their parents had some kind of obsession w/ the name in all its variant spellings (or unless one was adopted). But of course, the victim in this tragic bullying case was SETH Walsh.


    The only surefire cure for bullies is to give them a dose of their own cowardly actions. Most are insecure cowards who thrive on fear, when someone stands up to them they usually fold like a cheap camera……..

    A story I love repeating because it still brings a huge freaking smile to my face is about my friend Kyle in grammer school. Kyle was about 4′ nothing smallest most cutest little boy you ever saw, Kyle was also the queeniest little boy you could ever imagine. Everytime he opened his mouth a rainbow poured out with unicorns riding it… :p

    At a very young age Kyles parents realized he would not have an easy time dealing with bullies. They did not attempt to change who he was. Instead they enrolled him in martial arts. Kyle loved moves and kicks (naturally) and by age nine he had earned advanced degree belts. Bullies were drawn to Kyle like bees to honey.

    Nothing gave us more pleasure than watching Kyle send a vile bully crashing onto his fat ass within a nanosecond of the beginning of a bully’s attempt to hurt Kyle. As the stars slowly stopped spinning they looked up and saw little Kyle standing over them and he always uttered the same words: “You just had you one and only warning. You ever pick on me or someone else just because you don’t like them and I promise I will act as stupid as you do”……….


    @GregorVonK: You must be new here :p You obviously aren’t aware just how so very busy the Queerty staff is! They are always too busy to reply to posters E-mails and of course waaaaaay too busy to perform a simple proofread prior to posting a thread………

  • TC

    Classy, GetEqual. How about donating to the ACLU LGBT Project, which is the organization that is actually helping Shawn and Wendy Walsh?

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