Memorializing Suicides Without Heroizing Suicide

Gay blogger Jim Burroway believes that Lady Gaga’s advocacy for the LGBT community is genuine and passionate but worries about a backfire effect of her decision to prominently dedicate a song to one of her young fans who took his life recently:

as I watch this video of her performing “Hair” and dedicating it to Jamey Rodemeyer at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas, I can’t help but thinking that, in some small way, Jamey achieved in death something he never had in life: a song dedicated to him from the star performer who he described as a huge inspiration to him. If he were alive — and I’m assuming he was like most star-struck teens who worshiped their musical idols — his thrill at her mentioning his name before thousands of adoring fans would have been unmeasurable. But he’s not alive. He killed himself last week after enduring yet more bullying, even after he himself had made his own “It Gets Better”video last spring.

The problem:

As I watch this video, I can’t help but recall moments of darkness and despair in my own life when I imagined the huge wave of grief that would be unleashed by my own funeral. I dreamed of my tormenters’ lives forever ruined by their guilt for having pushed me over the edge. Everyone else would know who they were, and they would shun them the way I was shunned. Who’s sorry now, huh?

Who among us haven’t imagined something like this for themselves? The wailing and rending of clothing as people finally realized that their cruelty and neglect would haunt them for the rest of their days, the outpouring of love in death that we felt was withheld from us in life, and, in the scene’s dénouement, a song in our honor because even the greatest pop hero (in my version, it was either Bobby Sherman or, later, Cher ) would know our names.

To prevent such fantasy thinking leading to reckless suicide, Burroway points to key advice from an a must read 12 point guide (PDF) for responsibly discussing suicide and the LGBT community:

7. DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as the logical consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBT people often experience. Presenting suicide as the inexplicable act of an otherwise healthy LGBT person—or drawing a direct, causal link between suicide and the bullying or discrimination that LGBT people often face—can encourage at-risk individuals to identify with the victim (or the victim’s life circumstances) and increase risk of suicidal behavior.

8. DON’T idealize suicide victims or create an aura of celebrity around them. Research shows that idealizing people who have died by suicide may encourage others to identify with the victim or seek to emulate them.

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