Gay Teen's Suicide in Colombia Confronts Catholics Worldwide
A 16-year old Colombian boy committed suicide recently, a tragic act his parents blame on the faculty and staff at his Catholic high school and an act that raises questions for Catholic education globally.
Sergio Urrego had attended Gimnasio Castillo Campestre, Bogota, for six years, but the troubles started after administrators became aware of a cell phone photo in which Urrego is kissing his boyfriend. In a school meeting, The Advocate reports the principal outed the student as gay and added that Urrego was an “anarchist” and “atheist.”
Months later in August, facing persistent harassment, Urrego jumped to his death from a shopping center after messaging friends and posting the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Cruel World” on Facebook.
Now, the boy’s family and LGBT advocates are demanding accountability from the school and greater acceptance in a country that is more than 90% Catholic. America magazine reports:
“According to local media, Urrego’s mother charges that her son had been discriminated against and bullied at the school because he was gay. Directors at the school were cooperating with the police investigation and denied any wrongdoing or maltreatment of Urrego. The school principal, Amanda Castillo said that the ‘intimacy of human beings’ is respected at the school and assured that ‘there was never pressure or discrimination for being gay.’ “
Local prosecutors are investigating to decide whether charges should be filed, and LGBT advocates have promised to protest at the Ministry of Education, as well as having previously held rallies at the school, the site of the suicide, and Urrego’s family’s hometown.
Anti-LGBT attitudes are still prevalent in Colombia, and Latin America generally suffers from elevated levels of violence and discrimination based on sexuality and gender. Though legal rights are slowly progressing, and that nation’s top cardinal has even endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples, much work remains in fighting the homophobia which contributed to Urrego’s suicide.
Since this young man’s tragic death happened within the context of Catholic education, which seeks to form young people in faith to live flourishing lives, the Church has a particular obligation to respond. Catholic schools should be sanctuaries for teenagers struggling to understand and define their identities, giving them both the space and resources necessary to learn about themselves and grow. Catholic schools should further teach inclusion, mercy, and the social teachings around human dignity to promote an understanding of each person’s worth.
I acknowledge that I do not know for sure what happened at Gimnasio Castillo Campestre or what was going on in Sergio Urrego’s head in the months leading up to and the moments right before he took his life. Yet, there seems to be credible evidence that Catholic educators negatively impacted him. This should give all those involved with the church’s educational and youth efforts pause, to consider how well their local community includes LGBT youth and helps them to develop safely. Certainly what happened at this Colombian school is among the worst examples of institutional homophobia, but the many smaller ways prevalent in schools and youth programs worldwide contribute to much suffering as well.
One step you can take to stand up and pursue a safer, more inclusive world for LGBT youth is participating with New Ways Ministry and other Catholics in GLAAD’s #SpiritDay on October 16th, by wearing purple and posting online to make public your support of youth and tocombat the all-too-pervasive bullying experience LGBT suffer. You can find out how you and your company, school, church, organization can participate by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
I am so glad to see you posted this story. I have put it up, repeatedly, on my Facebook page begging people of conscience to read about what happened to this boy and pressure the Roman church to respond. In several stories I’ve read about Sergio, his family said that after Sergio was “outted” the situation at the school went from bad to worse over a relatively short amount of time. Sergio (with their support) tried to transfer to a different school ONLY to have the school refuse to transfer his records! That means that unless Sergio wanted to forgo his education all together (not a good idea considering the economy and job situation in South America) – He was STUCK.
What a nightmare! How he must have suffered over what was happening.
After his death students at his school reported being threatened by staff when asking to attend Sergio’s funeral. They were “cautioned” to be very discrete if asked about Sergio and then told that if they attended his funeral they would have to come in on a Saturday to make up the time missed.
It became evident how loved Sergio was by his peers when I read that, despite the “warnings” and outright threats, out of 42 students in Sergio class 40 attended.
These reports are more than upsetting. They are frightening. It’s as if the school declared war on the boy and acted out, criminally, to destroy him. Then when he broke under the abuse and committed suicide the school continued to act like thugs.
Personally, this story affects me on many levels.
I was the same age as Sergio when I came out.
I am now old enough to, not only be Sergio’s mother but his GRANDMOTHER.
Fifty years have passed since I first dared to tell another person I was attracted to other women…That is half a century. The idea that this kind of cruelty and abuse are still suffered by our youth LITERALLY breaks my heart. The fact that it is being done by the Roman Catholic church makes it that much more devastating.
People of love and conscience must speak up, and speak up, and speak up until our church actually treats LGBT people with dignity. Dignity is not firing, marginalizing, mocking, maligning, or name-calling. It is not ostracizing, denying communion, or defining a human being unfit to come to the table of the Lord. The Holy Spirit has changed the hearts and minds of many Catholics so that we know unequivocally that our LGBT brothers and sisters are to be treated as we would wish to be treated: with love, respect and full inclusion. We should be embracing them with love and acceptance. And acceptance means inclusion in all the sacraments of our church, including matrimony.
This is so reminiscent of the story of Tyler Clementi, the talented young Rutgers University musician, who was spied upon with a hidden camera by a rogue roommate while having a romantic trust with another man in his own dorm room, and who ended up committing suicide (by jumping off the George Washington Bridge) when the rogue roommate publicly mocked him, and posted online photos taken by the hidden camera. In this case, justice was served: the rogue roommate was convicted of sexual harassment, was expelled from the university, and served some actual jail time — to drive home the point that what he had done was utterly reprehensible. It’s bad enough when these things happen at a secular public university. But when they happen at a Catholic religious school, the moral outrage is absolutely “off the charts”. Pope Francis faces a huge task in attempting to reform and rectify the anti-Christian hatefulness being practiced within his own religious household. I hope he’s up to the task — and I hope the Holy Spirit blesses him with all the personal resources he needs to pursue the necessary initiatives.
BUENAS TARDES LES CUENTO QUE CUANDO TENIA 14 AÑOS ESTUDIE EN UN COLEGIO EN BOGOTA RELIGIOSO Y TUVE UN NOVIO Y ME MOLESTABAN LA RECTORA DEL COLEGIO PERO NOS DÁBAMOS BESOS EN EL COLEGIO FUE EN EL AÑO 1995 Y ADEMAS SOY UN CHICO GAY Y LA RECTORA ERA UNA MONJA Y YO SE QUE LA IGLESIA CATÓLICA AY MUCHA HOMOFOBIA Y A LOS 13 AÑOS HICE LA PRIMERA COMUNIÓN YO NOSE PORQUE ME DEJARON HACER LA PRIMERA COMUNIÓN PORQUE SOY GAY DESDE NIÑO Y PORQUE HAY MUCHAS PERSONAS HOMOFOBICAS Y ADEMAS ME CIENTO CON MUCHA RABIA QUE HALLAN MUCHA HOMOFOVIA EN ESTE MUNDO TAN CRUEL MIREN BIEN QUE PASO CON SERGIO DAVID URREGO E FIN [email protected]