I was saddened to hear of the suicide death of Aiyisha Hassan, a former Howard University student, last week in her home state of California. I learned about Aiyisha from an article in Metro Weekly, Washington D.C.'s gay and lesbian news magazine. According to the sources quoted in the Metro Weekly article, Aiyisha's struggle with her sexuality contributed to her suicide.
A friend and colleague told me about Aiyisha's story not because of the Metro Weekly article itself, but because of a comment posted on the online version.
Aiyisha's father, Reverend Kamal Hassan, wrote the comment that follows. I'm including here in its entirety, with one addition for clarification and without direct permission from Reverend Hassan, because it is in the public domain via its presence on the Internet:
"i am the grieving father of our dear Aiyisha Hassan. My family truly appreciates the kind responses of her friends and colleagues at Howard University, and joins with them in mourning her loss. i think however, that this article tries a little too hard to link her suicide with the tragic deaths of other lgbt youth that have recently been in the news. A little background: Aiyisha grew up in a household where we taught against homophobia and heterosexism. We accepted and embraced her sexual identity. Before my call to pastor we were members of a congregation that was open and affirming of its lgbt members. i took her with me several times when i went to preach at a local gay majority church in San Francisco. One of those times we had a deep discussion after church with one of the minsters who talked about how being in the closet nearly cost him his life. Both my wife and i had many talks with Aiyisha about these issues. She knew we loved and accepted her. She was not fully "out," but her close friends and family members knew who she was. Some of my family members were not okay with it. This was to be expected. She was not the victim of any specific, targeted, bullying that we knew of, and she did not seem to be overly driven by the opinions of others in the way she lived her life. But, like all parents, we did not know everything.
We believe that Aiyisha's death was caused by a complex interaction of factors that had to do with her struggle with clinical depression and the ending of a really toxic relationship with her most recent partner, a woman that we welcomed and treated like a member of our family. It is not fair to Aiyisha, or to us to make her death a bumper sticker for lgbt causes that have nothing to do with what really happened.
Where do we go from here? How about some "real talk" about what it means to love, respect, and accept each other within lgbt relationships? Some warning signals about overcontrol and sexual predation in the lgbt community would have helped my daughter. How about an ongoing discourse about what it means to embrace spiritual, mental, and physical health in a hostile environment? i do not know if these are issues that C.A.S.C.A.D.E [the LGBT student group at Howard University] addresses in its work. If so, we commend these efforts, if not, we offer them for their urgent consideration. When Aiyisha left us, the world lost a beautiful and powerful light. May all who want a better world for everyone commit to doing the hard internal and external work that will not let this life get any darker in the spaces that we occupy."
As I have many times as I've read articles about the individuals who have died by suicide in recent weeks, I had chills as I read Reverend Hassan's comment. I commend his bravery at being honest about his daughter's suicide, her struggles with depression, and her experience in an abusive relationship. Not one of those elements of a child's life is easy for a parent. He told the true story of his daughter in order to help other young people who have similar struggles know that suicide is not the way to end their pain.
The past few weeks have represented a watershed moment for the LGBT community, as attention has been directed at how very difficult it is to be out or questioning in a society that can feel like one big "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" zone. This moment is one to hold on to, as the movement that has grown out of the loss of several young people is powerful and important. At the same time, it is not a time to say that every suicide by a person who is L, G, B, or T is connected to bullying, or even, as Reverend Hassan put it, that every suicide by a person who is L, G, B, or T is connected to that individual's sexual identity.
It dilutes all of our causes to give up clarity and specificity and jump on a bandwagon. I hope at this time when suicide prevention is in the spotlight that everyone with a stake in the issue of promoting hope will have their chance to say why life is a better alternative to suicide.
Copyright 2010 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved