This One is for You, Robbie

by Caroline Guhde, Lake Catholic High School Newspaper
April 1997 

A few weeks ago, in the Sunday edition of The Plain Dealer, a large color photo caught my eye. It was taken of three children, attractive, grinning from ear to ear in a jumbled embrace with a twinkling Christmas tree in the background. The title was simple yet intriguing, "Robbie's Story." Not usually a big news buff, I was drawn to this story, the simplicity of the title, the haunting faces in the photograph seemed to draw me in. The story was about a fourteen-year-old boy, a freshman at St. Ignatius High School, who had taken his own life just a few months earlier. Robbie had been struggling with his identity and his sexuality, he had come to believe that he was a homosexual. This realization was so unspeakable and ghastly unacceptable in Robbie's mind that he could not live with his shame any longer, and one day he ended it all with his father's handgun. 

The article went on to say that Robbie's family became suspicious of the possibility that he was gay and both of his parents confronted him about it. When asked, he admitted that he wasn't quite sure, but it was possible, and in later months he kept on trying to convince his father that he really was not gay. His mother, father, and two sisters told him they loved him for who he was and his sexual preference was irrelevant to them; they would support whatever he chose to do. Something crossed my mind then, if his family was telling the truth and they would accept and love him no matter what, then why did he feel so ashamed, worthless, and desperate? Then, the answer slowly came to me. His family could support him all they wanted to, but were they going to be there with him every day at school to shield him from the name calling, the vandalism, the hate letters, the physical attacks, the ignorance, the doubts that would plague his mind, or the sinking feeling of inferiority that he would carry with him daily? 

As a society, we fool ourselves into thinking we have become so liberal and open to new concepts and people, but we are living in an illusion. For example, walk down the corridors of any high school and you will hear the term "fag" and "homo" as the new insults and derogatory remarks used against one another in verbal combat. If a teenager does not like an assignment or believes something to be unfair, he or she is likely to use the phrase "this is so gay" to expres those feelings. Of all age groups, I strongly believe teenagers to be the most homophobic of all. If I am incorrect in my assumption, then will someone tell me why homosexual teenagers don't "come out" until they are well out of high school, some never at all? We incorporate negativity with the concept of homosexuality, we use it as insult and injury, and a humiliating mechanism. In high school, how many gay/lesbian crisis centers or support groups do we have? The last time I checked, it was unheard of. To seek guidance and support at a center, you are on your own. They do exist, and there was one down the street from Robbie's school, but he never went. I wonder why? Let's examine this situation: Let's say Robbie did decide to go to this center for gay teens. With its close proximity to his school, students were bound to find out he was going there. Also this center's location in a rough section of town would not be very appealing to an already insecure and scared teenage boy. 

Robbie also harbored a crush on a schoolmate. Think how hard it is for guys and girls at that age who are heterosexual who have crushes on the opposite sex and are too afraid and intimidated to tell them? Can you imagine the immense restraint Robbie must have put on himself and his feelings out of protection for himself and possibly to save the object of his affections from scarring humiliation? It must have eaten him alive! 

Am I saying Robbie's suicide was justified because of the insensitivity shared by adults and teens? Of course not, suicide is morally wrong, but so is ostracizing a whole group of people simply because they are different. Robbie's suicide did not have to happen and neither do all the others that occur because of questionable sexuality. Maybe if programs were accessible through school and our society was more accepting, especially at that age, he would not have felt so alone and helpless. Because of our lack of compassion for people like Robbie, our callousness, and our indifference to the whole subject, innocents like Robbie's family have to put the pieces back together and try to live a life with a huge chunk forever to be missing. Maybe their sharing of his story will open more peoples' hearts and minds to ensure that cases like these become extinct.