It is a story we dreaded. An East Hampton High School student apparently committed suicide late last week, and some of those who knew him have drawn a direct connection from what is being described as a deliberate, tragic act to his being bullied because he was gay or perceived by others as gay.
Few details have emerged at this point about the life of David Hernandez Barros, who was 16, but we have been told fellow students at East Hampton High School bullied him. In a powerful letter to the editor of this newspaper this week, a former student at the high school said that he himself had considered committing suicide because of the self-hatred engendered by the hateful insults directed at him by his peers. David’s struggle, he wrote, was “similar to the ones many of us face growing up in this community.” If this is the status quo, it is unacceptable.
Learning of David’s death on Saturday, Richard Burns, the superintendent of the East Hampton School District, issued a statement calling the death tragic and saying he was truly saddened. His office and Adam Fine, the high school principal, offered counseling for students and faculty. Representatives of the Family Service League’s Joe’s Project, a suicide-prevention initiative, have been invited to speak with students. Meetings were said to be ongoing about how to respond further.
Nationally, bullying of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender students is considered epidemic. Shocking statistics were cited in the media following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, who leaped into the Hudson River last year after a video was posted online showing him kissing another young man. Other recent deaths in similar circumstances have been of a 13-year-old boy in Texas, another in Minnesota, and a 15-year-old in Indiana. A majority (and far more in some surveys) of G.L.B.T. youth are said to have been the targets of bullying for who they are.
Whether or not a detailed explanation of David’s apparent decision to end his life emerges, a shared sense is that anti-gay harassment right here in East Hampton was a cause, if not the cause. School and community leaders must address this perception — focusing on the alleged attackers, not just their victims.
Our deepest sympathy goes to David’s family and his friends. May the community rally in their support.