Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jack Reese, 17, Bully-Related Suicide in Northern Utah

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!

Friday, April 27, 2012

And, Then There's Tennessee

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't 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:

  1. Bullied teens who commit suicide have their parents to blame.
  2. It's more important to protect the bullies than it is to protect the victims of it.
Ok, if a middle- or high school student takes a weapon to school, a gun or a knife or whatever, and attacks another student, is that a criminal act?  Yes.  It's called assault.  In Maryland, it would be called assault with a deadly weapon, with the possibility of the added charge of assault with the intent to maim.  Either, or both, charges would certainly then make the perpetrator a "criminal", and they would be facing significant time.  If a middle- or high school student takes a  weapon to school, gun or knife or whatever, and kills another student, is that a criminal act?  Of course it is.  It's called murder.  So, how is it that if that same middle- or high school student bullies another student, be it verbally or physically (and, always emotionally), so badly and so relentlessly that the bullied teen resorts to ending his or her life, they should be absolved of any wrong doing?  Explain to me so that I can fully understand just how does sending these kids to the Principal's office for detention is going to solve anything?  A child is dead because of his/her actions!  That makes THEM responsible!  Jacob Rogers is gone because of bullies.  Phillip Parker is gone because of bullies.  And, Jeremy Faison wants to send their bullies to detention.  He doesn't want them to become criminals.  I won't mention the fact that they've already committed criminal acts.  And, when it comes to the targeted bullying of LGBT teens, just as it is with bullying based upon race, the potential is there for it to be a hate crime.

That Mr. Faison could even dream of blaming the parents of the suicide victims is beyond reprehension.  What he did with his statement was kick these families, who are already reeling from the untimely and unnecessary death of their beloved young child, right in the gut.  Worse, he's now on record as saying that, in his misguided opinion, it's more important to protect who cause death by their actions of hatred and intolerance than it is provide protection for those who are suffering.  

If there's any "failure" to be "good parents", wouldn't it make sense that it would be the parents of those who find it necessary to demean, verbally and sometimes physically batter others to the point where they feel suicide is the only remaining option for them to make the bullying stop?  The obvious ones with self-esteem issues are the ones who feel the need to put others down in order to make themselves feel good. (and, yes, that is a problem that needs to be addressed if we're to tackle this issue of bullying/teen suicide)  To a further extent, where are these young people learning to hate and be so intolerant at such an early age.  They weren't born that way.  Hatred and intolerance is taught and, in most cases, it starts at home.  Good parenting?  

I've pointed out before, several times actually, that these lawmakers were elected into office.  The question has to be "how"?  To a further extent, the larger question, in my opinion, should be "how are they staying in office"?  And, to show a little equity to Jeremy Faison, he's not the only problem in the Tennessee legislation.  There is still a push to pass a bill that would make it illegal for teachers to even say the very word "gay" in their classrooms.  They are also one of the states that wants to make it legal for LGBT teens to be bullied as long as it was because of the bully's religious, political, or philosophical beliefs.  There's a definite problem with bias and intolerance in Tennessee's legislation, and it's costing lives.  Worse, there are those in the Tennessee legislation who seem to be perfectly okay with that.  In fact, they now have one legislator on record as saying that he wants to protect the bullies.  

Power in numbers?  Politicians are "hired" by virtue of our votes.  As such, they can be "fired" by virtue of our votes.  This isn't about politics.  Enough is Enough isn't a political blog.  This is about stopping the madness of bullying and teen suicides.  And, in particular, LGBT teen suicides.  Having paid, elected officials introduce laws that goes against preventing bullying and, especially, teen suicides only assures that we're going to continue seeing the spike in bullying, teen suicides, and especially LGBT teen suicides.  After all, strip away all of their smoke and filters, and what they're really saying is that they're homophobic and don't really care about what's happening to our LGBT youth.  That is unacceptable.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Love and Determination

It's great to know that there's a safe place where people can reach out and know that someone will reach back for them.  A member on the facebook blog page sent me a private message that was beautiful yet disturbing at the same time.  It illustrates, perfectly, how and how not to create a healthier environment for LGBT teens.  
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 " 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.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To MY 7th Grade Self

Maybe there's something to this.  Last week, I did a bit of "time-traveling".  Almost simultaneously, there was a powerful video released called "To My 7th Grade Self".  Brilliant idea!  If only we could.

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 Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook 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.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Amazing Grace

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.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kenneth Weishuhn's Wish: Be Buddies, Not Bullies

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.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

She's Alive: Victoria Tristan Roxas Alora

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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Victoria Tristan Roxas Alora, 15, Bullied to Death

This just came across the online site, TrevorSpace, tonight:  15-year-old Victoria Tristan Roxas Alora, from Bakersfield, ended her life tonight after being bullied because she was a lesbian.

According to Brett Simpson, who contributed heavily to this article, Tristan (which was the name she went by) joined TrevorSpace, an online site for LGBT youth, just this March.  Her profile was promising:
I'm Tristan. Im Fillipino! Haven't "Technically" came out yet. Just tired of lying and covering it up. So I just tell ppl, I'm pretty easy going, I'm bisexual. I believe that it doesn't matter who you are, If you love somebody, or If they have a good personality, It shouldn't matter if you're guy or girl.  I love robotics.  I plan to go to MIT, I am in love with KPOP!  I am a busy person.
My favorite saying is:  Dont Be Afraid Of Shadows.  It only means Light is near!
I hate it when I'm in love cus I fall too hard. I'm Catholic.  I am strong in my faith. Music is my life. I'm Asian. I play many instruments, I do MMA, Mostly TKD, JuiJitsu, and Kickboxing.  I'm a huge tomboy! I don't agree with bullying
I am constantly bullied everyday just because I'm "Gay"
I'm real friendly & Straight forward, so feel free to message me anytime,
I'll practically answer anything,
That's so heartbreaking in its honesty and hopefulness.  Dammit!  Tristan didn't want to die!!!  Tristan had high hopes for her life.  Unfortunately, because people couldn't or wouldn't leave her alone to live her life, and because there was no adult she could turn to for help, she saw no way out.  Tonight, she took matters into her own hands and ended the bullying.
Subject: I hate my life with a passion.
Sent: Today 6:46 PM
Message: I hate my life,
I'm constantly bullied,
Today some guy I know named Casey called me out cus I got something in my eye almost the same time a girl had to use the bathroom. When I told him to shutup cus he was making fun of me more he told me to suck his d***. I told him "uhmm no thank you".  He said yeah cus your afraid of d***." I told him just cus I can get more girls then he can doesn't make it right to pick on me. He ended up stating that I have bad shoes and clothes. I have a girl at the school I go to named Zarea.  She pushes me against lockers, pushes my head down from behind, and once she took me by my hair and threw me down. I am sick and tired of this and the school isn't doing crap about it. When I told the first time, they only got talked to, and then it got worse. Then, when I told the school it got worse, they said unfortunately that happens. THEY DON'T DO ANYTHING! When I fight back I get csp (Suspension) When I leave the school until i feel strong enough to come back, it gets even worse. I already tried to commit suicide once, but it's starting to sound real good right now.
So, there you have it, in her own words.  She posted this just tonight.  When she tried to reach the school officials about the bullying, they did nothing.  They did nothing!  Now, she's gone.  Listen, these suicides are preventable, dammit!  There is no reason I should have to writing about Tristan right now!  She was full of life, had big dreams.  She was failed by the adults, doomed by the bullies in her life.  That is an atrocity!

I don't want to hear one more person saying that they think it's "absolutely absurd" that the school officials can't make a difference or make this end.  If a student is reaching out to them, it's their responsibility to provide protection for that student!  End of story.  The fact of the matter is this:  we are failing our young people, gay and straight, in grand fashion.

It's been suggested several times that the young people who are being bullied needs to learn to defend themselves, perhaps through martial arts.  That's reasonable enough.  On a purely logical level, it even makes sense.  What's not being fully understood, I believe, is that the bullying that is occurring today cuts to a very deep, emotional level.  Martial arts can't solve that.  Tristan was a MMA student.  She knew how to defend herself, physically.  What she couldn't do was defend against the constant emotional attacks.  Worse, there were no adults willing to help her deal with it.

I'm going to spell this out as plainly as I can:  we need to stop trying to rationalize, and intellectualize, what's going on with today's LGBT youth.  Period.  The hard cold fact is they are being bullied to a point where they feel the only way to stop it is to end their lives.  That is not acceptable.  Someone needs to be held accountable.  The message that's being sent to the LGBT teens is "we don't care that you're being bullied."  And, that is not acceptable.  Yes, it needs to start in the homes.  Yes, we need to re-educate the adults first and foremost.  But, most importantly, we need to reach out to these at-risk young people and let them know that there are people who care...that life will get better.  WE need to be the change that we want to see!! 

I, for one, want to go on record right here and now for letting them know that there ARE people who care!  There ARE people here waiting to reach out to you!  You life IS worth living, and you DO matter!!  Who's with me?  Here's your challenge:  starting this very day, make it a point to reach out to someone you DON'T know.  Sometimes, even a simple smile and hello could be the difference between life and death.  Don't talk about doing it:  just do it.  Your life is not that busy that you can't take just a few minutes out of your day to reach out to someone.  Tonight makes 5 teen suicides that we know about in the past 11 days.  All 5 were from bullying!  I'm deeply saddened, but I'm also seething.  Much, much more needs to be done.

Tristan, I'm so sorry we failed you.  You had such a bright future.  May you rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lane Laymon, 14, Death by Suicide

I had just finished writing about Kenneth Weishuhn's suicide when I got the news about Dustin "Lane" Laymon.  And, I just broke down.  That makes 4 teen suicides since April this country alone, and that we know of!...and, all 4 were a result of being bullied.

On Wednesday, April 11th, Lane Laymon, of Dover, Arkansas, felt he'd had enough of the bullying, so he made a suicide attempt in his school's bathroom.  On Friday, April 13th, the attempt became a success.

There is little-to-no information surrounding this event.  I do know that, according to sources, he'd been badly bullied.  It is uncertain as to why he was being bullied.  Frankly, the "why" doesn't matter.  What matters, most, is that yet another teen has been driven a point of hopelessness, a point where he felt no other way out but to end his life.  What matters, also, is that yet another teen's family and friends have to endure the nightmare of coping with the suicide death of their loved one.

To say "this has to end" has become both redundant and empty.  Empty, because we've long ago passed to point of simply talking about it:  with 4 known teen suicides from bullying in the past 10 days, it's time for real action.

How do we put those words into action to get real, tangible results?  The first and maybe not-so-simple answer is it has to, has to, has to start in the homes.  These young people would not be hurtful to others if they weren't taught that that's acceptable behavior.  A commenter to the article about Kenneth James Weishuhn wrote this:
The blame should not rest at all on the bullies in this school. They have grown up in an environment that teaches kids that being “gay” is against the bible. In such a conservative area where this idea is accepted by the vast majority of the residents, how can you blame these kids for pointing out a kid who is different.
It's not hard to figure this out:  it starts in the homes.  We're born to love; we're taught to hate.  As I've been saying, and as is pointed out in this comment, the "teachers" are the adults.  And, sadly, in far too many cases, the adults are these bullies' parents.  Human life is of much more value than religious or political beliefs.  Plain and simple.

That same commenter also had this to say:
It is absolutely absurd that you people don’t realize that this isn’t an issue for “politicians and school administrators” to solve. 
Speechless.  When you see 98% of one party's presidential candidates essentially running their campaign on their hatred for and intolerance of members of the LGBT community, when you have elected officials tirelessly attempting to pass laws that would be oppressive and very dangerous for a portion of this country's population, you have a problem that needs to be solved.  These people are dangerous on more than one level, to be sure.  Their laws, if passed, would send the message to any LGBT teen that they are, in fact, defective, perverted, and worse.  See the damage?  Their rhetoric is passed down to their followers, filters into the homes, and suddenly there's a community in Iowa or Arkansas or Anoka-Hennepin that becomes a hotbed for bullying.  And, sadly, we end up with a Justin Aaberg, a Kenneth Weishuhn and, now, a Lane Laymon.  These young people are taught to hate and be intolerant.

Real results for this very real issue?  Teach love every single day.  Teach love in your homes.  Demand acceptance from the school teachers and administrators.  Let your political and religious leaders know that human life means much more than their beliefs or teachings.  See, what's "absolutely absurd" is continuing to believe that neither group of people have anything to do with this deadly cycle of bullying and teen suicides.

There isn't one, simple, cut-and-dried solution to this, obviously.  That said, it should be clear that the time for just talking about it has come and gone.  Now, it's time to actually work towards making a change.  Change won't bring back the ones we've lost, obviously; however, I believe that we can end this vicious cycle of bully-driven teen suicides.  Whether they are gay or straight or whatever!, these teens deserve to be able to simply exist without being worried about relentlessly and, sometimes, brutally being bullied because of who they are.  If nothing else, their lives are worth our effort to at least try our hardest to make a difference.  It surely beats what's going on right now.

Our efforts won't save Lane Laymon, sadly enough.  He's now in a place where he can no longer be bullied.  It shouldn't have had to come to that.  May he rest in peace.  And, to the family and friends of Lane, may you find strength during these very difficult and trying times.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kenneth James Weishuhn, 14: Death by Suicide in Iowa

Last night, Saturday, April 14th, 14-year-old Kenneth James Weishuhn, of Primghar, Iowa, succumbed to the bullying he'd been receiving since coming out as an LGBT teen back in a couple short months ago.  In looking at the few pictures of Kenneth I've been able to see online, he was a very happy young man.  Handsome and full of life.  In talking to some of his friends and family tonight, they confirmed just that.  More than that, though, they expressed how much he was loved by them.

Unfortunately, coming out of the closet cost him his young life.  The bullying was relentless and severe to the point where he couldn't take it any longer.  No one, and I mean no one should have to sacrifice their life simply because of who they are.  Yet, we're seeing it happen over and over and over again.  The question that's begging to be answered is "how many more teen suicides do we have to endure before everybody realizes that we have an enormous problem on our hands?"  How many more parents have to endure the pain of having to bury their teenaged child because he or she were bullied to break point before the politicians, school administrators, religious leaders become proactive and stop treating this as a mere annoyance?  The people I talked to tonight are in real pain.   Some were crying real tears.  This is a very real problem, one that needs a very real solution.  And, the attention given to it needs to be immediate.

It's not enough to say "the ones who bullied him to a point where he took his life will have to live with that for the rest of their lives."  That's true.  However, there's two problems with that:  1.) if they were cold-hearted enough to do this in the first place, chances are they're not going to lose much sleep over the fact that their actions caused someone to end their life; and, 2.) the families and friends of the victim also has to live with the bully's actions for rest of their lives.  And, that's unacceptable.

Two of Kenneth's friends, Kristi and Brandi, made a youtube video in tribute to their gone-too-soon friend.  It moved me to tears.  He truly seemed to be a very happy teen, and the love he had surrounding him was apparent.  Unfortunately, however, it wasn't enough to overcome the brutal bullying he had to endure.

We can no longer afford to wait for our "leaders" to come to a solution with this issue.  Too many lives are being lost.  I've written about 3 in the past 9 days!  And, believe this:  for the three I've written about, there are at least three more somewhere around the world that I don't know about.  Yet, our leaders are treating a 5-alarm blaze like a brush fire.  It's's past time!!!...for every concerned citizen, young or old, black or white, gay or straight, Christian or atheist to do their part in bringing this sad chapter to an abrupt end. 
  • Let the politicians know that it's not okay that they are putting their political/religious views before these young people's lives;
  • Let the hateful "religious leaders" know that it is not acceptable that they spew utter hatred in towards members of the LGBT community God's name.  Hate speech is NOT freedom of speech;
  • Let the school administrators know that it's not acceptable that the bullying epidemic runs rampant in today's school, that they are required to protect every single student in their charge, all-inclusive;
  • Let the young people in your lives, directly or indirectly, know that it's okay to let someone know when they're being bullied.  In fact, it's expected of them.  If one person doesn't listen, go to another.  Repeat that process until they find someone who will listen and take action.
It's going to take every single one of us, the everyday Joe, the concerned citizen, to bring about the changes that will rid our society once and for all of the bullying and teen suicides.  Sadly, all of our efforts won't bring back Kenneth James Weishuhn.  We lost him last night because someone felt it was okay to bully him until he broke.  It wasn't okay.

There's a facebook page in Kenneth's memory.  Take the time out to express your condolences and thoughts.  Also, I've been told that there is a fund set up to help his family bury him.  As soon as I have a link for that, I will pass it along. 

I can't express enough to the family and friends of Kenneth how sorry I am for your loss.  I can only say that my heart goes out to you.  To you, Kenneth James Weishuhn, rest in peace.  They can't hurt you now.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

They Wore Blue: Grace McComas, 15-years-old, Death by Suicide

Last week, while we here in Maryland, and around the world, were mourning the suicide of Kenny Wolf, there was yet another event here.  Fifteen-year-old Grace McComas, of Glenelg High School, ended her young life because of cyberbullying two days following Kenny.  Both were laid to rest within moments of each other Saturday, April 14th.

Specific details of the cyberbullying were not reported by The Baltimore Sun because of an ongoing police investigation.

What is apparent was that blue was Grace's favorite color.  Her friends started a cyber campaign, #blue4grace, which quickly went viral and attracted the attention of such notables as Lauren Alaina, the 2011 "American Idol" runner-up and Baltimore Ravens' running back, Ray Rice.  Mourners were asked to wear blue for the visitation, but it didn't stop there.  People as far away as Ireland and the Czech Republican were participating in the event.  The message is getting out:  this has to end.  And, to be sure, there ARE many people doing a lot of great things in an effort to end the bullying that's claiming far too many teens' lives.  One teen suicide because of bullying is one too many.  I've had 2 here in my own backyard within the past 10 days.  Enough.

Footballer Ray Rice has become proactive in the campaign against bullying.  He's hosting an anti-bullying event in Howard County, where Grace was from.  I'm in the process of getting more information about that right now.  I've messaged Ray via his personally-run facebook page.  And, as the information becomes available to me, it will be passed along via the blog and on the facebook blog page.

It's been said in conversations I've had with some people that today's young people should have thicker skin and just understand that bullying is a part of growing up.  When I hear that, I seeth as I listen to their opinion.  But, listen, I do.  See, on the one hand, I do understand where they think they're coming from with this logic.  Bullying has been around for as long as I can remember and, I'm sure, well before that.  My own dealings with the bullying and violence is well-documented here.  And, speaking from a personal standpoint, suicide wasn't even a word in my vocabulary when I was a teen.  I coped.  I moved on.  But, as I've been figuring out over the past 10 years or so, I didn't really "cope".  The subconscious scars were very slow to heal.  And, that's because I didn't even realize they were there until, well, 10 years ago or so.  So, that said, it isn't just a matter of today's young people "getting over it".  It just needs to end.  Period.  Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who advises Facebook and MTV on online safety, had this to say about it:
"I don't want the kids to be more resilient". "I want the kids who are doing it to stop. I want friends of the kids being bullied to stand up and say, 'I am with you.' The popular kids, the smart kids, the big kids need to stand up and say, 'Stop.'"
That's the correct answer.  Damned needing tougher skin!!  They shouldn't have to be dealing with it at all.

And, of course, there have been naysayers who believe this is all much ado about nothing.  To them, I say "think again".  This is a real-life, real-time problem, and it's costing lives.
In the most recent report, released March 31, the Maryland State Department of Education cited nearly 4,700 incidents of bullying, harassment and intimidation in the 2010-2011 school year, up from about 3,800 in 2009-2010 and 2,100 in 2008-2009.(The Baltimore Sun)
What that statistic clearly shows that bullying has increased in each of the past three school years in Maryland, alone!  Understanding that that's only from the cases that are reported really puts it all in perspective.  We're in the midst of a crisis that's causing teens to end their own lives.  And, even in the cases where they aren't committing suicide, sometimes the psychological scars they're left with can last a lifetime.

A lot is being done, now, and by many people, to address the issue.  However, a lot more needs to be done, and by many more people.  And, we start by a.) re-educating the adults; and, b.) making sure our lawmakers and school officials understand that this issue needs to be taken with the same gravity of, say, an outbreak of a deadly viral infection that's hitting teens around the country and around the world.  How quickly would "they" find a cure if that were the issue instead of bullying?  That same intensity needs to be focused on the issue with bullying.

To the family and friends of Grace McComas, I'm so sorry that you're having to go through this.  My heart and condolences go out to you.  And, to you, Grace, the world will now never know what gifts you had to offer.  Rest in peace.

Time Traveling

I was presented recently with a very interesting question:  "If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?"  Damn.  That's deep.  So, I've spent the better part of several days pondering this question.  Here's what I came up with.  Bear with me, here.

Third grade, I had a crush on everyone in my class, boys and girls alike.  I had my first boyfriend when I was in the 5th grade: 10-years-old.  That lasted the entire school year.  At age 12, I was viciously beaten for daring to sneak a kiss from a boy I had a crush on.  And, it was downhill from there.  

Perhaps as a result of the beating I endured, I didn't dare chase after anyone when I returned to school.  That was my 7th grade.  Same held true for the 8th grade.  Ninth grade, well, that was a different story.  Going into 9th grade, I met a new neighborhood boy who was cute and rather fun to be around.  In retrospect, he was what we call today "flamboyant", although I didn't really consciously pick up on it at the time. (although I'd bet that, on a subconscious level, it was exactly what drew me to him: the unspoken knowledge that he was also gay.)  And, he was aggressive.  We had quite an enjoyable time together that lasted until his family moved clear to the other side of town. 

Then, I met the guy who, to this very day, I consider THE love of my life.  He was one year and one day younger than myself.  We were compatible in every way imaginable.  Except sexually.  But, I'll come back to that.  We were literally inseparable for almost 2 years.  We'd have sleepovers every day.  His place or didn't matter.  What mattered was being together.  Only during the school day would we be separated.  When his family moved across town, it didn't deter me.  I'd find a way to see and spend time with him.  I've never loved on that level before or since.  Why weren't we sexually compatible?  Truthfully, I don't know that we weren't. 

The truth of the matter is that the beating I absorbed for daring to love that other boy, when I was 12, got in the way of my showing my Mr. Right my true feelings.  I mean, he knew I loved him, for sure.  And, I had know doubt that he loved me equally.  He even let me know, on several occasions, that the physical attraction was mutual.  He never verbalized it, mind you.  It was more the look in his eyes, the smile on his face.  More than anything, it was the...well...let's just say it was his own physical, and quite noticeable, arousal that told me more loudly and more clearly than any words could've.  And, it wasn't once.  It wasn't even twice.  This happened quite a few times.  Eventually, I guess he lost patience, or figured that I wasn't interested in him "in that way".  By the time we were 18 and 17, we'd drifted completely away from each other.  I've never loved as intensely or completely since.

If I could give my younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?  Easy.  I'd tell that badly battered 12-year-old boy to:
"...never, ever be afraid to love because of who you are.  Never, ever be afraid to show your love.  Don't let what just happened to you control the rest of your life.  Yes, what happened to you was traumatic.  And, no, you didn't deserve what happened.  However, if you don't get back on your feet as fast as possible and continue to be who you are and love who you love, then that boy and his group of bullies will have totally won.  They will control the rest of your life even though you'll probably never, ever see them again.  For as wrong as it was, what happened, happened.  It's over.  You heal, you grow, and you win by getting back on your feet as fast as possible and continuing to be that same 'you' you were before the attack.  Being bullied, even as brutally as you were, isn't the end of the world.  Now, it's up to you to pick yourself up, move on with your life, and continue to grow into that awesome person you already know is there inside of you.  Anything short of that, and you've completely allowed the bullies to win.  And, in the grand scheme of things, that would be much worse that what they did to you physically."
If only.  Since I can't time travel, I pass my knowledge on to today's struggling youth.  Who knows?  Maybe it can help somewhere along the way.  Knowing what I know now, it's the emotional scars of being bullied that last the longest, that potentially cause the most damage.  And, knowing what I know now, keeping your head held high and moving forward with your life is a great way of starting the process of healing those emotional scars.  Bullies win only if you let them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

More Than Just a Facebook Page

I mention Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook many times in my writings.  That's for good reason.  No, I'm not a paid "pitch man" for them.  I'm simply overwhelmed, like nearly 400,000 other people!, with the amazing job they have done and continue to do.  Just another facebook page?  Forget about it.  I have no idea what the official count of "group" pages on facebook is today, but I'd bet it's well into the millions.  However, smart money would bet that not one of these pages has anything close to the powerful, positive effect on people's lives that Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook continues to have daily.  One man's opinion.  They have easily become the "go to" page on facebook.  Indeed, its members includes gays and straights; christians and non-believers; suicide survivors and families and friends of those we weren't able to keep.  It's not "just another facebook page":  Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook is a real, true-blue, loving and caring and sharing community.

Sometime within the next 24 hours, they will get their 400,000th member!  That's phenomenal, especially considering when I became a member back in the fall of 2011, the membership count was in the 35 thousands.  Do the math.  That's astronomical growth.  And, it can be said with 100% certainty that the growth they continue to experience has everything to do with how they affect people's lives.  The word is out.

If the roots are traced back far enough, you'd know that this very blog is an indirect product of Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook.  I became a member in the early fall of 2011.  Shortly thereafter, they posted "We failed another gay teen".  I followed that link to read the story of the Jamie Hubley event.  The Jamie Hubley tragedy pushed me off the fence and made me want to get more involved.  I started this blog, a blog that, according to one of the members of the facebook blog page, is displayed daily at his college.  This community is massive, it's growing daily by leaps and bounds, and it's being led by Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook.

There's no better testament to the job their doing than to take a look at the hundreds upon hundreds of letters they receive from their members.  Because of the efforts of one page, actually one person with a very broad vision and a mountain of determination, suicidal people have stepped away from the proverbial edge:
They have gained to courage to come out of the closet and live healthy, normal lives:
And, they've created an environment for people, young and old, LGBT and straight, of all races to come and just celebrate life, cheer each other on, or just absorb information:
There's truly something there for everyone!  They're saving lives, celebrating lives, nurturing those who need support and courage, and educating those who need more information.  Isn't that what a true community is supposed to be about?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Asperger's and Being Bullied

There was a very sobering video posted today on the facebook blog page, courtesy of Stop Teenage Suicide and Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook.  Sobering because it was a mother telling how her 5-year-old son had been bullied to the point where he wanted to die.  Five years old!!!  There can't be a more resounding wake-up call than that.

The story of 5-year-old Aden is both heartbreaking and familiar.  Heartbreaking, for obvious reasons.  When you have anyone feeling so much emotional pain because of the actions of a few people who carelessly abuse them because they are "different", that's a problem.  When you have a 5-year-old saying he wants to die because of the treatment he's getting, that's a 5-alarm blaze.

I could connect with this because Marty, my 23-year-old surrogate son, deals with the same issue.  Like Aden, Marty is not your average Joe.  He's uniquely Marty.  And, that's okay.  He's highly intelligent, as I'm sure Aden is.  He yearns to be accepted by his peers, like Aden; yet, because he's perceived as different, it's a constant challenge for him to gain acceptance .  As a result, he struggles with social anxiety.  Like Aden, all he yearns for is to be accepted, by his peers, by anybody...simply for being Marty.  That's not asking too much.  Isn't that what we all want?  Sure it is.  And, sadly, like Aden, Marty has voiced on occasions that "I don't belong in this world".  I've worked hard for 3 1/2 years to show him that he's wrong. 

Like Marty, Aden will grow into the understanding that there IS a place in this world for him.  He's got an incredible mother who, right now while he's still very young, is Aden's "voice".  On that, alone, he's got a leg up on Marty.  But, that's a whole different story.  Like Marty, Aden will grow into the understanding that Asperger's is simply something he has to deal with in his life, but it's not who he is.  In the 3 1/2 years he's been with me, Marty has done nothing but grow.  It's amazing what positive reinforcements can do for a person.  It's sad, though, that he had to wait until he was an adult before he had someone who would take the time to give him that daily positive reinforcement.  And, that gives Aden a major leg up!!!  His mother, in speaking out with this video, should win "Mother of the Year" accolades!!  Asperger's isn't a death sentence.  It's just extra luggage to carry as you embark on your journey through life. 

Here's the real problem.  How is it that five-year-old kids can be so intolerant and mean as to make one of their peers want to end his life!?  That's a REAL problem!!  And, there's no way you can blame a 5-year-old for that behavior.  I've said it a thousand times but, obviously, it needs to be said tens of thousands more times:  the issue of bullying isn't just about the young people, IT'S THE ADULTS WE HAVE TO FOCUS ON!!  The young people are learning this level of meanness and intolerance from people much older than themselves.  Take that to the bank.  And, perhaps, it isn't the parents, directly.  Maybe it's the older siblings.  However, the link still goes back to the parents.  Adults are the root to this whole bullying problem, like it or not.  The issue with Aden makes that woefully clear.

I challenge every single adult and, especially, parent to monitor themselves.  Do it for a week.  How are the young people in your life seeing you deal with other people, people you perceive as different?  How are they hearing you talk about a different ethnic group than your own, about members of the LGBT community, about someone with a disability?  How they see and hear YOU deal with people you perceive as "different" is how they are taught to deal with them.  Plain and simple.  And, as is made obvious by this video and 5-year-old Aden, they learn young. 

Spread love.

Embrace diversity.

Teach acceptance.

It's the only way we're going to change this culture of hatred and intolerance.  As Aden's mother stated poetically in the video:  "Love...cures.  Hate...kills.  Be nice to others.  It starts with you."  It's really just that simple.

Monday, April 9, 2012

More on Kenny Wolf

Every teen suicide is hard to take.  Each time I write about another one, it takes another piece of my own soul.  And, there are some that I take very, very hard.  Jamie Hubley, for example, hit me like the ton of bricks.  To be sure, it was his suicide in October that led me to embark upon this campaign to make a change.  Kenny Wolf's recent suicide hit me as hard, if not harder.  He was right here in my back yard, right there from my old neighborhood.  I know it's counterproductive to blame myself at all, but I can't help but wonder...with me doing this right here in Maryland, why wasn't this blog or the facebook blog page reaching him?  And, if it was, what could I have done differently with it to prevent this from happening?

Second-guessing aside, I have some vital updates about Kenny.  Firstly, all reports of age were wrong:  Kenny wasn't 17, as originally reported, nor even 16 as it was later reported.  Kenny was just 14 years old.  Secondly, his event wasn't Thursday, the 5th.  It happened Friday, the 6th.  Thirdly, I have a link for those who would like to leave their personal condolences for the family and friends.  It goes without saying that this is an extraordinarily tough period for Kenny's family and friends.  Indeed, for the entire community.  Letting them know that there are those of us around the world who are mourning Kenny right along with them will, I'm sure, help with their healing process.

Lastly, I can't stress enough that if you or someone you know is struggling with depression, or any mental issues, bullying, and/or suicidal ideations, please, please, please reach out!!  There are many people, professional and non-professional alike, ready to reach back.

Suicide Support

STOP Teenage Suicide

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


With this tragic event being right here in my backyard, I'm redoubling my efforts to reach out and bring this epidemic to an abrupt end.  Sadly, of course, it's not going to bring Kenny back.  Or, any of the other teens who ended their lives far too soon.  But, it will, hopefully, prevent another family from having to go through what Kenny's is going through right now.  That's my promise.

Reaching Out: Let John Tillman Know He's Not Alone

This video was posted on the wall in Brett's community.  He sent me a message asking if I'd watched it yet, that it was really sad.  I assured him that my "really sad" cup was on overflow for the moment, that I would check it out "tomorrow".  Then, of course, I thought better and watched it right then.  He was right.  It's sad.  It's heartbreaking.  It's maddening.

John Tillman is an openly gay 17-year-old.  The video, done in "written message" style a la Jonah Mowry from December, tells of his being constantly bullied and recently jumped all because of his sexual orientation.  He's scared.  He's confused.  It's sad that he's having to go through this type of torture just because of who he is.

It's really heartbreaking that LGBT teens today still have to endure such excruciating pain at the hands of their unaccepting, intolerant peers.  It's more than heartbreaking:  it's alarming that so many LGBT teens are routinely pushed to the brink, to a point where they feel the only way out is to harm themselves.  And, it's heartbreaking because all these young people want is the same opportunity as their straight peers to just be happy teens, to just be able to be themselves without having to worry about being constantly attacked, verbally, emotionally, and, in cases like John's physically.  Straight or LGBT, the teen years can be tumultuous enough without the presentiment of being attacked simply because you exist.

What is maddening about this is that a John Tillman even has to make a videoed cry-for-help at all!  Why aren't there more people speaking up and demanding that school officials and administrations take this issue far more seriously and protect all of their students rather than just the ones they choose to protect.  Why aren't there more voices screaming at the top of their lungs to the politicians who hate that their politics do not hold more importance than these young people's lives!? 

Look, this isn't rocket science.  These young people who do the bullying are learning the hatred and intolerance from bigoted, mean-spirited politicians, religious leaders, school officials, and sometimes even parents.  They are learning from their cue that treating people who aren't just like them, who don't think like them or act the way they think they should be acting with hostility is acceptable and even expected behavior.  They are taking their hatred and bigotry with them to school and passing their lessons learned onto anyone who is perceived to be different, especially LGBT teens.  Conversely, there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of LGBT teens who hear these words of hatred spewed from their mouths and, each time they hear it, they're pushed closer to the brink.  Their self-esteem gets shattered by their words.  Their sense of self-worth takes another beating each time they hear, or read about, one of these people consumed with fear and intolerance spewing their hate-filled rhetoric.

The only way videos like John Tillman's will stop having the need to be made is for more and more people to start speaking up and letting the world know that this is no longer acceptable behavior.  It's not acceptable that so many teens, LGBT and straight, are pressed to a point where they feel that ending their lives is the only way out.  It's not going to change or end by itself. 

Make sure John Tillman knows that he is not alone and that he is loved.  He really needs the reassurance.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Youth Will Lead The Way

It's been a very hard past 24 hours for me.  With Kenny Wolf being from Maryland and from my old neighborhood, I've taken his suicide exceptionally hard.  I think it peeled the scab off of my own old wound from when I lost my friend so many years ago.  If you haven't already, go wrap your cyber arms around his family and friends.  They really need it right now.  That community is reeling.  And, frankly, so am I.

So, what's going to get us out of this bleak period we're in right now?  A point-in-time where young people are ending their lives at such an alarming rate, it takes your breath away.  A time when young people feel it's okay or acceptable to say and do things to their peers that are just so mean and vile that it pushes kids to take their own lives?  A sorrowful time when we have so-called political and religious "leaders" essentially sanctioning hatred and intolerance towards people they've decided are nonfactors?  I think the better question is who will lead us out of this madness.  The answer really comes as no surprise.  It will be the youth of our society.

All around us, young people are stepping up and taking charge of their lives and their future.  In so doing, they're paving the way to a brighter future for generations to come.  Truth be told, at the end of the day, it will have to be our youth.  This is their war.  Sure, it's affecting all of us in the process, but so does any war.  This one is no different.  As with any war, families and friends are the collateral damage, the ones left behind to pick up the shattered pieces as they try to make sense of it all. 

The "calvary" is coming.  Their young army is growing stronger each day and fighting a fierce battle.

Brett Simpson has taken his own negative experiences with severe bullying because of his sexual orientation and turned them into a positives.  He's created a community for all struggling teens, and specifically LGBT struggling teens.  He reached out to them, and they have reached back.  The community is very interactive.  He is well-liked and greatly appreciated by the over 600 (and, growing!) members of his community.  That's huge!!!  That's 600+ young people caring, sharing, growing and healing together!

Christi O'Connor is spearheading the Monster March Against Bullying that will be held in San Francisco in October.  Her goal is to have at least 10,000 teens from around the country, and around the world!, families and friends of victims of bullying and suicide, march to the steps of City Hall in San Francisco to make sure their voices are heard, loudly and definitively, as they deliver the message this must end.  The Rodemeyers will be with here.  Jonah Mowry and his family will be with here.

The students of Cypress Ranch High School, in Cypress, TX, made this very powerful anti-bullying video to send the message that bullying, in their school, isn't cool.  Watch the video.  Then, share it.

And, the students of DeLeSalle High School in Minnesota, let their voices be heard in no uncertain fashion this week when a Catholic priest visited their school and, amongst other things, compared homosexuality to bestiality.  They sounded rejected his notion that adopted kids or kids from single-parent homes are "socially unstable".  Of course, his message was that the only path to "normality" is through so-called traditional marriages, traditional families, Ward and June Cleaver, the whole nine yards.  But, the young students didn't buy into it and let him know!! 

See!!!  The youth of today get it!!  And, it will be the youth who will, at the end of the day, turn our culture around.  That doesn't mean we, the older generations, back out of the battle by any stretch of the imagination.  For me, at least, it means we fight even harder.  Ever try standing up for someone who really didn't care if you did or not?  I have.  These young people are finding their voice, through us perhaps, and they're hitting their stride.  Don't worry:  when it's time for them to take over, we'll know.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kenny Wolf, 16: Bullying Claims Yet Another Life

When it hits this close to home, it's really painful for me to think about.  According to information just received, Kenny Wolf, a 14-year-old freshman at Olde Mill High School in Maryland, successfully attempted suicide yesterday, Thursday April 5th.  According to a memorial page set up on the popular teen site, tumblr, Kenny had been constantly bullied because of being an LGBT teen.

The information hit me like a Mack truck.  I lived in that neighborhood for a while.  When I saw his facebook picture, taken just the day before his suicide, I just wept.  No, I didn't know him.  I lived there when he was just 4 or 5 years old.  I didn't need to know him, though.  I know that he was another teen, just trying to become, but because of other people's hostilities, is now gone forever.

I don't think it can be said enough that this whole epidemic of bullying has to be met head-on, and dealt with as seriously as any other epidemic that hits our society.  It was said that "if teens were dying at this rate because of a medical outbreak, everyone would be in a panic."  I agree.  As such, the same intensity has to be applied to the problem of bullying, and the suicides that it's leading to.

The more I learn, though, the more I realize that it could be easier said than done at this point-in-time.  Why?  Well, where do we start?  The easy answer would be to hold these young people accountable for the consequences of their bullying.  And, I believe that to be true.  If they knew, without a doubt, that their bullying would lead to severe consequences especially in cases where it led to suicides, they would think twice before doing it.  After all, if those same kids were to take a weapon to school and physically harmed or killed another student, wouldn't they be charged for a crime?  And, depending on the severity of the outcome, they would potentially be charged as an adult.  What, then, is the difference between that action and bullying someone to a point where he or she ends their life?  On a real core level, especially to the family and friends of the victim, there is no difference.  In either case, their loved one is gone forever.  However, that's the easy answer.  Our society, especially in this country, already has a lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality.  It doesn't "cure" a thing.  And, it doesn't bring anyone back.  

The long-term solution absolutely has to be a re-education of our culture beginning with the adults.  Once again, I will say that these young people aren't born to hate, discriminate, or be intolerance.  They.  Are.  Taught.  They are taught, either directly or indirectly, by adults.  Listen to the rhetoric from the extremist's corner.  Watch, again, what a "pastor" "preaches" to his "congregation" about the LGBT community.  These are the people who tell the young bullies, either directly or indirectly, that it's ok to treat LGBT teens, real or perceived, as mean as they want to.  These extremists send the signal that even physical harm is acceptable when it comes to LGBT teens.  And, that is what has to be addressed quickly, and severely.  Forget their claims of freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech does not include hate speech.  Their idea of "freedom of speech" is costing lives and destroying families.  That is not acceptable.  Not anymore.  

Kenny has been gone for just over 24 hours, so his family and friends are still raw with unimaginable pain.  Send them lots of love and support.  And, prayers.  And, while you're praying to a God that loves, pray that He works on the hearts and souls of the people, young and old, who spread harmful hatred and intolerance.  It's time for a change.  Rest in peace, Kenny.  No one can harm you now.

On This Date: Oscar Wilde

Did you know that on this date in 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested, basically, for being gay?  True.  As the story goes, Wilde had been engaged to the son of the marquess of Queensberry.
Wilde had been engaged in an affair with the marquess's son since 1891, but when the outraged marquess denounced him as a homosexual, Wilde sued the man for libel. However, he lost his case when evidence strongly supported the marquess's observations. Homosexuality was classified as a crime in England at the time, and Wilde was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor.
Two years hard labor.  This just goes to show two things:   1.)  unlike what the extremists want people to think, homosexuality has been around for as long as humanity, itself, has.  Wonder who did the "recruiting" back in those days?;  and, 2.)  the LGBT community has always struggled for acceptance.

A four year engagement!?  That's as long, or longer, than many hetero marriages!!  Just sayin'.  For the record, I will add that one of my best friends as a younger man was with his partner (gay marriage wasn't even THOUGHT about in those not-so-long-ago days!) for 17 years!!  Together, they owned a home, operated a successful business, raised a daughter, eventually raised a grandson.  The only thing that separated them was the death of my friend's partner.  Til death do us part.  Yet, we have to struggle to get equal rights to marry!  Go figure.

What struck me as interesting in Oscar Wilde's case is that he was jailed for being a homosexual, but why wasn't the Lord of Queensberry to whom he was engaged for 4 years?  Ah, the privilege of being royalty.

In a bizarre twist, just last year, March 3, 2011, the son of the marquess of Queensberry committed suicide, throwing himself from a fifth floor balcony.  He had been struggling with the sometimes debilitating mental illness, depression.  That just shows that no one is immuned.