Bullying Can, and Does Have Deathly Consequences. Fernan Balsalubre blogs about losing his friend Kurt Cunningham to suicide after he experienced cyberbullying

I always looked at Kurt Cunningham like a human phoenix. Long before I met him, he was a bit of a legend in the small LGBT+ community of San Diego. Besides his work in the community, he was well-known for constantly reinventing himself, and picking himself back up from rock bottom. I met him after his mother, Lisa, passed away, when he felt like he lacked a clear purpose. He had been her caregiver, and after her death, he felt like he had no purpose. He had battled depression throughout his life, and this tragedy pushed him into a deep depression.

Most of us watched him very closely. It wasn’t until he began working as the LGBT+ outreach coordinator for Mental Health America that he began to find his groove once more. There is nothing more glorious than watching your friend climb from rock bottom, and when Kurt began working for MHA to teach those in the LGBT+ community about mental health and suicide, it was like he was reborn. His mental health advocacy didn’t end at work; he educated each of his friends about their own mental health. Though some of us disagreed with Kurt on how to approach our own well-being, we always listened to each word. Unfortunately, it may have been one of these friends he attempted to help who ended up cyberbullying him.

“It may have been one of these friends he attempted to help who ended up cyberbullying him”

 

Kurt agreed to help his friend (a fellow member of the LGBT+ community) find help regarding her own mental issues. It was a disagreement about both the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements that brought an end to their friendship. While it should have stopped there, Kurt’s friend began to cyberbully him by leaving comments on MHA’s Facebook page about how ineffective Kurt was in his role. She did not stop there; she asked her friends to begin bombarding the MHA page with negative comments. Kurt and his co-workers were also doxed by these individuals.

A month after the cyberbullying began, he went to a work conference in Orange County. He posted excitedly about the people he was meeting, and the things he was learning. On the third day of the convention, we learned that Kurt had died by suicide. His overwhelming depression coupled with the cyberbullying made him feel like he had no control. It’s been a year since we lost Kurt, and we are still trying to make sense of what happened. Each friend of Kurt’s that I talked to believe that the bullying played a part in exacerbating his depression. While bullying is a problem in the LGBT+ community (where it is okay for people to post #noblacksasiansfatsfemmes on personals profiles), the cyberbullying Kurt experienced may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“His overwhelming depression coupled with the cyberbullying made him feel like he had no control”

 

Bullying made him feel like he could not control his own life, and therefore, could not help others who needed him. What he didn’t remember was that we were there to help him, but when you are being bullied, you feel like the world is against you. As someone who also experienced bullying, I know firsthand the powerless feeling one encounters when being bullied. You don’t want to ask for help, because you don’t want to be perceived as weak. However, asking for help is actually a sign of strength (something I learned from Kurt).

After his death, the San Diego LGBT+ Centre established the Kurt Cunningham Counselling Services Fund. This was his dream come true; community members of all ages seeking help for their mental health. I wish he was still here to see it.

“Asking for help is actually a sign of strength”

 

Please seek help, if you need it. If you know someone who needs help, find a way to help them. It is better to lose a friend to an argument, than to lose them to suicide.

As a society, we really need to do better with how we treat one another. There is harmless teasing, and there’s bullying. You should never incite a mob to cyberbully another person. And, I believe the LGBT+ community needs to stop bullying its own members. We have to be very vigilant to do our best not to bully one another, and to stop bullying should we see it. In light of the result of the presidential election in the United States, we must all do our part to stop bullying. The ideologies promoted by Donald Trump have emboldened those who seek to bully others because they are different. We are better than this. None of this will be easy, but we all have to be willing to do our part, so that we do not lose another to suicide because of bullying.

Kurt Cunningham Counseling Services Fund

Suicide is preventable and help is available to you. Regardless of whatever it is you’re going through, somebody else is going through the same thing and many others have been where you are right now. The most important thing to do when you are considering suicide or feeling like you want to die is to access crisis support. Reach out to speak to someone you trust or there are a number of helplines that you can contact 24-7/365.

In the UK, call the Samaritans on 116 123.
In the USA, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

YouTuber

YouTube Personality and Actress Lisa Schwartz blogs about her experiences with cyberbullying

Growing up I was lucky enough to not have the Internet. Well, I had dial up, but it wasn’t the same as it is now.

I literally couldn’t be cyberbullied, unless it was from a stranger in a chat room. But that never happened because I was always “Tiffany from Malibu”. And who could make fun of a “Tiffany from Malibu”? She’s ‘perfect’. I did however, have the pleasure of being made fun of in real life; I was called chubby, and hairy armed. I got laughed at for not being able to read time without a struggle. I was made fun of for my hairstyle – which, I’ll give them, was pretty bad. I don’t know why my mum let me out of the house with hair so intensely slicked back, it looked like I had a professional floor waxer work on me. But, these things were all said to my face. Or behind my back. Or on a note that got passed behind my back and then in front of my face. I can only imagine the level of hell I would have been in, had cyberbullying been a thing back then. Surely my hairstyle would have been a viral meme that was “sob and eat a pint of ice cream” worthy.

I am, however, aware of the amount of cyberbullying that goes on every day… hour… minute. I see nasty comments on Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. Some are directed at me, some at my viewers, and it’s heartbreaking. A year ago I had a very public breakup. We were both YouTubers and both very open about our lives. So, we had to eventually explain to our viewers that we had decided to go our separate ways. Now, any break up is hard, but with the added bonus of the public and their opinions, this break up was BRUTAL.

“I see nasty comments on Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. Some are directed at me, some at my viewers, and it’s heartbreaking”

 

Between the two of us, it wasn’t so bad. Sure it hurt, but we were supportive of each other and our decision. We parted with love and kindness. And, our friendship remains intact. But on the Internet, it was a different story. Yes, there were tons of wonderful people who supported us and showered us with positive vibes. But, there were also a handful of people who were beyond unkind to me and loaded my social media with brutal comments and terrifying thoughts. I guess, now that I reflect, this was cyberbullying. “Well, there goes her YouTube career”. “She’s nothing without him”. And, on and on. My knee-jerk reaction was to believe them. All my years of working hard to build my channel and my career, all that confidence, out the window with one nasty comment. Panic, sadness, anger, all those emotions flooded me as I scrolled through these comments. And the more I read, the more insecure I became. I believed them. I believed their words. I became sadder than I already was. It was a very dark time.

“There were also a handful of people who were beyond unkind to me and loaded my social media with brutal comments and terrifying thoughts”

But, put your tissues away, it gets better. I reached out to my friends. The people who know me best. Who have watched me grow and create. Who make me laugh and remind me to have fun. I reached out to my family, who support me no matter what, and always have a joke to make things better. I reached out to a therapist, who helped me sort out my feelings and set goals for my future. I reached out to my now ex-boyfriend, who reminded me that I was me and I am enough. I reached out to my puppy, who didn’t have much to say, but she licked my face an unhealthy amount. I got back to exercising and ate nourishing food. And, most importantly, I put down the phone. Because, in the end, there was nothing of value for me there. Those words were just words. And let’s be honest, they were probably coming from someone much younger, much angstier, and much sadder than me. The comment section has become a place for people to take out their anger, and I learned to accept that but not take part in it. I’m no ones punching bag, and I don’t have time to take on anyone else’s issues.

“The comment section has become a place for people to take out their anger, and I learned to accept that but not take part in it”

 

Now, I realise this is all easier said than done. And as presented, in these few paragraphs, it appears I got through that tough time quickly. That would be incorrect. It took a long while to feel whole again. And I’m not going to pose as some saint who avoids the comment section and never gets upset. I still see things that cut deep. But, I breathe, and I remember they are JUST WORDS. And I imagine the person typing them to be some snotty-nosed weirdo sitting in their underwear with crisps all over their face and hands, and sadness in their hearts. And then, I get hungry. And then, I feel bad for them. And then, I let it go. And then, I put down the phone. And then, I go outside with my friends.

So, I guess my advice to anyone who is being cyberbullied would be to remember these are JUST WORDS. And you and your magnificent brain are far stronger than words. And if you need help, reach out to the people who love you the most. And if you feel alone, know that I’m out here I’m cheering you on. Put down the phone and the computer, go outside, and remind yourself of all the beautiful things around you. And, if all else fails, think of the weirdo, in their underwear, with crisps all over their face and hands and sadness in their heart, and take a moment to send them well wishes. And then, go outside and enjoy your life. Because you deserve it.

Subscribe to Lisa’s Youtube channel
@lilschwartzie
You can watch her ABC show here.
twitter, trolling, misogyny online

In conjunction with leading social intelligence company BrandWatch, we analysed misogynistic behaviour and ideas of masculinity on Twitter

[You can read the full report here]

Our Annual Bullying Survey 2016 (a study in which we looked at why young people bully others) revealed that those who identified as being male, or who had grown up in a male-dominated household were more likely to bully than those who identified as female or who had greater female influences at home. In response to this survey, we partnered up with leading social intelligence company BrandWatch, to see if our findings were also reflective of behaviours across social networks, specifically Twitter.

After analysing 19 million tweets from both the UK and US over a four year period, we found that 1 in 3 of all discussions associated with masculine behaviour on Twitter referenced violence; ranging from physical aggression, gun violence, domestic violence and war. However, in contrast to our initial findings, females were found to be the largest perpetrators of misogyny on Twitter, with 52% of all misogynistic tweets authored by women. Out of the 19 million tweets analysed, nearly 3 million of those were flagged as misogynistic insults.

 

“Females were found to be the largest perpetrators of misogyny on Twitter”

 

We know from existing research that men are less likely to tell somebody if they are experiencing bullying; societal constructs of masculinity have long denied many boys and men around the world freedom of visceral expression; taught from a young age to suppress their emotions, to ‘man up’ or look ‘weak’. But things are changing; what it means to be a man is a growing talking point – after analysing discussions on masculinity in four key areas, (how an individual behaves, how they look, their personality and lifestyle preferences) we found that Twitter users are utilising the network to question and challenge existing ideas of masculinity, as are brands and media sources – which is promising news, as advertising plays a major role in reinforcing notions of gender.

Although perceptions are slowly shifting and stereotypes of masculinity are being challenged, masculinity-related insults unfortunately remain prevalent. This is especially the case among authors associated with family or parenting, which suggests that these terms and attitudes may be transferred to future generations. There were also indications that exhibiting certain behaviours are still largely considered the domain of a specific gender – for example, 1 in 3 conversations over Twitter described the act of crying as a feminine behaviour, whereas stoicism and a lack of emotional response were associated with manliness.

“1 in 3 conversations over Twitter still describe the act of crying as a non-masculine behaviour”

 

This report is crucial to helping us better understand the constructs of masculinity so that Ditch the Label can work to proactively reduce rates of bullying and to help encourage more males to reach for support when they need it. By exploring the usage of misogynistic language used across Twitter, we also better understand the broader gender landscape which helps us in our campaign for greater gender equality.

Tyler Clementi

In 2010, Tyler’s death became a global news story, highlighting the impact & consequences of bullying

Tyler was smart, funny and talented, with a big heart and a determined spirit, but internally he was struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies. He ultimately took his own life at just 18 years old. It has been surreal to piece together these two very different people: the Tyler I knew and loved, and the one I never knew at all.

I have struggled to process how anyone could want to hurt Tyler. He was hard not to love. He never had problems with people that bullied in high school, so when I learned that he had been violated and abused by his college peers, I was in total shock. Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do.

In September 2010, my brother was starting his freshman year at Rutgers University in the US. He had come out to me (actually, we came out to each other) earlier in the summer. I was very supportive and encouraged him to reach out to me no matter what the situation. Tyler came out to our parents only two days before leaving for college. They were shocked, but they advised him to be careful and guarded in his new environment. A new living situation with strangers can be risky, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people are at a higher risk of being targeted than their straight peers.

“Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do”

 

My brother had been closeted in high school and he was excited to finally be out, to be himself for the first time. He was expecting to find a world that embraced him, but instead he soon realised that the start of his college experience had become a nightmare scenario that was far worse than he could have anticipated.

Tyler asked his roommate for and was granted permission to have privacy in their shared dorm room so that he could be alone with a date. What he didn’t know was that when Tyler’s roommate left, he went across the hall to another student’s dorm room and turned on her computer and remotely accessed his webcam, which he had left deliberately pointed at Tyler’s bed. The roommate invited a group of students to have a “viewing party” in the room and sent tweets to students at Rutgers as well as high school friends, detailing exactly what was going on. Tyler’s privacy was violated in a vulnerable moment.

My brother soon realised what had happened. He read his roommate’s Twitter account, which was filled with nasty, homophobic comments about Tyler and the encounter, which clearly was intended to be private. Tyler spiralled into crisis mode, and could not see any way out. I was there, and would have dropped everything to go to him and help him. But he didn’t reach out to me. The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone. That much cruelty and intolerance was too much for one gentle, shy young man to bear.

Over the last several years, my family has had to grapple with the questions of why this happened, and how we could have prevented it. No matter how much we want to, we can’t travel through time to bring Tyler back. But we have channeled our love for Tyler to serving other youth who feel isolated and targeted by bullies by creating the Tyler Clementi Foundation. We have chosen to use our personal tragedy as a teaching tool for others, so that more lives like Tyler’s are not senselessly lost. This fall, our foundation launched a research-based initiative that we believe will help other families avoid the sort of tragedy and pain that befell ours: the #Day1 Campaign.

“The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone”

 

The two biggest questions we have wrestled with are: “Why would someone want to hurt or humiliate Tyler?” And, “How can we make sure that other youth who are being bullied reach out for help before they take a self-harming action?” #Day1 addresses both of these issues. While it may seem obvious that we should always treat others with respect and dignity, the reality is that middle, high school, and college level students are not hearing this message from their teachers or administrators at school.

The #Day1 campaign explicitly spells out for young people exactly how they are expected to behave towards their peers. It states that mistreatment and abusive, cruel behaviour that will not be tolerated against any student for any reason. After students have heard the #Day1 pledge, they know exactly what is expected of them as part of the school community, and there is no room for misunderstanding. If Tyler or his peers had heard this statement at the beginning of their freshman year, it may have drastically impacted the way he was treated.

In regards to my second question, I believe the biggest obstacle for young people reaching out for help is the shame and stigma they feel when they experience bullying and harassment. It is my hope and belief that by having teachers and school administrators read the #Day1 pledge to students, it will send the message, “You are not alone. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Let us help you. We are here to help, and we want to help.” When a student hears their school’s principal read the #Day1 pledge during an assembly, or their history teacher read the pledge in the classroom, it sends them the message that they are not the only person that this is happening to. It lets them know that their school has an environment of support and acceptance for those who are different, and they are empowered to speak out if their dignity is being violated in any way.

Written by James Clementi (Tyler’s brother)

Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation at http://tylerclementi.org