Archive for April 2012
It doesn’t appear to be getting any better. On Monday, April 23rd, Alex Smith was speaking at a community event about bullying and about how his own boyfriend had suffered repeated bullying because he was gay. Unbeknownst to anyone there, including Alex, his boyfriend, Jack Reese, had already taken his own life.
I don’t have any details about the event. We don’t really need any details at this point. The storyline has become all too familiar. An LGBT youth, trying to live happily as the person he or she is, is faced with relentless, narrow-minded intolerance until he or she reaches the point of no return. To them, the only way to make it end is to end their young lives. Sound familiar. Of course it does. It’s happening far, far, far too often. Let’s be clear on this: if these bullies were to take a gun to school and shoot their victim, they’d be charged with the crime of causing the death of that victim. When their words and/or actions cause that same victim to end their life, that bully is no less responsible that death than they would be had they pointed a gun and pulled the trigger.
I found this quote, when researching Jack’s event, both deeply disturbing and alarmingly revealing:
“It happens here about once a week, but officially, you know, it doesn’t happen here.”
“It”, of course, being LGBT teen suicides. And, “here” being the Northern Utah region where Jack lived and died. The world should be outraged that such a thing is happening in the entire world!, not to mention in one, small region. That suggests a very deep problem with our society.
Telling our LGBT teens that “It Gets Better” is absolutely meaningless when they continue to see and hear people of power (religious and politic figures, school officials, and, sometimes, even their parents) tell them that they are flawed, evil, perverted, and more. They’re not stupid. They know that the adults they hear and see continually denouncing their very being are precisely why the incidents of bullying, especially against LGBT teens, continue to escalate, both in frequency and intensity. I’ll say it til I’m blue in the face (which would really be a neat trick for me!) that these young people who do the bullying that’s causing other teens, straight and LGBT alike, to end their lives are learning their hatred and intolerance from adults!! Think, for a second, of Tennessee Rep. Jeremy Faison’s statements from earlier in the week, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. And, he’s just one person. This goes on in every city, in every state, every day. Meanwhile, another family has to bury their teenaged child because that child couldn’t handle one more day of being emotionally destroyed.
In addition to the above quote, Marian Edmonds, director of the Ogden, Utah, OUTreach program, has a lot to say:
“The youth I work with all know either a victim of bullying, the loss of a friend to suicide, and most often, both. These youth are bright, creative and loving, yet too often face daily abuse from rejecting families, bullies at school and the loss of their church family. It is time for local schools to incorporate proven techniques for eliminating bullying and homophobia, for churches to preach love and acceptance, and for parents and families to love and accept their children. Each loss of life is a loss for all of us, and it must stop now,”
There are people, like Marian Edmonds, who are rolling up their sleeves and immersing themselves in this business of changing this mean-spirited culture that’s not only causing children to end their lives but encouraging children to be so mean and intolerant of those whom they perceive as different that they end their lives. She made one statement that was so poignant, it will stay with me for a very long time:
“Until all youth are loved and accepted in their homes, able to attend school without fear of bullying, and know that their lives are worth living, this community will continue to demand change,”
Make that two communities. Until I breath my last breathe, I will continue to demand change. The “community” that has developed in support of this blog has grown to numbers I would’ve never imagined when I started this in November of 2011. With that enormity in numbers, there’s a rather formidable community here, more than capable of effecting change in our culture. Change that will bring about tolerance. Change that will save lives. Look, nobody is suggesting that everyone has to love everyone. It would be nice. But, it’s also unrealistic. However, the expectation of a tolerant society, one that lets people live their own lives without the scrutiny of those who may not agree with diversity is not too much to ask for. In fact, we must demand it.
Unfortunately, Jack Reese is yet another teen who won’t be here to celebrate the day that acceptance is the norm. It didn’t get better for Jack or the far-too-many before him. And, it won’t get better unless we continue demanding it. Every voice matters. Rest in peace, young Jack. And, for you Alex, I hope that you’re surrounded right now with lots of love and support. Stay strong…stronger than you may feel you’re capable of right now. Do it for Jack. Do it for yourself. Do it for the countless other at-risk teens there in Northern Utah, around the country, and around the world! We need your voice to help us reach the day when no family, and no spouse or significant other, has to go through the ordeal of burying their young loved one simply because someone else felt it their duty to push them over their limit. Enough is Enough!
Some of you may have already seen this article posted on the facebook blog page or elsewhere on the Internet. According to Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison, teen suicides are due to bad parenting. I can make this stuff up.
We can’t continue to legislate everything and we’ve had some horrible things happen in America and in our state, and there’s children that have actually committed suicide, but I will submit to you today that they did not commit suicide because of somebody bullying them. They committed suicide because they were not instilled the proper principles of where their self-esteem came from at home.
I don’t even know where to begin.
Let me make sure I’ve got this right:
- Bullied teens who commit suicide have their parents to blame.
- It’s more important to protect the bullies than it is to protect the victims of it.
I don’t know where to begin. I just know that I need to share this. My 14 yr old son came out to me two weeks ago. He is bisexual. I knew something had been bothering him, he seemed so angry, so sullen, and sad. I didn’t know what was going on, and though I tried he never seemed to talk to me. Then 2 months ago all the sudden he started opening up. We talked about everything. I finally had my happy, bright, smiling child back. When he told me he was bisexual I could tell he was nervous. I could tell he was scared. He blurted it out and I think my response surprised him. I laughed. He asked me if I thought he was joking, and I said, NO that’s not why I had laughed. I laughed because I am bisexual too. I laughed because I love him. I laughed because I was happy that he could share that with me, something SO brave at his age to do. When I told him that, he laughed too.
Oh how I wish that’s where it ended happily, but it’s not. My dear sweet son has been living with his dad for the last couple of years. He wanted so much to get to know his dad better, but things aren’t going well. When my son came out to his father, he flipped out. He said some horrible things. And then he called me, to yell at me. Because I knew before he did. Because I didn’t come running to him with that information. He made it all about himself, and how I had lied to him, that my son CHOOSES to be “this way” and that by not telling him I am a bad parent because I put his “life in danger”. My son’s father apparently thinks that coming out and telling people you are gay or bisexual unleashes some sort of free for all orgy and my son will now magically get an STD based on a vocal admission of his sexuality.
My son will be coming to live with me now. I have always been a supporter of the LGBT community for myself of course, but somehow it’s a deeper support, now that it’s my child. I’ve never felt more protective of him than I do now because if his own father could behave like a hateful bigot….I don’t want to finish that thought.
I needed to share this because it NEEDS to be heard. Parents NEED to realize that their children are part of who they are, no matter what their sexuality is. They are still that baby you held in your arms. They are still that child that reached to you when they were hurt. They are still that smart little person you help teach to ride their bike or tie their shoes. And they can still be the successful and happy adult you’ve always dreamt they could be. Sexuality shouldn’t be a deal breaker to parenthood, to LOVE.
I want people to think back, remember that sweet face that came bouncing into a room. That sweet little voice that said “I love you mommy, daddy” and remember she/he is the SAME child as before. Nothing changes that, nothing!
Whereas the father in this case makes my blood boil, we’ve sadly learned that this is far from unusual. We know from recent history that there are parents, and in some cases both parents!, who reject their own offspring simply because of who they are. We need look no farther than January, and the suicide death of EricJames Borges, to be reminded of the devastating effects parental rejection can have on LGBT teens. Any teens, for that matter! The bright side is that he has a fantastic mother who is there to support, protect, and nurture her LGBT son.
What was most impressive about this, though, was the bravery of the teen, himself. It would be much easier, and healthier!, for him to simply pick up and flee to his accepting mother. Instead, he chose to stay with his intolerant father through the remainder of the school year, hoping “…to make some progress…” with him. That speaks volumes for his inner strength and courage. Let’s hope it works out in his favor.
As for the dad, reality seems to be only a concept. His viewpoint on the LGBT community and his own son are antiquated, at best. Maybe the son can get through to him. Let’s hope so, anyway. Look, loving is much easier, much healthier, and much less stressful than hating. Especially when it comes to your very own offspring.
The silver lining to this is that due to this 14-year-old’s tenacity, and because of the unconditional love and support of his mother, he gives other LGBT teens hope. It can and does get better.
Our collective minds were in the same place. Telling my 7th grade self to get it together and move on would be a life-changing event. I know that, now. In their video, speaking to their 7th grade selves would’ve also been life-changing, for sure. And, I’m sure that holds true for everyone. Hindsight is perfect vision.
In both my article and their video, however, one common thread is bullying. See, it really isn’t anything new at all. It’s been going on for as long as I can remember. Today, however, it seems to have hit a fever-pitch. In the video, some talk to their 7th grade selves because they were the bully; some were bullied; some were struggling with their sexual identity. Face it: the early teen years are hell!! We go through a myriad emotional changes, hormonal changes, puberty, and social angst. That’s quite a load for a 12-year-old.
From my own perspective, the summer leading into my 7th grade year was one of the defining moments of my life. However, it didn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t have been. The problem was who could he talk to about it? There was no Internet back then. There was no Wipe Out Homophobia to turn to, no Trevor Project. He was on his own to just wing it and figure it out on his own. And, that’s exactly what he did. He figured it out and decided that internalizing it was the easiest way to cope. What a mistake that turned out to be.
From their perspective, there was also a lot of trauma going on that year and the years to follow. The differences are strikingly similar. What becomes clear is that there needs to be much more resources for all of our “7th grade selves”. The ones who attacked me were only doing what was taught to them: to be hateful and intolerant. The ones from the video who were, themselves, bullies can say the same thing. They didn’t know any better. Why? Because they weren’t taught any better. They were taught to hate, to be intolerant, to belittle, to…hurt. What is obvious, by my own story and by the pain that some of the people from the people from the video who were bullies when they were younger, is that the pain and trauma, on both sides of the bully spectrum, runs deep and for a very long time.
As we grow older, and out of those tumultuous early teen years, we who were bullied learn that “hey, it really does get better”. Well, some of us do. Unfortunately, some of us couldn’t wait around long enough for it to get better. And, those who were our tormentors learn just how much damage they did to another human being. In most cases, but certainly not all, as the tormentors grow older, they become remorseful at what they did to someone “back then”. In some cases, they learn their lesson too late. Their actions caused someone to end their life.
Alas, we can’t go back and educate our 7th grade selves. What’s done is done. That’s just the way life is. We live our lives, have our experiences. We learn and, hopefully, grow from them. What we CAN do, though, is understand how important being able to go back and “coach” our 7th grade selves would’ve been, then pass that on to today’s young people.
There are young people, right now!, right under our noses who need to hear what we would tell our like-aged self if we could. They need to hear that their words can be just as deadly as any material weapon. They need to know that their negative actions can and, in some cases, will cause someone to end their life. They need to know that the feelings that they’re having for someone of the same-sex is okay and normal, that there’s nothing wrong with them. They need to understand that it’s completely okay to be just who they are, that they don’t have to try to be someone they’re not just to fit in. And, more than anything else, they need to be taught that there’s nothing in the world more powerful than love, but it must start with self love. See, I’ve said it, they say it in the video: we are born to love; hatred and intolerance are taught and learned behaviors. Teaching today’s young people that life is about loving and caring is such a very crucial lesson. Since we can’t go back in time and teach our own younger selves, the next best thing is to pass it on to today’s youth. There are some who are literally dying to hear it.
I’ve met some of the most amazing people in my life while playing my guitar and singing my songs on the streets and in the subways of San Francisco and here in Maryland. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that some of the best people I’ve met in my life, I met while busking. (um, that’s the universal term for playing music publicly.)
One of those people, Rich, contacted me on the facebook blog page and thanked me personally for the post I did last week about Grace McComas, the beautiful 15-year-old girl who took her own life, right here in Maryland, on Easter Sunday. She was from his community and attended his church. Talk about hitting close to home.
Rich reminded just how incredibly painful and tragic these teen suicides are. I mean, I always knew, instinctively, how devastating they are. I’ve been through it, myself. However, actually knowing someone who’s close to a recent one brought back a flurry of emotion for me. At the top of that list is deep sorrow.Grace McComas was a beautiful young girl. In the video eulogy her father, Dave, made as a tribute, you see this amazing girl, exuberant, full of life, happy. Grace was surrounded by an incredibly loving family and lived in a picturesque home environment. And, that’s what makes this all the more torturous. A beautiful young girl, living in a loving, nurturing environment, surrounded by a family who adored her took her own life. Why? Because, in her mind, she couldn’t endure one more day of the relentless bullying she was being subjected to.
Surrounded by love, from family, friends, and even pets, all she could see was the nastiness that was being directed to her. What that says, to me, at least, is that the level of bullying that was directed towards her was extraordinarily intense. It was strong enough to overwhelm the amount of love and support she had. And, she had a lot. When the hatred is so strong that it tilts the balance to that degree, well, we’re seeing what the results can be.
I’ve talked to friends and family of Kenneth Weishuhn. I’ve talked to a friend of Kenny Wolf. My “sister” recalls seeing Kenny around often. Rich knew Grace from his community. The pain is very real. These are real people, teenagers!, with real families, real friends, real people who love them but are now left to grieve, hurt, mourn…and try to make sense of the fact that their loved one is gone. More to the point, their loved one is gone because of someone else’s carelessness, meanness, hatred. There’s absolutely no way whatsoever of justifying the behavior known as bullying. Period.
This is posted on the Grace McComas Memorial Webpage.
Grace McComas- 15 Maryland 4/8/12
Bullied For Being Vulnerable
You know the lyrics to the classic song. The line in “Amazing Grace” goes, “How precious did the grace appear…the hour I first believed.” Appear, she did. And, she made those around her believe. In the breathtaking video Grace’s dad produced and posted on YouTube to honor his daughter, the melody tears at your heart as you learn the story of a girl who won believers even before she could breathe.
The video sweetly opens with Grace thriving in her mother’s sonogramed womb. Next, beaming mommy introduces tiny Grace to her awestruck big sisters, Cara and Megan. In the touching string of photos and videos that follow, an adored and loved Grace laughs, surprises, teases and delights as part of a family that seems to have it all and which does it right. Grace is the girl you’d be proud to call your sister. Your daughter. Your friend. Her family says Grace was “tender hearted.” One friend remembers her as “the funniest person I ever met who changed my life forever.”
But, like Grace’s life, the tone of her memorial video unexpectedly changes toward an end you hope doesn’t come. The lyrics of “Saint Francis Prayer,” include “pain,” “sadness,” and “injury.” Grace’s family says the 15-year old had been brutally bullied on the Internet for four grueling months. They knew about it and documented it. But, like most loved ones, they couldn’t fathom how deadly it could be.
In her journal, Grace wrote, “My hope for the New Year is to find happiness and to forgive those who’ve hurt me.” But there won’t be a new year for Grace on this earth. On Easter Sunday, the mean comments, taunts and criticisms had taken an irreversible toll. Under attack by peers, the girl who once was found…was lost. The child whose eyes could see..became blind. Unable to focus on the love immediately around her, Grace took her own life.
As conveyed in the carefully chosen song ending Grace’s video eulogy, great good can come from tragedy. Sarah Mclachlan sings, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is sadness; joy.
These describe Grace’s philosophy she’d learned at home. And, indeed, there is joy. Through Grace’s organ donation, she saved three lives. A 10 and a 15- year old boy and a woman now live on.
The news of Grace’s bullied suicide spread across the nation. Pro athlete, Ray Rice, of The Baltimore Ravens and “American Idol” runner up, Lauren Alaina, called for all memorial attendees to wear blue. It was Grace’s favorite color. A Nile of blue pins, jackets and dresses streamed onto the sidewalk of St. Michael Roman Catholic Church.
While Grace’s school remained mum and police said little about the bullying or any investigation, mourners raised their voices with words of comfort meant for nobody else:
“When this flesh and heart shall fail
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
life of joy and peace.“
R.I.P Amazing Grace.
I’ve had the honor of befriending and talking to one of Kenneth Weishuhn’s uncles since his tragic and untimely death on last Saturday. There’s another uncle who’s a member on the facebook blog page now, as well. Yesterday, Kenneth’s lovely older sister, Kayla, released this very powerful and emotional video as a tribute to her brother’s life. I’m left with this: what an amazing, caring, loving, beautiful family he had. And, it reflected in him. In every picture I’ve seen of Kenneth, he was happy, he was engaging, he was warm. To think that “they” snatched that away from him is beyond comprehension.
One thing that sticks out and reverberates in my mind in this video is Kayla, talking directly to the ones responsible for Kenneth’s feeling of hopelessness, saying “I forgive you….” Wrap your mind around the amount of strength and courage it took for a high school sophomore to say that to someone(s) who may as well have held a gun to her brother’s head and pulled the trigger. I think it speaks to the foundation that both Kayla and Kenneth were raised in. I’m not really sure that I would be able to utter those words to the people who were responsible for pushing my younger brother, whom I loved dearly, to and over the edge. At least, not just yet. She did.
I read it somewhere, when this event first unfolded, and now I’ve heard Kayla say it: Kenneth’s mantra was “be buddies, not bullies”. Such a simple message. Yet, obviously, it’s such a difficult message to get across. It takes effort to be an ass. It takes effort to be hateful and mean. These aren’t things that come naturally. Loving and caring are natural, innate emotions. Unfortunately, these people have been so indoctrinated with vile, hatred, and intolerance, so programmed by the religious culture in which they live in that region, just the opposite is true for them. Intolerance comes natural for them. They’ve been taught that. Lashing out against someone who’s perceived to be different from them is their norm. They’ve been taught that. Hating someone because that person’s life goes against their religious teaching makes sense to them. They’ve been taught that, as well.
See, it’s been said many times, and I’ve alluded to it here, myself: the bullies, themselves, are but teenagers. Young minds. The difference in when someone says it to me and when I say it is this: people want to give these kids a free pass for their actions, even when it leads to the suicide of another human being!!! To wit, a reader just posted this comment on a blog entry about 15-year-old Grace McComas, who was bullied into suicide days before Kenneth:
My child, too, was bullied at Glenelg. I am appalled at the lack of response on the part of the school. I have heard, though, that anyone who says anything to Grace’s bully will be suspended on the spot. Why weren’t her bullies suspended? Seems to me the bully is getting more protection than Grace did. Schindler needs to go.
“…anyone who says anything to Grace’s bully will be suspended on the spot.” Wait! They know who this person is!? And, now, this person is being protected? Where was that protection for Grace? For Tristan? For Kenneth!? When these young people cried out for help, where was that protection!? Would you bet your year’s salary that if that same protection would’ve been afforded to Grace or Kenneth, they’d still be alive today? If someone had offered this level of protection for Tristan, she would’ve be fighting for her life right now?
See, when I allude to the fact that these bullies are but teens, themselves, it’s done in the context of they have to have been taught this level of hatred and intolerance. Pay attention to the details of what some of these bullies do to these victims. Their actions are reprehensible and repugnant. And, quite obviously dangerous. I mean, how does a teen hate at such a level that they start a facebook page about their hatred for gays? Where do they learn to hate at such a level that they’re calling up and leaving death threats!? Death threats! Yes, these are just teens!!!! Which means that there are some really vile and dangerous adults in their lives. They aren’t born hating like this. They. Are. Taught.
Kenneth’s message is so much easier to teach. “Be buddies, not bullies.” I wouldn’t be writing about him right now if more adults in his region were teaching their young teens rather than who and how to hate.
The same cousin who alerted us, two nights ago, that 15-year-old Victoria Tristan Roxas Alora had committed suicide after being constantly bullied at school, sent this message last night:
Subject: THANK GOD! Plz read!
Sent: Today 8:52 PM
Message: Thank you to all who showd concern towards my cousin.
Last night my cousin was claimed dead by a doctor,
I got a call this morning…
Last night my cousin was found breathing. I dont believe in god but if there is one THANK THE LORD!
Tristan is in a coma though.
I dont know what happened but she is better somewhat.
I was in awe nd found this very unbelievable.
I dontt evn no wut to say.
All i can say is thank yu all for the prayers and the help.
I really appreciate it nd when Tristan is better Ill have her msg you guys.
She is a living miracle.
When she is better I will make sure she knows NEVER to try it again.
Thank you all again.
I REALLY appreciated the support.
Miracles DO happen!!! This is tremendous news for those who care about Tristan. However, she is still in a coma, so we have to continue to send her lots and lots of positive vibes in hope that she pulls through completely.
There’s still the issue of being bullied the the point where she felt it necessary to go to this drastic measure in the first place. It will be very interesting to see what steps, if any, are taken to reconcile what happened to Tristan. The fact that she named names in her post should go a very long way. The fact that no one of authority came to her aid should weigh just as heavily. I, for one, want to see people held accountable for this. She didn’t just wake up Tuesday morning and decide that this was what she wanted to do. She was pushed to do this. Now, there needs to be accountability. I will be watching this very closely. Watch for updates as they become available.
Thinking that she was not going to be alive after writing it, Tristan revealed graphic details about who had done what to her. That’s huge!! There’s documentation, with names, and with full description of what happened to her. There’s no way this gets swept under the rug. Not now. Now, there’s someone who can put a face on what almost happened and tell a first-hand account of what led her to that point. With names!!
In the meantime, now is also the time to send out all of the positive vibes, prayers (for those who are religiously inclined), and other good wishes to Tristan. She’s still here with us. Now, she needs a full recovery. With tomorrow being the National Day of Silence, in an effort to bring attention to the national issue of harassment and bullying (particularly for LGBT teens), take time out to focus on Tristan. She needs it.