It’s unsurprising that Lady Gaga took the death of Jamey Rodemeyer very personally. Rodemeyer, the young man who died by suicide earlier this month after enduring relentless anti-gay bullying, made it clear that Gaga was his role model. In his “It Gets Better” video, he talked about the power of her “Born This Way” lyrics, and most of his Tumblr was dedicated to the eclectic artist and her unique self-expression. Gaga, in turn, has made it clear that she intends to speak out against bullying, and she even paid to attend a fundraiser for President Obama last night, following through on her promise to speak with him directly about legislating more forcefully against bullying.
But some are accusing Gaga of contributing to suicide contagion. Suicide contagion is when increased visibility about suicide actually motivates others to see suicide as an option that will give their death more meaning. And while the specific attention that she has paid to to Rodemeyer may inappropriately suggest she’d do the same for others, her desire to stop bullying — as opposed to dwell on suicide — surely sets her apart from other coverage of his death. At a concert this weekend, Gaga dedicated her song “Hair” to Rodemeyer, encouraging her fans with the message, “I just want to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am.”
Hundreds attended Rodemeyer’s funeral in Buffalo on Saturday to show their support as his parents buried him in a t-shirt that said “Born This Way.” He should never have had to endure the harassment that he faced, and striving to end that stigmatization is an important response. But “bullying” is an issue not limited to Rodemeyer’s experience and not limited to young people in schools. Until we end the constant societal stigmatization of people based on their real or perceived gender or sexuality, LGBT people of all ages will be faced with undue harassment that can compound with other suicide risk factors such as depression, isolation, rejection, and anxiety. While utilizing education and intervention to interrupt the bullying young people face (and their apathy about it) is a good first step, only by ending all anti-gay and anti-trans rhetoric at all levels of society (including Republican presidential campaigns) can we truly prevent such tragedies in the future.
Watch Lady Gaga’s powerfully emotional tribute to Rodemeyer from this weekend: