Sticks and stones

13-year-old Tyrone Unsworth killed himself after being bullied for his sexuality.
13-year-old Tyrone Unsworth killed himself after being bullied for his sexuality.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

It was my childhood mantra too. It wasn’t true then, it isn’t true now.

Late last week we heard that Tyrone Unsworth, a 13 year old boy in Queensland, had committed suicide after homophobic bullying that lead to violence.

“Sticks and stones” was reportedly his favourite saying. It’s heartbreaking that this untruth is any child’s favourite saying.

It’s not a saying, it’s a coping mechanism for torment.

Tyrone had been bullied and physically attacked for being different. He had become afraid of going to school and had lost hope in his own future place in society.

He had wanted to be a vet. He loved fashion.

Because he was, as described by his mum, “a feminine male” the result was incessant, vicious, and unrelenting.

His mum explained further “the boys always picked on him, calling him gay-boy, faggot, fairy; it was a constant thing from Year 5.”

I can relate.

I’m deeply sorry that Tyrone won’t realise his dreams & I can’t fathom the depth of his family’s heartbreak.

There are kids like Tyrone all over the country that we need to protect & support. We must work against the status quo where the safety & survival of children is still only equal to someone’s doctrine, or someone’s opinion to denigrate & hurt.

Tyrone’s right to dignity and safety is still only matched with that of a stranger that wishes to deny it.

If you believe this then you are failing our children.

Tyrone should have been embraced and accepted. His school should have been a safe place with a culture that respected diversity, not just for Tyrone’s sake but that of our future community.

We don’t want division, hatred & violence to thrive among adults who fear difference. It doesn’t sound like a great future community, so why does it remain the culture in school?

Our dignity should be self evident, not a point of debate. Our right to safe education, a stable childhood and home life, happiness, opportunity and longevity should be equal to our peers, not accepted as less.

It’s not right that we’re more likely to get bullied at schools, subjected to violence, kicked out of home, likely to suffer lower mental and physical health than our peers.

In part it’s because we’ve lived through generations of state and federal policy that doesn’t recognise us as a group entitled to a policy focus.

Where there is policy we have opponents fighting us on the right to be regarded and for our outcomes to be improved.

Seriously, they fight against our right to improve the likelihood of our survival.

We continue to fail the Tyrones all over our country and, as an aside, the plebiscite would have become a national schoolyard, so I am relieved I played a part in it’s demise. If not for Tyrone, for other LGBTI people already only hanging on by a thread.

Our equal citizenship has never been a restrained and dignified discussion…it still beggars belief that it remains be a point of debate.

I’m not talking of marriage alone – I’m talking about truly equal citizenship.

Some political leaders are starting to realise the work required to provide the LGBTI community with equal citizenship. It’s the same contract they have with you to ensure that you, as an Australian, enjoy every opportunity of others.

We have much work to do so that, at the very least, our outcomes match the rest of the nation.

As it stands LGBTI people are 14 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

Nearly 50% of homeless people under 25 identify as LGBTI.

Research shows that discrimination and exclusion are the key causal factors of LGBTI mental ill-health and suicidality.

We’ve lost Tyrone. We have lost countless others in rural communities like Tumut. We will lose more.

Thousands shared their grief over the weekend with the hashtag #RIPTyrone.

However it’s not enough for Tyrone to “rest in peace”. Every “Tyrone” out living among us should be free to live in peace. Not lose hope and die.

Every 13 year old should be free to live in peace.

To my LGBTIQ friends and strangers I’m yet to meet of every age: you are loved.

It breaks my heart that you have suffered or continue to, largely in silence and isolation.

It breaks my heart that your struggle is yet to be recognised as a blight on our nation that should be addressed.

You are loved.

If you don’t believe me, hear me. I am here today because, as an isolated teenager, I couldn’t leave my mum and dad. I couldn’t bear the consequence to them of me going – yet I wanted to, desperately.

I’m so grateful I didn’t go. I’m grateful that I didn’t release myself from the daily pain because every day now is a gift.

Life is beautiful, when you reach beyond survival. It is virtually guaranteed that if you “survive” long enough you will come to enjoy and celebrate every day.

I did.

For as long as you hold on there is hope of a beautiful life that awaits you which is only sweeter when you can reflect on your past adversity.

I do.

Because at a point you’ll discover it is truly past. It is behind you. It is part of what makes you stronger: you survived.

It is what makes me who I am.

Know that you are loved. You deserve love. You deserve to live in peace. Your humanity and dignity should not be a point of debate and you have more people around you than ever who are working on ending the debate, changing the status quo, improving outcomes.

You need to stick with it, help us by getting angry and speaking up. Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to people. Complain to your school, tell your folks, write to your MPs, reach out to support services and advocates.

I spent so much of my childhood thinking society didn’t like me, that I’d amount to nothing, that it was my fault and my burden. I believed I was unlovable.

I was completely wrong. Completely. Absolutely. Entirely.

You are loved and you deserve your childhood free of violence and bullying.

Teachers and parents have more resources than ever to create school communities that respect and care for one another, available here:

For anyone struggling:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
QLife Australia 1800 184 527 3pm-midnight in your state (LGBTIQ service)
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800

For victims of bullying and those who witness it and want to create change, call your local member. Help him understand the issue and the strength of our community’s resolve to improve the lives of our LGBTI family and friends.