Tag Archives: suicide

Debunction Junction

Trigger warning: suicide, racism, classism

David Brooks’ New York Times column for today has already garnered a host of critical responses (most intriguing, in my opinion, this one about his casual equation of Sanders’ and Trump’s support). Let me just quickly hop into the fray to point out a particularly egregious falsehood he lazily propagated: that Trump’s support is being driven by class resentment.

As Brook’s put it:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century. This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows. Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it.

The pain he’s talking about there is admittedly as much social as it is economic, but in case the attribution of the Trump (and to a lesser extent Sanders’  too) insurgency to lower economic orders was missed, he spells it out later on – “I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.”

To be frank, bullshit.

Brooks is a traveler in many circles, overwhelmingly ones that are urban and economically upwardly mobile, but several of them have been epicenters of Trumps ascendancy. Most of his time is in New York City, which Trump carried decisively and was the site of his original announcement that he would be campaigning for president. Brooks is also active at his alma mater the University of Chicago – another city with a Republican primary electorate that overwhelmingly opted support Trump.

Admittedly Brooks holds positions at Duke and a regular spot on the PBS News Hour taking him into the bubbles of moderate Republicans in Durham and Arlington respectively, but that those completely blinded him to the reality of Trump’s support in other places he works is utterly bizarre.

Brooks might claim that it’s a lower order element within New York and Chicago that he doesn’t associate with that support Trump, unlike his refined Republican colleagues. That is also, to be frank, bullshit. The Economist of all sources, a paper that you would expect to be invested in this type of narrative of deluded poor people supporting crypto-protectionism, has compiled data showing that Trump’s support is pretty evenly spread across income brackets but if anything skews slightly towards those with above median incomes.

trump income supporters

As I’ve noted here before, Trump’s support is complicated by region and class and a number of factors, but what appears the most consistent to me is that he appeals to people tired of being told to be nicer, to be better, to be respectful to people they don’t consider worthy of respect. That appeals to a lot of less well off people, sure, but most consistently to certain social not economic demographics. It resonates with White Southerns who have wanted vindication for decades. It resonates with conservative traditionalists outside of the South who live in more generally progressive areas and as a result encounter those messages fairly often.

Can Brooks not see that or does he just not want to?

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The fundamental danger

Trigger Warning: police violence, racism, suicide mentions

More than two years later and the wisdom in this tweet has only been further demonstrated. We are currently in the middle of an epidemic of deaths of people of color (and particularly Black people) while in police custody, which has been promoted by us focusing on anything other than the needlessness of those deaths.

Freddie Gray, a twenty-five year old Black resident of Baltimore was arrested the night of April 12, 2015. He was charged with possessing an illegal blade (which is now disputed as having been outside of legal size ranges) and according to various eye witnesses was subject to some form of police violence, corroborated by a cell phone video that shows him being dragged to a police vehicle. Some have theorized that his spine may have been damaged before he even entered that car. Regardless, the “rough ride” he was then subjected to apparently caused significant neurological damage, which led near immediately to a coma and his death within a week.

Although several police officers present at the scene of his arrest have been indicted and charged with manslaughter (with a pending acquittal or conviction), the current public discussion of responsibility of Gray’s death is alarming. A Fox News reporter already openly approached the Baltimore police with the pitch that he would cover them positively, while others have clearly attempted to frame the response protests to Gray’s death as the actual problem. The Baltimore police appear to have encouraged this closing of public discussion of their culpability, allegedly having prevented Rihanna from holding a combined protest and concert in the city. Heading into the trial, efforts appear to have been made by the Baltimore police and others to downplay Gray’s death.

The cost of shutting down that conversation is already mounting. Eleven people – overwhelmingly people of color – have died in police custody in the past month. Most publicly discussed has been the case of Sandra Bland, an activist who was arrested for failing to use her turn signal while being pulled over by the police (and subsequently resisting arrest – meaning challenging police conduct that violated standards). According to the police, she committed suicide in a holding cell. Bland, who was six feet tall, supposedly hung herself in a rather low ceiling part of her cell. Her death came not long after she allegedly made a phone call in which she discussed feeling unsafe in police custody.

Many aspects of Bland’s death are becoming recurring in the most recent cases, with many activists in communities of color being targeted for arrests and their and others’ deaths being presented as suicides. Choctaw activist Rexdale Henry died in police custody earlier this month as well, and so far the police have refused to release autopsy reports, compounding critical questions about his mysterious death. The lingering unwillingness to condemn what was done to Freddie Gray has seemingly encouraged cavalier attitudes at best and malicious violence at worst, now specifically targeted at not only fairly randomly selected people of color, but activists organizing (among other reasons) to reduce and stop the deaths in their communities at the hands of the police.

Some have pointed out that even the police’s treatment of Freddie Gray didn’t happen in a vacuum. Many other apprehended people of color were given “rough rides” before him. As Jay Smooth’s tweet can remind us was done in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin and countless other acts of violence against people of color and particularly Black people in a policing context. These are ripples that don’t dissipate, they magnify each other.

How the upcoming trials for many of these cases – vitally those of the police charged with manslaughter against Freddie Gray but also a similar case in Cleveland – will affect the responses to this horrifying, new rush of deaths and to a degree whether there will be more deaths in the coming days. Currently, Baltimore is sounding as it has been forced into an uncomfortable silence and the Cleveland police union is auctioning off a weapon to raise funds for the police officer under legal scrutiny. Those are not the best of signs. It’s easy to hear that and think of rioting and other direct responses to these on-going patterns of violence, but the real danger is the same as it always was: more George Zimmermans.

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Uncivil War

TW: “suicide” as a metaphor

So the federal government shutdown is now more than a week old, with seemingly no end in sight, and honestly, why should we expect there to be any such thing? As Ryan Lizza explained with liberal references to extremist Republicans as “suicidal” in the New York Times:

As with Meadows [the House member who popularized the idea of a shutdown], the other [pro-shutdown]-caucus members live in places where the national election results seem like an anomaly. Obama defeated Romney by four points nationally. But in the eighty suicide-caucus districts, Obama lost to Romney by an average of twenty-three points. The Republican members themselves did even better. In these eighty districts, the average margin of victory for the Republican candidate was thirty-four points.

In short, these eighty members represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.

Lizza points to a less metaphorically troubling article but more condescending one by Charlie Cook at the National Journal, where he detailed the situation:

Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 percent to 64 percent, closely tracking the 5-point drop in the white share of the electorate measured by exit polls between 2004 and 2012. But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 percent to 75 percent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 percent white to 51 percent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.

As Congress has become more polarized along party lines, it’s become more racially polarized, too. In 2000, House Republicans represented 59 percent of all white U.S. residents and 40 percent of all nonwhite residents. But today, they represent 63 percent of all whites and just 38 percent of all nonwhites. In 2012 alone, Republicans lost 11.2 million constituents to Democrats (a consequence of not only the party’s loss of a net eight House seats but also the fact GOP districts had grown faster in the previous decade and needed to shed more population during redistricting). Of the 11.2 million people Republicans no longer represent, 6.6 million, or 59 percent, are minorities.

Now, if you had to come up with a word for this, gerrymander would probably be the first off of your tongue (and it was the first off of Cook’s and Lizza’s), but examine the racial politics here for a second longer – what Republicans have essentially created a distinctive portion of the country and now feel entitled to allow its politics to dictate the entire country’s. Or should I say countries’? Is this a bit of covert secession, complete with the expectation that comparatively urban as well as racially and regionally diverse populations will kowtow to rural, White, and predominantly Southern interests?

(The Republican-catering media knows what the Zeitgeist is for that part of the country, from here. And yes, Drudge used the 2008 electoral college map in a story from 2012.)

Much like before the first US Civil War, the interests and political solutions touted by different populations have been aligned with different political parties, different classes, and even different regions. For some time now, we’ve been in a time of divergence. The shutdown is just another installation of that, and it’s just the sort of thing that can’t “run its course”, because it has so much historical and political momentum.

In a very scary sense, that’s what might have begun now more than a week ago. The most extreme Republicans have fashioned a miniature country within the US of their own likeness out of odds and ends. With more and more people of color living in this country and more and more Whites at the least being less enthusiastic about this near-exclusively White political coalition, however, they’ve had to scribble together all sorts of unusual districts to make it work, for just 80 seats in the House.

The trade off there may be a part of our saving grace, since there’s no clear center of operations for a secessionist movement to coalesce around. Still, that seems to have been replaced with battle lines drawn through 32 states instead of between them.

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This week in death…

TW: suicide, anti-Black violence, anti-LGBT* violence

There were quite a few deaths in the news this week which seem necessary to talk about. In Tibet, two monks immolated themselves in anticipation of the Chinese parliament reconvening, which was expected to vote for further strict security protocols in Tibet. One week earlier, two different teenagers also killed themselves in protest of continued Chinese rule over Tibet. The Dalai Lama has both faced criticism in China as the source of these suicides and officially called for the Chinese government to examine how its policies have contributed to these and other protest suicides.

In Mali, on the other hand, the decision to express political disagreement through suicide was also present, but mixed into the on-going multifaceted struggle over the form and number of states that will emerge from modern Mali. Presumably a member of the more hardline Islamist movements, one attacker this week killed themselves and seven others, all members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and more moderate Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) at a checkpoint in Kidal. This is one in a long string of attacks throughout northern Mali or Azawad, which have targeted the civilian population, French forces, the MNLA, and now the MIA. This is another indication that the “hard” Islamists are turning on moderates and rebels who likewise fought for the self determination of Azawad. Whether France will be as motivated to assist the liberation movements as it was to prevent the disintegration of the undemocratic government of Mali remains to be seen.

(Marco McMillan who had been a main contender for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, from here.)

In the US, a mayoral candidate for Clarksdale, Mississippi, Marco McMillan was found dead in a river. While a majority of the population has long been Black, it’s also been a site of much racist violence, including one incident where Aaron Henry, who eventually became the head of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, was dragged to the Clarksdale jail while handcuffed to the back of a truck. The current mayor of Clarksdale, Henry Espy, was the first and as of yet only Black mayor of the town. McMillan had hoped to replace him as the second Black mayor and the first openly gay one. It remains unclear what his campaign will do in light of his death.

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The broad progressive coalition fails to emerge in Israel

TW: suicide, indefinite detention, police brutality

If you care to peruse the Israel tag here you’ll come across a number of different developments in the past few months that haven’t boded well for any civilians in the region. Police violence has long been endemic in Israel, but a recent report by +972 has tried to shed light on the powers behind the brutality. In short, there’s a culture of impunity particularly for those viewed as moderates because they don’t support quite as extreme measures against Iran and Palestine. Those who are highly ranked in the military are given glowing mentions in the New York Times and touted, even by their more humanist critics, as Israel’s great last hope.

Now, if only they weren’t imprisoning Israeli’s with secret evidence. And if only those detained weren’t kept in solitary confinement for so many months that they became suicidal. And if only there wasn’t a legitimate case to be made that they were a literal “shadow government”. Darn.

(The facility in Ramla, Israel, where Ben Zygier committed suicide after multiple months in solitary confinement, from here.)

Unfortunately, even in how their failings are being noticed and called out you can see the cracks in a hypothetical broad coalition of those against war mongering, those against systemic disenfranchisement and criminalization of  Arabs and Palestinians, and those against the transformation of Israel into a police state. One of the core cases examined by the article was that of Anat Kamm, who I’ve commented on before. Indeed, what has happened to her was monstrous and reflective of the growing power of the military and similar martial forces in Israel.

But as I pointed out when her case initially became public in October, her imprisonment coincided with the killing of a Palestinian woman and her daughter who were in the process of signalling that they were non-combatants by waving a white flag. If there’s an undemocratic autocracy developing in Israel, its effects are felt unevenly. A few Jewish Israelis are imprisoned for inadequate fealty to the emerging order, but Palestinians are harassed and locked away on a much larger scale. The purported moderate-ness of the effective governors of Israel is just that – purported. The systemic inequalities against Arabs and Palestinians in territory Israel claims are not only continuing but worsening under their rule.

An effective challenge of the increasingly undemocratic norms in Israel needs to criticize the constant violence doled out rather than be selective about it.

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When ‘feminists’ take up the masters’ tools…

TW: cissexism, sexism, suicide

In case you missed the quite heated discussion over, well, the validity of transgender identities in the UK in the past week, and want to understand what set it off better than simply staring at the Guardian’s unconvincing and poorly written apology, Jezebel’s Lindy West has a rather excellent summary of the events leading up to Julie Burchill’s opinion piece rant as well as some of the choicest quotes from it.

West begins with Suzanne Moore’s cissexist comment that women must deal with beauty standards purportedly matched only by “Brazilian transsexuals.” While breaking down the various ways this harms and devalues the lives and experiences of transgender women, her third point seemed particularly insightful, which noted,  “It is extremely othering and exclusionary to hold up trans women as a counterexample to ‘real’ women.”

Part of the horrifying nature of that process is that women themselves are already held up as the counterexample to “real” people, the men, so to be among not only those who are exiled from humanity to some extent, but also be rejected by your fellow women who don’t want to include you within their dehumanized ranks, is a terrible thing to have to face. Which might explain why so many transgender women, even comparatively successful ones, contemplate suicide.

(Lana Wachowski after speaking about her suicide attempt while accepting her Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, from here.)

Of course, while it’s quite clear how transgender women are being discussed as if unreal in Moore’s and Burchill’s screeds,  it’s something that’s sometimes harder to see how women, both cisgender and transgender, are treated as distractions from what is real. But it’s an argument nearly as embedded in so many statements and actions as the invalidity assigned to trans people. It’s in the fact that killers only have gender if they’re female. It’s even buried in a valid point the Onion recently made about the ironclad focus on wealthy and famous Americans over the realities of those who are neither, which might not occur to you until I ask you to find a woman in the pictures we’re implicitly asked to care about more and a man mentioned in the statements we’re seemingly requested to care about less.

West wisely recognized that the way Burchill and Moore spoke about transgender women was “the kind of language that misogynist trolls use against [all women], to trivialize and derail and silence feminist discourse, every day” but in using it against transgender women, it was the same hostility but “coming from inside the house.” It’s the recreation of the same violence used against them, but redirected towards a specific group of those delegitimized alongside them that conveniently they don’t belong to.

In short, what these statements call into question are Burchill’s and Moore’s ultimate goal. Do they really want a more egalitarian society, or simply one that will stop its hostility against them? The personal may be political, but if your motivations end there, can you really claim to be intending to create equality?

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Dan Savage: you’re on notice

TW: suicide, trans erasure/fetishization, bisexual erasure, female LGBT* erasure, poor LGBT* erasure, LGBT* of color erasure

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time now, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to help out with what some have called the left’s “circular fire squad”. I’ll appreciate a point by Andrew Sullivan but still call it erasive. I’ll quote Rachel Maddow at length, but I don’t think that means refusing to criticize her. So now it’s Dan Savage’s turn. If you don’t tend to watch Chris Hayes’ weekend show a few days ago, you probably missed a relatively uneventful interview. But if you did as always or for the first time tune into the show, you got a big helping of why Savage is the recipient of quite a bit of derision from liberals as well as conservatives.

(Yeah, I’m rooting for Black Dahlia Parton in this match, sorry.)

If manage to let the messages just role over you, you’ll notice a few interesting things in the interview, which are hopefully enlightening if you’re one of the people who looks to Dan Savage for advice:

He’s erasive of other gender identities and sexualities. In the interview, he pointedly avoids using the words trans/transgender or bisexual while listing gay and lesbian a few times in the show. Thanks to the acronym of LGBT*, when using the full names for those identities, it’s customary to at least list those four together. But Dan Savage has made it quite clear that he has his doubts about bisexuals, and his failure to mention genderqueer people until he starts talking about kinks is perhaps reflective of some parts of the oppression of trans men and women. He also decides that it’s an irrelevant extra bit to note that genderqueer people are still banned from military service in the US, while discussing DADT. He likewise is hardly conspicuous in speaking of “gay marriage” rather than “same-sex marriage” – which erases every part of the LGBT acronym other than, naturally enough, the one he identifies with.

He restricts the cause of further LGBT* liberation primarily to marriage equality. Part of the blame should lie with Chris Hayes for quite cheerfully encouraging and then perpetuating this throughout the interview, but Dan Savage, as a self-proclaimed advocate, should have known to challenge such narratives. You are more likely to become a homeless youth if you are LGBT*. Even for LGBT* people with the resources to house themselves without familial assistance, federal bans on housing discrimination on the basis of being LGBT* in the US are relatively new and not yet fully implemented. And that assumes that LGBT* individuals have a stable income, which is often called into doubt as protections from being fired simply for being LGBT* are not secure, but rather a patchwork of state-based initiatives that are not present in all places, do not always apply to private industries, and are not necessarily inclusive of genderqueer people. As a member of the comfortable socio-economic class, the dominant ethnic group, and the privileged sex and gender, Savage has seemingly never had to deal with these “complications” that very easily arise when combating anti-LGBT* biases as well as other inequalities.

He literally says “We are born into straight families” and that there’s nothing more straight than raising children. Queerspawn. We’re a thing. Sometimes we’re not straight or cisgender or either. Look it up. There’s no big speech prepared following this bit, because it’s just categorically erasive.

His remaining idea of how to further the cause of LGBT* liberation is suicide prevention. Now, that in and of itself is a sign of hope. Here is something that hasn’t personally effected Savage that he cares about. Until you realize that he’s unwilling to discuss suicide prevention in any sort of a context of mental health, but just “needing someone to talk to”. It’s showing that he’s not someone with training or much experience in how to assist people with mental health issues, but he’s continuing to comment on what people in that place should and shouldn’t do, as well as should and shouldn’t feel. It’s also worth noting that even if this is the first issue I’ve raised that doesn’t appear to affect Savage directly it does – he’s the founder of the It Gets Better Project, after all.

He automatically assumes his own child is straight and cisgender. The offensiveness of this is profound. Savage is a person who has made his fortune in discussing how damaging and difficult it was for him and his partner and people like him and his partner for their parents to assume that they were straight. Why is he going down that road with his own child?

Feel free to add to this in the comments if you saw anything else in their discussion that makes you want to put either of them on notice, because I’m just skimming the top honestly.

EDIT: I interpreted Savage as having implies his own child would be straight and cisgender when I watched the show live. That’s not coming up in the portions available on the website. Apologies if I misunderstood those or any other statements. That being, said, I found more to complain about, while reviewing the clips one last time. He admits the idea behind the It Gets Better Project was that he no longer needed to physically meet with suicidal LGBT* youth, but could just talk them out of acting on those feelings over YouTube. That immediately presumes that the youth in question have internet access, have means to use that internet access to a degree that they’ll come across his videos, and that they’ll be free enough from potentially hostile parents to watch the videos. That’s quite a bit of assuming, which will probably make the youth simply reached by his message wealthier among other pressures.

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Why would you work with a system that hates you?

TW: suicide, hazing, racism, segregation, heterosexism, cissexism, dysphoria, body image issues, trans erasure

In the past several weeks’ controversies over a frankly massive number of issues, it’s understandable to have missed the minimal coverage of the hazing trials as a result of the suicide of private Danny Chen while on tour in Afghanistan. The prosecution has had an unexpected degree of success, actually, with four of the eight defendants so far having been demoted and with as much as a two thirds reduction in pay for a single month. For some perspective, however, it’s worth noting that stealing $100,000 from the military results in twenty years of prison time and immediate dismissal – while the much lighter sentences are for the trivialities of racial harassment, forced physical discipline beyond those sanctioned in training, and an episode where Private Chen was dragged across the military compound for mistakenly leaving a water pump running.

I can’t help feeling that this incident bares some worrisome similarities to the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, following invasive and heterosexist spying from fellow students, who were eventually charged with a violation of privacy. Just as Chen was harassed during a difficult transition to life on a military base in Afghanistan, Clementi was harassed by his fellow students while he was transitioning from living at home. Both Chen, as a Chinese-American, and Clementi, as a young gay man, were members of social groups that are negatively compared to White and straight individuals. Still, they both belonged to groups that have in the past few decades seen victories at being seen as equally deserving of respect as their White and straight counterparts. But how effective have those advances actually been if Private Chen’s suicide is only eliciting brief reductions in pay and Tyler Clementi’s suicide was incidental to actionable offenses under New Jersey’s laws on privacy?

Chinese-Americans have a lengthy history of struggling against the same segregationist systems and accompanying racism as many other people of color in the United States. In protest of their children being sorted into Black schools, however, many Chinese-Americans emphasized their lack of African ancestry, touted their children as being “less Chinese” than earlier immigrant generations, and broke many ties to the Black community to avoid being seen as on par with their allegedly lower status. To the extent that there was a community-wide response to anti-Chinese racism, it was one of negotiation rather than categorical rejection of the racial hierarchy. Arguably this continues to this day, with the Chinese-American mayor of San Francisco considering the implementation of “stop and frisk” policing, in spite of its clear history of rationalizing racial profiling against Black and Latino New Yorkers (where the policy is already in place). Still, it’s hard not to see Chinese-Americans as among the most successful people of color in the United States, as the nineteenth and twentieth century immigration ban on Chinese individuals has been widely replaced with criminalization of Latino immigration.

Likewise, cisgender gay men have seen a great amount of success in struggling for social inclusion in spite of the heterosexist elements of the culture in the United States. But even a cursory look at gay pride historical accounts will show an erasure of certain people from the official history – of lesbians and gay women, of bisexuals or other sexualities that face discrimination, and arguably most consistently of transgender men and women and other genderqueer individuals. Look no further than the celebrations over the repeal of the United States’ military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – which has allowed current and future service members to be open about their sexuality even if it’s something other than straight. Of course, the military has still banned transgendered women and men from serving on the grounds that they interpret being transgendered as a mental illness. Virtually no one wants to discuss the sheer abandonment of one segment of the LGBT population, so serious discussion of this remaining flaw in military policy has primarily been contained to college newspapers.

Since that specific victory for gay rights (and notably not trans rights), one of the growing discussions within the gay community has been about body issues and a difficult if not unreachable masculine ideal, which is pretty obnoxiously insensitive to any transgender men (gay, straight, or with any other sexual orientation) who may have problems with dysphoria, or feelings of very extreme unhappiness with their body’s sex and externally assigned gender. (Please note: not all transgendered men or women have dysphoria, although many do.) Yet, with most people perceiving an inevitability of same-sex marriage becoming legally recognized on an increasingly wide scale, it seems that the inclusion of cisgendered gay men and women in traditional institutions like marriage or the military is underway. Similarly to the Chinese community in the United States, to the extent that the gay community has had a strategy, it’s been one of negotiation to permit social inclusion, rather than rejection of institutions hostile to anyone who is not heterosexual and cisgendered.

So, what have these groups actually gained for historically cooperating with the racial and gendered hierarchies? For private Danny Chen and Tyler Clementi it wasn’t a freedom from harassment, it wasn’t a right to support within their respective communities, and it ultimately wasn’t even much in the way of culpability for creating those circumstances that made them suicidal. These aren’t isolated incidents, as the recent waves of anti-Chinese and anti-gay hate crimes suggest. Perhaps incremental, community-specific advances against racism and nativism or heterosexism and cissexism are not the solution they seem to be.

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