Archive for the ‘suicide’ Category

>The vigil and the editorial

November 22, 2010

>Over the weekend I spoke at the vigil held in memory of Tre’ Juan Figures, the 12 year old Anniston boy who killed himself one year ago after being pressured by gang members to join their group, and bullied because he wouldn’t join.

The speakers were Jason Childs, founder and director of Center for Progress in Alabama, State Representative Barbara Boyd, Grace Episcopal Church (Anniston) Youth Minister Andy Harris, and myself, Joe Openshaw, Interim Chair for Equality Alabama.

Jason Childs speaking at the vigil

Jason Childs organized the event to honor Tre’s memory and to bring attention to the continuing problem of bullying in this state.

State Representative Barbara Boyd told of her own experiences with bullying as a child and encouraged others with her story of success and how she overcame the perils of her childhood.

Andy Harris spoke about the choices we make stressing that we can (and should) choose kindness. He also spoke of his parents, both of whom took their own lives.

Jason Childs shared that when he was asked why he was holding a vigil for a child he didn’t even know and was asked what Tre’ was to him, he had to answer, “Nothing. That’s the problem.”

He explained that he will never know the difference this boy could have made as an adult, what he would have become, what the world is missing because of this loss, what the true cost of his untimely passing is.

I spoke about Equality Alabama’s efforts in getting Alabama’s anti-harassment policies strengthened, and said that this one tragedy was enough, we don’t need another tragedy to remind us that something needs to be done.

Here are my remarks.

Tre Juan Figures Vigil

Tre’s mother gave an emotional interview to the media. Here is Jason Childs and Veronica McGee, Tre’s mom.

Here is a story about the event on ABC 33/40, and here is one from CBS 42, where you can read about or watch video of Ms. McGee.


Also over the weekend my editorial that I wrote for the Mobile Press-Register was printed and posted online, here.

The editorial also covers bullying among teens, but also the bullying that occurs in the military because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Thank you Frances Coleman of the Press Register for asking me to do this.

This editorial has gotten at least 38 facebook posts, by far the most of any Press Register editorial of late, including those concerning the oil spill. To me this means that this is an issue of major importance to the public. The more people that read and understand these issues, the more pressure will be put of our state legislators and school board members, and on congress regarding DADT, to make a change. Please share.

>Suicide prevention events

November 5, 2010

>On Sunday the Alabama chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will hold their fifth annual “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” at Heardmont Park in Shelby County.

Last year the walk raised $90,000 and was the fifth best in the nation, with 690 participants.

This year they hope to raise $100,000 with 800 – 1,000 participants.

Registration begins at 1:30 and the walk begins at 3:00.

With the recent interest in teen suicide including LGBT suicides Equality Alabama is supporting the event and asking their members to wear the purple Spirit Day t-shirt or their Equality Alabama t-shirt. Equality Alabama believes this is an opportunity to educate others about the specifics of anti-gay bullying and its relation to teen suicide.

More information about Equality Alabama’s support can be found on their event page.

More information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this particular event and their LGBT initiative can be found at AFSP.

Here you can watch a panel discussion on bullying and suicide with emphasis on LGBT “bullycides”.

Of course suicide is not limited to teens or to LGBT persons. Suicides occur among people with untreated or under treated clinical depression. Suicide among the elderly is another problem which occurs more often than you may think.

This event is important to everyone, because a suicide can occur in any family without advance notice. This event raises money for research, prevention and educational programs.

Please join this effort, either with Equality Alabama or not, and help with the efforts to prevent the taking of lives.

Tre’Juan Figures

Tre’Juan Figures was a 12 year old boy from Anniston, AL who took his own life in October 2009 after being bullied because he would not join a gang.

There will be a vigil on November 20 at 2:00 pm at Zinn Park in Anniston to remember Trey and to raise awareness for anti-bullying.

Here is an article
about Tre’Juan’s death.

Here is a more recent article from the Anniston Star about bullying and anti-bullying efforts and Jason Childs, whose organization Center for Progress in Alabama is sponsoring the vigil.

Equality Alabama will also be present at this event. Please join us at this event also.

>Don’t mix your hatred with your free speech

October 29, 2010

>This is a free country and thanks to the First Amendment we have freedom of speech.

We have freedom to hate also.

But when a person mixes their hatred with their speech problems arise.

Take Clint McCance. He’s the School Board member for the Midland School District in Arkansas that earlier this week urged gay kids to commit suicide and stated that he would totally disown his own kids if they were gay.

He was responding to Spirit Day on which people wore purple in support of safe schools and in honor of LGBT young people who have committed suicide due to bullying and harassment.

He was publicly shamed and will resign from his position, after apologizing.

Anderson Cooper interviewed McCance, where he announced his resignation.

Anderson asked him about his statement that he would disown his kids if they were gay and that they would not be welcome in his home or in the vicinity. He did not deny that he still has those feelings, saying that he does not know what he would do yet, that “time will tell.”

In part 2, Anderson brings and David and Amy Truong, parents of 13 year old Asher Brown, one of the recent bullying related suicides, into the conversation.

Part 2.

Or consider Texas NBC affiliate KETK which aired a segment in which their viewers were asked to weigh in on the question, “Will the acceptance of homosexuality be the fall of this country?” Radio station KTBB host Garth Maier aired the question and it was simulcast on the TV news.

After the rest of the nation heard about it and watched the clip on YouTube the radio station heard from thousands and has apologized. Here is the apology from KTBB Radio president Paul L. Gleiser.

The Talkback question that aired on KTBB Radio and was simulcast on KETK NBC 56 television in Tyler on Wednesday, October 27 was unfortunate in its wording and unfortunate in the perception that it created among a large number of thoughtful individuals. The question, “Will the acceptance of homosexuality lead to the fall of America?” is poorly worded at best and inappropriate altogether at worst. For that, we apologize.

There are many issues surrounding homosexuality that are fair game for discussion in the media and in opinion journalism. The proper role, if any, for openly gay individuals in the military, the legitimacy of same-sex marriages and the public behavior by some individuals at gay and lesbian events held outdoors in public view are among topics about which reasonable people may disagree. These and other topics surrounding homosexuality are topics that talk radio hosts and opinion journalists may legitimately pose to their respective audiences.

With that said, the way our Talkback question was posed might be seen as asking, “Do homosexuals, by their very existence, threaten to bring down America?” We believe that such a question, posed in such a manner, is likely to generate more heat than light.

I understand how those who either heard, or heard about, KTBB’s Talkback question on Wednesday might have been offended. For the offense that was taken, we sincerely apologize.

Paul L. Gleiser, President
KTBB Radio

KETK general manager Dave Tillery has also responded to Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) concern and will be issuing an on-air statement confirming that such a segment has no place on programming of a reputable news organization. GLAAD has also suggested they ask Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns to do an interview with the station.

My suggestion to people who hold such hatred in their hearts is to keep it there unless you can do something about it, such as educating yourself or getting counseling to deal with whatever issues are causing you to have those feelings.

>The bad news

October 22, 2010

>Two more young gay people have taken their lives this week. There is so much hatred directed toward these kids that they cannot see the love and support that the LGBT community and our allies have been sending their way over the last few weeks (actually all long, it’s just been more publicized over the last few weeks).

Corey Jackson was one of the boys. Corey was 19 years old, and a student at Oakland University. He hanged himself on Tuesday.

“Corey lived to please people; he lived to make everyone around him happy,” his friend Justine Roy said. “He gave off this positive aura, this positive vibe that you couldn’t help but be happy and smile.”

The president of Corey’s fraternity, TKE, Nick McCormick, said “I think the bullying may have something to do with it; maybe it was some negative support he may have gotten. If I had to give it a guess, the perception of his lifestyle might have had an effect on him.”

Other published reports say bullying did not play a role, but I can see where officials would try to sweep that under the rug. The family says bullying is to blame.

The other young man was Terrel Williams, a 17 year old student from Beverly Hills. He left a suicide note.

“I’m sorry to my immediate loved ones, but I feel suicide is the only way out. I felt coming out, and being happy with Daric, was the best thing I could’ve ever done. But I didn’t think it would lead to my death at an early age.

“Today, was the record worst day of my life, some kids at school stole some of my stuff that I got from people I really cared about, and that really pushed me over the top, next to being shoved into a wall, and my ribs being broken.”

His mother released this statement after an errant picture and some errant information was released.

So I am not posting a picture of Terrel.

Two thirds of Americans believe churches contribute to gay suicides. Obviously.

President Obama has come on board to tell young people “It Gets Better.


October 12, 2010


It’s one thing to read statistics or opinions on blogs about kids killing themselves.

It’s something altogether different when you put a face to the name and realize that yes, this is a real person who will never know love, will never have a career, will never get to have his or her own family, will never get to pet another cat or dog, will never see a sunrise, will never get to take state boards, will never get to meet a celebrity, will never give a surprise birthday party, will never open a Christmas present from someone special and will never eat an extra piece of red velvet cake even though they don’t need it.

Here are the known LGBT suicides over the past few weeks. There are probably more. There will be more unless attitudes and policies in our country change.

13 year old Asher Brown of Cypress Texas shot himself in the head on Sept. 23, 2010 after enduring constant harassment at school according to his parents. Complaints to the school went unheard. He looks so happy in this picture.


13 year old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi California died on September 28 from injuries resulting from hanging himself from a tree on September 19. He was tormented and school officials would not address the problem.


15 year old Justin Aaberg of Anoka, Minnesota died on July 9, 2010 of hanging after being bullied at school.


He was an accomplished cello player. He wrote and played the background music in this memorial video for him.

At his high school 5 kids have killed themselves in the last year. Three of those are tied to sexual identity issues. That school chooses to “remain neutral” on the subject.

Raymond Chase was 19 years old and was a student at Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island. He hung himself in his dorm room. He had an interest in culinary arts, but will never get to use the skills he was developing.


Tyler Clementi was a student at Rutgers and a 2010 Festival of Young Performers Scholarship recipient when he jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on September 22, after his roommate and another person broadcast webcam footage of Tyler in an intimate moment with another man. He was an intensely devoted musician who was described as sweet and shy.


15 year old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana, hung himself in their barn on September 9 after enduring torment at a school that did nothing. He was called “fag” one too many times.


Billy loved horses. That he hung himself in the barn around the animals he loved is touching. I’m pretty sure he felt he was loved by his horses, I understand the human animal bond. He was surrounded by love. Here is Billy with one of his horses, Nic.

Billy and Nic

Hate messages have been left on his memorial page.

19 year old Aiyisha Hassan of Southern California took her life in her home on October 5. She was struggling with identity problems. She must have loved this little dog, speaking of the unconditional love our pets give us. They don’t care if we’re lesbian or gay, if we wear a dress, if we cut our hair in an odd way, if we sleep with a guy one week and a girl the next. Animals have a better outlook than many humans.


Justin Lacey, 18 years old, recently began living as Chloe, a transgender woman, and after struggling with fears of harassment and abuse she shot herself in her Eureka California home on September 24, 2010.


Her mother was asked if it was hard to accept Chloe. “No, no. It’s hard to accept that she is gone,” she replied crying.


Update: On the previous post I mentioned 19 year old Zach Harrington of Norman Oklahoma who killed himself a few days after attending a “toxic” city council meeting on September 28 where hateful individuals degraded the gay community. I watched a video of those proceedings. Part of what I heard was equal to what I and others have described as spiritual terrorism. I guess bullying occurs in places other than schools.


Will my community of Bessemer do something to protect the kids in our schools before something tragic happens? Will our school board pass an inclusive anti-bullying policy? We will soon find out.

What about the school board in your community?

>Remembering those who lost hope

October 8, 2010

>You have noticed that Bessemer Opinions is Pink, and of course, this is in support of Breast Cancer Awareness and Research.

I should be writing about breast cancer, and I will on another day. But my heart is still with the kids who are bullied, and who feel they have nowhere to turn.

Read yesterday’s post about Hope to understand more.

For years the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition has sought to ensure that our students can learn in environments that are free from discrimination, harassment and violence.

From their web site:

Students in Alabama schools are currently not protected by existing policies
from being discriminated against, harassed, or bullied because they are or are
perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Current policies
also do not prohibit discrimination against students who are perceived to be
“too masculine” or “too feminine” or students who associate with LGBT students
or who have parents or siblings who are LGBT.

In the past few weeks there have been several high profile suicides of young gay people because they were bullied, harassed or tormented. But in reality, 10 or more young people take their lives every day. Every day.

There will be candlelight vigils across the state on Sunday at 6:00 to raise awareness and to remember those who have taken their lives. (Info below)

Experts estimate that for every teen suicide there are 10 unsuccessful attempts.

Based on statistics from a few years ago, the facts are startling.

One young person (age 15-24) dies from suicide every 2 hours and 12 minutes.

That means that during the Alabama-South Carolina football game tomorrow, at least one young person will kill them self. The same goes for the Auburn-Kentucky game. Think about that while you’re watching football. The next time you go to see a movie, remember that during the time you are sitting in the theater, a young person has taken their life. While you are at work today, 4 young people will kill themselves. While you sleep, four more will enter eternal sleep.

Among the general population, a suicide occurs every 17 minutes, so young people are killing themselves at a greater rate than the rest of the population.

And lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.

This is not just to raise awareness among the LGBT community. We know of the problem. We’ve lived through the problem. We want to raise awareness among the straight community, the school boards and the legislators and policy makers.

Listen to what this straight teacher has to say about her former students.

Invite your neighbors, your teachers, your school board members, and your legislators to the vigil.

And we don’t have to wait till one of our students takes his or her life before we address the problem. Actually, young gay people in our state have taken their lives going back decades. This vigil will be for them as well.

But decades ago there was no support system. No Internet. No openly gay supportive adults or role models.

This is 2010. There is absolutely no excuse for our state to not provide fully inclusive protections against bullying and harassment. No excuse.

This video was dedicated to kids who were bullied in school, and to their families.

I have to disagree with the man on one point. He says suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide may be permanent, but it is not a solution. And it actually creates more problems. Believe me, I know.

In Birmingham, the vigil will be at Vulcan Park at 6:00 on Sunday. Please arrive early. And please respond on Facebook so we will know how many candles to bring.

In Huntsville the vigil will be at Spirit of the Cross Church on Saturday. Austin Jennings will be providing music beginning at 5:45. Please respond on Facebook.

In Montgomery the vigil will be on the Capitol Steps at 6:00 on Sunday. Please respond on Facebook.

If you can’t respond on Facebook, don’t let that stop you from coming.

And also important is this weekend’s Race for the Cure for Breast Cancer Research.

The Race for the Cure is Saturday, October 9 in Birmingham. Go here go here for details or to donate.


October 7, 2010

>What is wrong with inspiring hope?

I’m not talking about political hope, the kind that Obama ran on.

I’m talking about the kind of hope that someone in despair needs.

Despair leads to depression and depression leads to suicide. I know. I’ve had family members take their own lives. I’ve had a friend on facebook that threatened to kill himself while I was chatting with him just after his family discovered he was gay. I have other friends who are afraid to tell their family the truth, afraid of the rejection and tired of the torment and hatred they receive at school.

There are positive examples of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender individuals all around us, but when you are being bullied and you are dealing with being told the God you want to worship does not love you and that you are worthless you cannot connect to the successful gays you see around you. They are there, and you are here and there is no way to bridge the chasm that separates you.

I know. I’ve been there. I had one dark, dark summer while a student at Auburn University. No one knows about it. You won’t learn more about it, it’s not important. But there was no support system in the 1970’s, I can tell you that. I chose to build a buffer around my darkness, to hide who I was. That was what saved me. I hid behind that buffer for decades.

But it does get better.

Dan Savage started a campaign called It Gets Better. Hundreds of individuals, some with celebrity status, others just plain folk, have created videos telling their story, their struggle, and confirming that in spite of the bullying and spiritual terrorism that may be driving you down right now, it does get better.

Listen to Matt.

Of the video’s I’ve seen, I liked this one.

Anyway, “Christian” leaders are denouncing this hope that we are trying to give people. Matt Barber, Liberty Counsel attorney, has said that the efforts are “political exploitation” and that “Christians” are praying that we “fail fantastically.” Praying that we fail in giving hope. Classy.

And in a classic case of blame shifting, World Net Daily ran a column titled “Is ‘Gay’ Agenda to Blame for Teen suicides?”

Other than that mention of the confused Christianist right, I won’t dwell on that. I only mention it to warn any questioning young people that just because someone has the Christian label does not mean they speak for God.

Think about it. Would God create you a certain way, and then abandon you? That would not be much of a God, would it?

And to parents who suspect your child may be gay: this child is the person you gave birth to, the boy or girl that dwelt in your belly. You produced this gay child. You loved him or her as she grew inside you. Remember when you first held him? Remember how you comforted her when she fell and scraped her knee? This child is that same child you held so close. He or she needs to be held close now. He or she needs to have you accept the child you created.

Once again I will embed the trailer to “Prayers for Bobby,” a movie that depicts the true story of Bobby Griffith, who took his life by jumping from a bridge into traffic after his mother rejected him because of her misguided Christian beliefs. Please watch this movie. Here it is on Netflix

If you, or someone around you is struggling please call or have them call The Trevor Project 866-488-7386

The Trevor Project saves lives.

Oh, and my facebook friend that was struggling so is now out and at peace with his family. It does get better.