Suicide Prevention & Awareness
Creating Life Lines of Love: Helping Youth
Dr. Allison Bingham
By Allison Bingham, Ph.D.
Founding Director, Affirmation Youth Services
[Adapted from a talk originally given at the community memorial service, "No More Deaths, No More Silence", Sunday, March 19, 2000, Salt Lake City, Utah]
I am honored to be here today. I wish to take the next few minutes to reflect on the loss of several individuals who have so tragically taken their lives this past year, Steven Larry Wheeler and Clay Douglass Whitmer. To the parents and families of these young men, we grieve with you over your loss of life's most precious of gifts, the loss of a family member and loved one. So sadly, I stood behind a pulpit over one year ago, speaking of the tragic deaths of two more young men, DJ Thompson and Stuart Matis . I stand here again this year, to remind us, that it is up to us, the living, to give greater meaning to the lives of these dear brothers.
Last year I spoke of DJ and Stuart in a memorial service in Salt Lake City and I vowed to echo their last words again and again. DJ and Stuart both expressed a deep concern for the thousands of young adults who are growing up with the recognition that they are somehow different than their peers. Why were they concerned?
Because they knew only too well, like many of you here today, these youth spend much of their lives in silence. They live a life that is often invisible and wrought with suffering because of our society's prejudicial views on gender orientation. These youth are generally isolated and often come to the conclusion that their situation is hopeless in this lifetime. Many believe they have no one to turn to, feel isolated, and are rejected by friends, their religious and civic communities, friends, and most importantly, they feel rejected by God and their families.
It is here that hopelessness sets in because many arrive at the belief that their only option is suicide. Others seek relief from their pain and misery in other self-destructive behaviors including drug or alchohol use and reckless behaviors. They struggle in silence. These are the youth who so desperately need mentoring and support from adults who are nonjudgmental, supportive, and who care.
It has now been one year since the passing of DJ, a friend and fellow Affirmation member. I met DJ in the winter of 1998 at our first annual leadership meeting. I had been called to serve by our Affirmation director to lead the organization in the development of a youth/young adult support network. At this meeting we discussed the issues and built consensus around this initiative. DJ referred to this initiative, as "the lifeline" that I never had growing up." At the time, I was struck by DJ's reaction to this initiative. He approached me immediately afterward, animated about the initiative, and shared with me why this effort was the single most important thing we could do. His eyes were alive and with conviction in his voice he shared with me the isolation and pain that characterized his teenage years. I could feel the years of hurt and pain passing into my consciousness - and finding its way into that ever so vulnerable hollow place in my heart that so many of us are familiar with.
Ironically, in the end, DJ asked of his religious leaders, "Where is the unconditional love that Jesus taught me as a child…that the real meaning of Jesus Christ's teachings are all about?"
Now over one year since your passing, I want to say that still I deeply miss you DJ, your passion for helping our youth, and your experiences that have helped to shape our efforts now nearly four years later.
It is now a year since the passing of another brother in spirit - Stuart Mathis. And I would like to echo his message that he left with each of us, the living. His message focused on need for all to understand the Savior's teachings of God's greatest law, the law of love, and to always carry in our hearts the parable of the good Samitaran. His message also touched on his deep love, respect, and adoration for his family.
As I reflect on Stuart and DJ's tragic deaths and their statements and two more tragic deaths we are here to especially honor this evening, I am still reminded of all the parents, and loved ones who know kind spirits and goodness in their gay family member's heart. And I remember the countless parents, teachers, church leaders who have contacted Affirmation to find someone who will listen; who are too seeking for answers and support on what to do. What should I do, they ask. What should I say, they ask, when a student, child or sibling, says to them, Mom, dad, teacher, I think I'm gay and I'm terrified of what will happen to me. These people are deeply concerned and are deeply distressed because they too are feeling the impact of hatred, fear and ignorance prevails.
And sadly, I continue to say, just as I did last year, where can these kind and loving people turn to in their time of need? A lot has been done this past year, but sadly I must stand before you today and testify to you that it is still our churches, our sacred places of religious worship, that continue to keep their doors closed, keep their phones unanswered, and keep their messages so very outdated and so irrelevant to the parent, the teacher, or the religious instructor who also seek answers.
I can tell you that these concerns also weighed heavily on the minds of DJ and Stuart.
At this time I ask each of you to reflect on the following fact. Over the years the vast majority of emails that we have received from young people on our warmline contain in it the basic question: Does God love me?
To each and every precious spirit who is reaching out through this cyberspace, trying to connect, I have reminded them, "Yes, your Heavenly Parents love you very much and they wish only for your happiness and peace. They do not hate you, and they have not rejected you."
Our message then goes on further, "You must learn to love, honor, and respect yourself. Find honor in your life, give of yourself to others through service. And when you serve, serve with all your heart, serve with compassion, serve with style, serve with an absence of malice, and serve with grace. Be kind to yourself and to others, and smile."
Each time I get a message like this, it tears me inside. Why? This simple, so beautiful, so potentially tragic question continues to be asked by so many of our young people, "Does God love me?"
AND I continue to ask - Where is our religious community? Why is it that a child is so desperate that he or she feels she must turn to a seemingly anonymous form of communication - a computer - desperately searching through cyberspace - seeking answers to this most basic and fundamental question?
This is a call for action. There is an immediate need for these youth to have available spiritual counseling and a supportive spiritual community in a climate of love and acceptance. It tells me that our faith communities are still closed and not accessible to those who are desperately seeking spiritual answers. This is wrong, and it is up to each and every one of us to make this right.
I stand here today, in honor of DJ and Stuart's lives, and ask you to join me in a pledge for this next year to find ways to set up LIFE lines of LOVE, not DEATH lines, to young adults who so desperately need our unconditional love and support.
And now, I ask you to take the hand of the person on either side of you and join with me in a moment of silence to honor the lives of these two men and to reflect on ways to give their deaths greater meaning.
May each of you to find the love and gain the wisdom this next year to help us to make things right - No more Death Lines of hatred and fear - We can and must create LIFE LINES OF LOVE.
- In honor of Stuart, I ask you to meditate for a moment on God's greatest law, the love of LOVE and open your hearts to this LOVE.
- In honor of our beloved DJ, take this feeling of love - and open yourselves to the many possibilities that you have in your life, in your community to create LIFE LINES to our young who are in such desperate need.