In the hours after the news of actor Lee Thompson Young’s suicide, Cypher Avenue received a slight bump in site visits based off of one Google search string: Was Lee Thompson Young Gay?
Mind you, we have never even slightly speculated this notion in these pages in the past. The only other time we had mentioned Young was when we named him the second most talented and attractive actor of color to make the transition from child star to adult performer. But the mere fact that we were a gay/bisexual themed website dropped us into the Google search results.
Having said that, the other sites on the list were FULL of speculation.
This is the current state of the Black American man. Even in death he has to face gay rumors and gay whispers. We live in a gay witch-hunt society full of TMZ and black gossip sites full of women and gay men working hard to Out celebrity after celebrity. I would argue that MediaTakeOut.com is just as bad as The Rolling Stone, Uganda’s infamous newspaper that Outs African men: listing their photos, names and addresses.
Was the pressure of this “we’re gonna Out you” environment too much for Young, leading him to committing suicide? The problem with this is to even speculate is to fall in to the same trap that that Bossip.com is in: Disregarding facts for rumor. Besides being an attractive private person, Lee Thompson Young gave no reason for us to think that he killed himself because he was gay.
This is me whenever I see MediaTakeOut or Bossip spreading more thin rumors and details about yet another black man’s private sexuality:
What rubbed me the wrong way was not that people were falsely labeling Young of being gay. That would imply that I thought there was something “wrong” with the mere idea. No, what bothered me was the insinuation that the ONLY reason Young would have committed suicide was because he was gay.
Yes, that totally explains it, right? I mean, why else would a young, masculine, attractive, successful celebrity with so much future potential choose to end his own life? What could be so unbearable that would make this black man say there was no other way out? Homosexuality. Yeah, that works. God hates fags. So does Hip Hop. Gays kill themselves every day, right? It all makes sense now.
Wait, why is the fact that he was attractive matter? Well there’s clearly a perception of privilege in this country when it comes to good looking people. The better looking you are, the more opportunities, favors and courtesies you are seemingly afforded. This is not a position that I wholly agree with given that I know so many broke, unemployed and uneducated men and women who are absolutely beautiful. But I understand the rationale.
I also think its understandable that people want to know why…well, kind of…I’m actually not totally sure why so many people who hadn’t thought twice about Young since his Jett Jackson Disney Channel days seemed so angry and frustrated that they didn’t know why he committed suicide. However, that’s another discussion. But I do get it…life just works better when we have explanations for unexplainable things.
But the leap to “suicide due to latent homosexuality” seems like a 1980’s reach into the past.
When people look at us gay/bisexual men of color, do they really see suicidal time-bombs waiting to happen?
When people see single black heterosexual men, especially if they are attractive, do they really see closeted gay men on the brink of suicide?
Don’t get me wrong; I do recognize that many black men who happen to be gay have at least had a passing suicidal thought or two at one point, especially in their younger years. However the percentage of black gay men who have been successful with even just attempting suicide is still very low, let alone actually killing themselves.
Lets look at some numbers. According to the 2010 census, there are roughly 42,000,000 Black or African Americans living in the country. That was Million. Now compare that number to the total Black American male suicides in 2009: 1,684. That’s not even filtering out the non-gay related suicides. That’s TOTAL.
So to say that black gay male suicide is epidemic is incorrect. According to the CDC, the suicide rate of African Americans is 60% lower than that of Caucasians. However, African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than whites. I believe this figure leads us to the real reasons behind Lee Thompson Young’s death.
Black Men in America are just more depressed and face more psychological distress without treatment than their Caucasian counterparts. And not only because of insecurities about their sexuality. Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 3 times more likely to report psychological distress. Whites are more than twice as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatments as Blacks. Added to that, there is a societal shaming that comes with black men seeking therapy so many avoid it at all costs.
What about Lee Thompson Young? He was single, young, masculine, attractive with good credit and could afford treatment and medication, so the explanation was that he was a closet homosexual that couldn’t live with being Outed as a gay man, right? RIGHT?!
EOnline.com reported today that Lee Thompson Young had been suffering from depression for some time now:
The Rizzoli & Isles star, who was 29 at the time of his death, “didn’t drink or party,” says a source, adding, “He was the opposite. Lee loved to travel and was always the first to tell everyone to take a breath and enjoy the beauty of life.” He was always “gentle and unassuming,” despite his early success, and didn’t have the typical “look-at-me” attitude.
That said, those close to Young noticed things “really changed” a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin”, meaning “death is preferable to ignominy.” Some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.
However, Yorùbá culture icon and Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion “[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter.”
The Famous Jett Jackson star “took [his religion] to the next level and started wearing white all of the time,” says a source, adding, “This religion was everything to him.” Although he reportedly took a break from practicing Yorùbá, he recently returned to the religion. Just before his death, he visited a small village in Africa for something reportedly related to the religion.
As for Young’s family? A source notes that he was close with his mother and sister, but relatives were worried his close friends no longer lived in L.A., leaving him surrounded mostly by “industry types.”
According to Kevin Caruso at the non-profit suicide.org, untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide. And the potential causes of depression are numerous:
A divorce, separation, or breakup of a relationship, a serious illness, a terminal illness, chronic physical pain, Intense emotional pain, loss of hope, a loved one being victimized (child murder, child molestation, kidnapping, murder, rape, assault, etc.), sexual abuse, unresolved abuse (of any kind) from the past, feeling “trapped” in a situation perceived as negative, feeling that things will never “get better,” feeling helpless, serious legal problems such as criminal prosecution or incarceration, feeling “taken advantage of,” inability to deal with a perceived “humiliating” situation, inability to deal with a perceived “failure,” alcohol abuse, drug abuse, a horrible disappointment, feeling like one has not lived up to his or her high expectations or those of another, low self-esteem….Oh and a feeling of not being accepted by family, friends, or society because of their sexuality.
Way down at the bottom of the list.
Let’s not forget that, earlier this year, budding 22-year-old rapper “Freddy E” live tweeted his suicide to his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Some speculated it was prompted by a breakup with his ex-girlfriend but we may never truly know given that there are so many potential causes for his suicidal thoughts. He was only 22-years-old! He was single and arguably just as attractive with as much future potential as Lee Thompson Young. Was he also a latent homosexual?
And Soul Train creator, Don Cornelius committed suicide as well. Was he also a closet gay?
No, depression is serious and real for many different reasons.
So as we mourn the loss of great young talent and be thankful we ever got to “meet” him in the first place, let’s not cloud his legacy with rumor and speculation. Instead, let’s learn from this moment and work towards being better at seeing the signs of depression in our friends and family members so that we can at least give them a shot at an alternative solution than taking their own life.