Wednesday, May 30, 2012

4-Year-Old Sings "Ain't No Homos Gonna Make it to Heaven": Planting the Seeds of Intolerance

It's getting increasingly hard to keep religion out of my talk about the intolerance and hatred that leads to bullying.  I think today's latest episode takes the cake.
At the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Greensburg, Indiana, a congregation and its leader, watch and listen as a 4-year-old boy - A 4-YEAR-OLD BOY!!! - sings the words he's been taught:
Ain't no homo gonna make it to Heaven.
When you watch and listen to the video, it's actually hard to discern what this toddler, TODDLER, is saying.  He is, after all, 4-years-old!  However, when he reaches the climatic line of the song, his words ring crystal clear.  That's good coaching.

Outrage doesn't even begin to describe my emotion right now.  I'm sure that those one "the other side" of this great debate will argue that parents have the right to teach their young as they choose.  However, teaching intolerance at such a young age should be criminal on some level.  I'm entitled to my opinion.  Listen, Greensburg, Indiana is the city where Billy Lucas was bullied to his death for being perceived as being gay.
Did the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle rejoice in his death?  The kids who were responsible for bullying Billy until he couldn't take it anymore were groomed by people just like this!!!

A four-year-old has no idea what a "homo" is!  Nor should he.  So, why is he being taught to be intolerant towards them.  Can he even successfully recite his ABCs?  Can he successfully count to 100?  I don't know that answer.  I do know that he can stand in front of the "church" congregation and sing the words "ain't no homo gonna make it to Heaven".  And, that's beyond repulsive.

Shame on the Reverend Jeff Sangl for "preaching" hatred and intolerance in a place where the message is supposed to be one of love and acceptance.  Shame on a congregation that comes to their feet in a standing ovation as this toddler sung those words of intolerance.  In listening to the video, you can hear the good reverend saying "that's my boy!!!" as the toddler finished singing.

The world is watching as America finally begins to show its true colors.  "Christian nation"?  Hardly.  God is love.  That's written in that book they like to cherry-pick verses from and twist to fit their own bigotry.  Jesus Christ, according to their book, came to spread the good news of God's omnipresent love and acceptance.  How in the hell did it get twisted to the point where it's now a haven for bigotry, hatred, and intolerance!!??  Anyone who can answer than and figure out how to turn that misguided ship around will, no doubt, win a Nobel Peace Prize.  Meanwhile, the world truly is watching, while shaking their heads in disbelief, as the religious fanatics of this country continue to make a mockery of God and religion.  The unfortunate thing is the casualties of their war are young people.  Shame.

Boy, 10, Has Arm Broken by Bullies

The good news is not only is he alive, but he's in great spirit.   The bad news is we're seeing far too much of this today.  One would think that, during a time when just the mere word "bully" is a dinner table topic, we would be beginning to see a decline in the incidences of bullying.  Think again.  It seems as if some are even emboldened by the fact that they're actions are being talked about daily by millions.  That doesn't make the job any easier.
Ten-year-old Theo Reed was attacked by two same-aged boys as he watched a youth league baseball game at the neighborhood field.  According to Theo, they threw objects at him until, eventually, one boy held him down as the other one twisted his arm until it broke.
"I was laying down screaming, crying for help and nobody would come," 
Apparently, young Theo didn't know his attackers as his mother is pleading for someone to come forward with information about the two boys.

This raises the question of how is it that incidences of bullying are continuing to escalate at a time when bullying, itself, has national and worldwide attention?  Within the answer lies the problem:  We're seeing this issue continue, and even escalate, because it still isn't being taken seriously.  The "boys will be boys" mentality still breathes within our society.  Reports of bullying are still being swept under the carpet.  Worse, too many people are seemingly waiting for somebody else to step up and do something about it.  No one wants to get involved.  In some cases, school administrators at the teaching level are threatening with termination if they report bullying incidences.  Get the picture?  The problem is so pervasive, so entwined in who we are as a society, the people who can make a difference are steering clear of it.  Hence, the constant blank party-line response, especially in the cases of teen suicides, of "our investigation has shown that no bullying has occurred."

So, where do we go from here?  How do we rid ourselves, our society of the menacing "boys will be boys" mentality as it pertains to bullying?  When we see in the media where people who are held responsible for bullying, and bullying that have led to suicides!, criminally charged only to get their wrists slapped by the justice system, we see how this issue perpetuates.  The clear-cut message that sends is that bullying others is alright.  And, guess what?  The young people who do the bullying are definitely watching.  They are getting the message loud and clear.  And, the beat goes on.

Theo is mending well and will be just fine, no thanks to the boys who attacked him.  Our focus has to be on finding a way to prevent this from continuing to happen.  The next "Theo" may not be as lucky.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day and Remembering

The Memorial Day holiday is meant to reflect upon and honor those brave young men and women who have paid the ultimate price for our country.  That's not to be taken lightly.  Whereas we here in America still have fight amongst ourselves for freedoms that are supposedly guaranteed to us, if we didn't have these brave warriors fighting for us on the international stage, we wouldn't even have the freedoms that we do enjoy.
The Memorial Day holiday, for me at least, is also a time to reflect upon the far-too-many young lives we've lost in another war.  A war that's still raging.  The war against our teens, and especially our LGBT teens.  Whether it's because of suicide or from violence against them, whether they're straight or LGBT, or even perceived as LGBT, the loss of life of a young person to this war is a blackeye on the face of our society.
This is a senseless, and needless, war, to be sure.  It's a war that could end on a dime if the ones waging the war would simple learn acceptance rather than hatred and intolerance.  The losses continue at a staggering pace, and little more than lip service seems to be going on to prevent it from reoccurring.  That makes this a very deadly and dangerous war, indeed.

I remember as far back as my first year out of high school.  That was the very first time I encountered a teen suicide.  He was an underclassman, sophomore if my memory serves me right.  I didn't know him, personally.  However, a lot of my friends did.  I saw the devastating effect it had on them.  I went to the wake with them.  The devastation on his parents' faces is permanently etched into my mind.  That event changed me forever.  

I remember back to my own failed suicide attempt(s).  I remember waking up in ICU and looking at the board that displayed the names of the people in my particular ward.  There were two of us.  When I saw the second name, I had to do a double take.  I knew that name.  My mind raced, even through the grogginess of the anesthesia.  I glanced over to the person in the other bed, and sure enough, it was who I thought it was.  I'd known him when he was younger: 13-14.  He was my best friend's neighbor and friends with my best friend's younger brother.  And, he was very obviously gay.  It exuded from him, even as a young teen.  Now, he was 19.  I worked up the energy to ask him, with alarm, "what are you doing here!?"  His response gave me chills.  
"I'm here for the same reason you're here:  I tried to kill myself."  
Even as I lied in a hospital bed recovering from my own failed suicide attempt, I was heartbroken that this young man had found life as a young LGBT teen so unbearable that he thought suicide was the only way out.  I prodded for more of an explanation.  I revealed to him that I knew when he was 13 that he was gay.  He revealed that he realized it when he was even younger.  He obliged my prodding.
"My whole family disowned me when I finally came out of the closet.  My dad said he wished I was dead.  I just couldn't handle it anymore.  I'm only 19!!, and I have no family!"
I cried with him.  And, it was there that the seeds were sown for doing something to make a difference.  Nobody should have to go through what he was going through.  No young person should have to feel that death was better than dealing with the negativity that is cast upon being gay or lesbian.
I remember, even at an earlier age, having a friend who was slightly younger than myself.  He was very flamboyantly gay, which was a white elephant back in that day.  I remember a phone conversation where he revealed to me his inner feelings:
If I could take a 'straight pill' tomorrow, I would.  Being gay is just too hard.  I'm tired of being shit on everyday.  My dad acts like I don't even exist!
Sadly, neither of them are with us today.
Today, while we remember those brave young men and women who put on military uniforms and go to combat and paid the ultimate price for our nation's freedom, let's also remember the brave young men and women who put on their own "uniforms" and go to battle daily against a society that routinely engages them in a different kind of battle.  Different, but no less volatile.

Today, we remember the hoards of young people who have lost their lives simply because a society can't find it in their hearts to accept rather than hate.  Whether their demise came from their own hands, or at the hands of someone, the result is the same:  they are all casualties of a war that should not even be being fought.

To the young men and women who gave their lives protecting our country, thank you.  We honor you today and everyday.

To the young people who's lives were cut short because of a society that made your lives unbearable, thank you for touching our lives.  We love, honor, and miss you today and every single day.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Unimaginable: 7-Year-Old Commits Suicide

I am at an utter loss for words.  A year ago this time, no one could've ever convinced me that I would be writing about a 7-year-old boy who committed suicide.  Yet, that's the report coming from Detroit, MI.
I don't even know how to begin writing about a 7-year-old who's committed suicide.  I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea of a 7-year-old committing suicide.  

According to early reports, the unnamed boy was distraught over the recent separation of his parents, with his father being gone from the home.  He was also reportedly being "continuously" bullied by students at school.  If my math is right, 7-years-old is second grade.  Second grade for me was Brighton Elementary, stickball in the field beside my aunt's house, riding my bicycle up and down Potomac Ave, and just enjoying being a young kid.  I cannot honest even remember knowing what the word suicide meant; therefore, I certainly wouldn't have understood how to successfully complete one.  We, as a society, are in a very bad place when 7-year-olds are even thinking about ending their lives.

Where do we begin?  This event screams for attention.  If the suicide of a 7-year-old, a 7-year-old whose mother has already stated that he had been "continuously bullied", doesn't make everyone, and I do mean everyone, sit up and take notice, then the problem is far more entrenched than any of us ever imagined.  Obviously, at age 7, we will not even begin to speculate over the "why" the bullying was occurring in the first place.  What matters is that it was occurring.  What matters is that, at age 7, he felt it was too much to handle.  That should be all we need to know.  

I've seen far too many cases where a victim of bullying has stated clearly that "nothing was done" when the incidents were reported.  I've heard parents state the same thing far too often.  On the facebook blog page, I hear from both victims and parents of victims who say the same thing.  Over and over.  I'm going to state something that should, by now, be painfully obvious:  we're allowing this to continue.

We're allowing this to continue because, although more and more people are getting involved and making sure their voices are being heard, we're not demanding immediate and definitive action.  We're allowing this to continue by allowing "them" to continue to sweep it all under the carpet and hope it goes away.  Meanwhile, kids are dying at their own hands.  

Let the suicide of this very young person be the wake-up call that's sorely needed.  If nothing changes, nothing changes.  That's not acceptable.  Let's send lots of love and support to the family of this 7-year-old yet-to-be-named child.  Imagine for a minute, if you can, the sheer agony they are going through right now.  

Valuable Resources to help end teen (and, pre-teen) suicide:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

North Carolina Pastor Calls for Death to Homosexuals

This story has caught fire across the Internet, and for good reason.  Here's the blunt, honest truth about what's going on in our culture today:  With the momentum that the LGBT community has picked up in its fight for equality, the far-right has declared war on everyone who falls under that umbrella.  The latest example of that is a North Carolina pastor, Charles Worley.  The head of the Providence Road Baptist Church made a statement that should be viewed as dangerous, if not criminal:
“I figured a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers,” he says.
“Build a great, big, large fence — 150- or 100-mile long — put all the lesbians in there . . . do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out.
“Feed ’em, and you know what?” Worley continues. “In a few years they’ll die. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.”
Now, before any naysayers get riled up and leave comments about free speech, save it.  Rest assured that free speech has nothing to do with hate speech.  When a person publicly calls for the death a person, that's not free speech;  that's hate speech.  And, it's criminal.  In "pastor" Worley's case, he called for the death of an entire segment of our population!  That's NOT free speech:  that's hate speech!!  That's called genocide.  Pastor Charles Worley is calling for the genocide of all LGBT people in this country.  That cannot be tolerated.
For a human being to call for the extermination of another human being is reprehensible, to be sure.  For a human being to call for the extermination of an entire group of people is Hitler-esque, to say the least.  For a person of power and influence, a so-called "man of God"!, to call for the mass murder of a group of people in front of his congregation is irresponsible, dangerous, and (should be) criminal.  

It's the knowing that people of this mentality not only exist in our society but hold positions of great power and influence that continues to fuel the bullying of LGBT teens in schools and online; it's the reason why those who do the bullying feel sanctioned in their actions.  It's a dangerously vicious cycle that demands immediate attention and firm action.

Petitions are already up and running online to combat this tyrant.  At the very least, it is this author's belief that he should be forced to step down from "ministering" the congregation at Providence Road Baptist Church.  Further, he shouldn't be allowed to minister at all, anywhere, ever again.  

Look, this blog has nearly 15,000 direct followers, either as members on the facebook blog page or as subscribers to it.  Yet, only 10% or less read it on a daily basis.  Even less actually get involved when the whistle blows.  I get it:  in any arena, there are people on the field and in the game; and, there are spectators.  I get that.  However, this is an urgent call to action!  This article needs to be read and heavily circulated.  Even more importantly, the petitions need to be signed.  Being a spectator to the call for genocide shouldn't be an option for anyone.  Understanding that "they" are officially declaring war on the entire LGBT community is vital at this point in time.

History will view people like Charles Worley through the same lenses that other historical tyrants are viewed.  He's no less evil or dangerous, at least in his thought process, than Hitler.  However, "history" connotes future eyes looking back over time.  Right here and now, we're in that time.  Lives are at stake, in the here and now, like never before.  When religious and political "leaders" begin to speak out and call for the death of an entire cultural group, it needs to be understood that they are essentially declaring war on said people.  

It's time for everyone to understand the urgency of the situation and get involved.  Here are the petitions to sign:

Whether you're gay or straight or anything in between, sign these petitions!!  If nothing else, do it for Harvey Milk.  He would've gone to bat for you.

Happy Birthday, Harvey May 22, 1930 - November 27, 1978

Secretly, I always tried to keep up with gay-related news stories when I was young.  With no electronic media in those days, following national gay-related events was challenging, to say the least.  I remember hearing about someone in San Francisco becoming the first openly gay elected official.  Of course San Francisco.  Here on the East Coast of the U.S., people are trained to believe that that beautiful City by the Bay is nothing more than a haven for gays.  Like everyone there runs around in pink tutus, spreading fairy dust everywhere they go.  People are strange.
Harvey Milk was his name.  I locked that name into my memory bank, even as a young man.  Even as a 20-year-old, I believed that more gays should become visible for who they were and the contributions they had to offer.  Harvey Milk was a validation.  In fact, we shared that same philosophy.

On his third attempt, Harvey was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  The effects of his presence had national impact.  Amongst the things he championed in a city where the misinformed thought was a gay paradise, Milk fought against discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace and housing market.  He won.  He fought for gays and lesbians to be hired as police officers in the City.  He won.  And, the fought the state senate in their effort to ban gays and lesbians from being teachers in California's school systems.  He won.

On November 27, 1978, after temporarily losing his sanity from eating too many Twinkies, former city Supervisor Dan White shot and killed both Harvey Milk and San Francisco then-Mayor, George Moscone.  Three-thousand miles away, this 21-year-old heard the news and cried.  Even without the instant access to news that we have today via the Internet and 24/7 cable news, I knew instinctively that Harvey had been assassinated because he was, in fact, a gay man.  A gay man who tried to stand up and make a difference.  In 1978, that was unheard of.
In 1986, I arrived in San Francisco.  A new beginning.  Until then, my world had consisted only of Maryland and Virginia.  As a 27-year-old, wide-eyed openly gay man, I soaked in all of what this paradise had to offer.  One of the first things I had to do was visit The Castro.  Harvey's old stomping ground.  As I got off of the underground transit, MUNI, I walked out into Harvey Milk Plaza.  And, I was frozen in time.  There I stood, on the hallowed grounds where, less than a decade before, Harvey Milk launched a brilliant, if too short, political career. 

Harvey did much more than fight for gay rights.  As he saw it, gay rights was just another cog in the wheel of human rights.  Basic human rights that, still today, we still fight to achieve.  Harvey Milk worked hard for changes in education, transportation, low-income housing, and more.  He was truly a politician for the people.  As it should be.  His life, and his promising political career, may have been cut short at the hands of former supervisor Dan White.  His legacy, however, will live forever.  In San Francisco.  In California.  And, around the country within the LGBT community.  On this day, we celebrate the life and times of Harvey Milk.  Happy 82nd birthday.  Oh, and thank you for your contributions.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

I had to take a few days off to recharge my internal batteries.  Last week's explosion of suicides really drained me.  In the blog's absence, I've been busy with the facebook blog page.  If you're not already a member there, you should be.  Lots of good conversation going on there.  Batteries recharged, I return to see that not much has changed.

A 12-year-old boy is targeted by older peers after he sticks up for another student.  A 14-year-old is stabbed twice in self-defense.  The 12-year-old gets charged!!  History repeats.

In Des Moines, Iowa, 12-year-old Tyron Cratty was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and carrying deadly weapons.  Why was he charged?  He was charged because he stabbed one of the boys who had been bullying him.  And, once again, rather than focus on the root of the problem, which was the boys who had been bullying him, the bullied person gets in trouble.  In fact, once again, the old catch-phrase "...the incident did not involve bullying" comes into play:
An investigation by school officials concluded that the incident did not involve bullying, West Des Moines school district spokeswoman Elaine Watkins-Miller said.   “Staff talked with multiple students, teachers and those involved (in the incident),” said Watkins-Miller, adding she could not comment in detail about what happened because of student privacy laws. “This obviously was a fight and a conflict, but it was not bullying.”
Far too many questions without answers.  The most obvious of which has to be "why are these officials so quick to sweep bullying under the carpet!?"  It's as if they are afraid to acknowledge that it exists.  This certainly isn't the first time where, in a clear-cut case of bullying, the officials rushed to rule it out.  It's happened in cases where the bullied person committed suicide.  Even as the family and friends of the victim said steadfastly that (s)he'd been bullied, "the officials" hastily make the announcement that no bullying was evident.

Another question that comes to my mind, at least, is "just what is it that they're looking for when they look for evidence of bullying?"

Does the victim have to be battered and bloodied for them to "find evidence" of bullying!?

Are they only making that proclamation to cover their own asses?

Why does the word of the person stating that they've been, or is being, bullied carry so little weight?

Certainly, if I knew the answers to these complex questions, the phenomena of bullying would've been history a long time ago.  That said, these are questions that demands to be answered if we're ever going to bring this chapter to an end.  Perhaps, that's the very reason "the authorities" continue to cop-out to the response "there is no evidence of bullying":  THEY CAN'T ANSWER THE QUESTIONS, THEMSELVES!!

In the case of 12-year-old Tyron Cratty, the same school officials who reported that there "was no bullying" did make a half-hearted effort to remove him from the situation.  Their "remedy" was to attempt to isolate him from his tormentors.  Lunch alone in a classroom.  Riding a different bus than his normal.  Alas, their efforts backfired.  On the "new" bus route he was given sat his tormentors.
Somehow though, the boy ended up on the same school bus as three of the students reportedly bullying him, all 14- or 15-year-olds, his mother said. Nicole Cratty said the bus driver witnessed the beginnings of the fight on the bus and heard her son say he had a knife. But the altercation spilled onto the street at the bus stop, and by the time police and medics responded, one of the youngsters had been stabbed.
The bus driver witnessed this but did nothing to stop it.  It's on video, yet the school district spokeswoman, Elaine Watkins-Miller, says "there was no bullying".  Nicole Cratty, Tyron's mother has it right:
“I don’t believe the principals are taking the bullying issue seriously,” she said. “I think it went in one ear and out the other.”
I firmly believe that people who should matter and be able to make a difference are simply not taking the bullying issue seriously.  Until they begin to do so, we're going to continue to see incidences like this, and worse, in the news with alarming frequency.  As the saying goes, "if nothing changes, nothing changes."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How I Know That People Aren't Taking This Seriously

I've been trying to write this one for over a week.  Obviously, other things took precedence.  I had alluded, in an earlier post, that I had just learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that the epidemic we're seeing of bullying and bully-related teen suicides wasn't being taken seriously and that I would explain " my next entry."  Well, then all hell broke loose last week, with an explosion of 6 teen suicides in a 48 hour period, and this one got put on the back burner.

So, what happened to assure me that it's not being taken seriously?  I grew tired of waiting for the movie, Bully, to come to a theater near me here in Maryland, so I started checking around to see where I could go to see it.  What I found was discouraging, to say the least.  In the county I live in here in Maryland, the movie is playing at one theater, AND it plays one time per day!  That angered me.  Once I got to the theater, that anger was fused with discouragement.  With a movie of this magnitude being shown in one theater one time per day, one would think that the theater would be packed.  Nope.  Including myself and Marty, there were SIX people viewing the movie.

What I came away with was the reality that, whereas there are obviously those of us who DO care about what's going on, quite obviously there aren't enough people who really give a damn.  And, that in itself gives partial explanation as to why it's easy to get the feeling that not enough is being done.  I came away with the attitude of "not enough is being done because not enough people care!!"

How do we change the general apathy that right now permeates our society as it pertains to bullying and bully-related teen suicides?  I wish I could answer that.  I can't.
"Bully" is most definitely a must-see movie. (if the scene that this picture was captured from doesn't rip your heart right from your chest, you heart beats icicles.)
  • The story of Alex Libby is woven throughout the movie.  
  • Kelby Johnson, a 16-year-old openly lesbian, was completely outcast by her school
  • Ja'Meya Jackson was incarcerated for brandishing a gun on a school bus after being relentlessly bullied  
  • Ty Smalley ended his life because of bullying, as did
  • Tyler Long
Originally, I was going to do more or less a review of the movie.  However, I don't want to do that.  Rather, I want to challenge everyone who has NOT seen this movie to go do so the very first chance you get.  Take your kids.  Take your nieces and nephews.  Take your neighbor's kids!  Call every school in your district and find out if they have a copy of it yet.  If they don't, demand that they show it to the student body immediately.  It's a must-see movie.  It's a must-see movie because it shows a lot of real-time bullying and what these kids are really dealing with.  It's a must-see movie because it shows the tragic aftermath of what families and friends are left to deal with once one of these young people have taken their lives because of the bullying.  It's a must-see movie because it clearly illustrates how officials, from school officials to police officials, thoroughly fumble the whole process of dealing with bullying and its affects.  And, it's a must-see movie because, sadly, two of the real-life characters are already gone.

In the larger picture, the mission here is to make every effort to get people to take this much, much more seriously than it's currently being taken.  "Kids will be kids; boys will be boys".  Try telling that nonsense to the parents of one of these young people who have ended their life because of "kids being kids".  If you were to read some of the things that I've read, if you were to read the cyberbullying posts that one mother of a recent suicide victim shared with the facebook blog page and the pure evil-spirited venom the words contained, it would be clear that the "kids will be kids; boys will be boys" mentality must be eliminated.  

The five "characters" in the movie aren't characters at all:  they're real-life people.  The two sets of families and friends grieving the loss of their love ones aren't actors playing a role:  they're real-life people devastated by a preventable, life-altering tragedy.  It's time to get serious.  It's time to demand that the authorities get serious.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jonathan William Clark, 15, Rest in Peace

I don't know any of the details.  I don't know if he had been bullied.  I don't know if he was an LGBT teen.  All I know, and all that really matters, is that Jon Clark ended his young life earlier this week, marking the third of five midweek teen suicides in this country alone.
With no details about Jon Clark, I'll simply say we're in a very sad place in our society when 5 people under the age of 16 end their lives all within a 48 hour period.  Some from bullying.  Some not.  Some of them perhaps LGBT.  Some, maybe not.  It's enough to make one wonder how did we get to this place in time.  And, how do we get out of it?

Young people, here and around the world, are screaming at the top of their lungs that there's a problem with our culture as it is today.  As the numbers continue to increase, one has to wonder if their voices are truly being heard.  I've said this time and time again, but it's worth saying a million more times until someone hears it:  if this were a virus, let's say a mutant strand of the flu, that was killing young people at this same, break-neck pace, every official in the country would be frenzied to find a quick and effective solution.  More to the point, everyday Joe would be barking down these officials' necks demanding something be done right now!  And, everyday Joe would be relentless in doing so.  That same intense level of concern and action needs to be taking place right now.  

I can't be the only person who finds 5 teen suicides in less that 48 hours absolutely not acceptable.  And, I'm sure I'm not.  I read the comments on the blog as well as on the facebook blog page.  Folks are heartbroken.  Folks are in an uproar!    However, these are words on pages.  And, whereas it's important to see such intense response to these posts about another young life lost, it's equally important, if not moreso!, for people to get involved in taking positive, constructive action.  

Anti-bullying groups in every single school?  Well, that's a start.  I actually think that's a very sound approach.  Yet, after posting a link on the facebook blog page for exactly that type of program, in an effort to jumpstart some grassroot action, the link has only been shared three time.  Walking the walk is a bit more challenging than talking the talk.

Providing resources for, or even just having access to several different resources available, for all young people, whether you THINK they're at risk or not, so that they can have somebody, somewhere, that they can talk to rather than resorting to the one thing that can't be undone?  That's a great idea!  One thing that's always been a reality in many suicide events is that families and friends are left to wonder how they missed the signs.  Sure, in the cases of bullying, it's easy to recognize a young person who's "at risk". However, what we've seen a lot of recently has been cases where "the obvious" wasn't in play.  There was no bullying.  They weren't an LGBT teen.  They had lots of friends and family and the support of people who loved them.  Yet, they're still gone.  Perhaps, just perhaps, having resources readily available for all teens, can make a difference.  One thing for sure: it couldn't hurt.

This is an extraordinarily complex phenomena we're witnessing, and there will be no quick fix.  I assure you of that.  It's going to take a concerted effort of a lot of people to make this epidemic go away.  It's going to take many more people getting involved in forcing officials, from school officials to political officials and everyone in between, to stop sweeping this under the rug, to stop applying bandages to the gaping holes that these young people are feeling in their lives, to stop turning a blind eye to incidents of bullying.  


Like I said, I don't know any of the details about what caused Jon Clark to end his young life.  We may never know.  What is known, however, is that he's gone much, much too soon.  So, once again, we say goodbye to a young person who should still be alive and enjoying the time of their life.  To the family and friends of Jonathan William Clark, you have our deepest sympathy, love, and support.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tori Swoape, 15, Death After Being Bullied

I now have information about the second of the five teen suicides from from midweek.  Fifteen year old Tori Swoape ended her life Wednesday, May 8th in Bloomington, Indiana.  According to her mother, and friends, Tori had been bullied. 
Lana Swoape, Tori's mother, said:
"I never thought she could do this. I never thought she would," as tears dripped down her face.  There was name calling. There was rumors. A lot of what Tori went through was rumors.  She was new, and she got teased a lot because ... the girls were jealous because all the guys liked her and the girls didn't”
In what has become the normal response from "officials", Bloomington police Captain, Joe Qualters added:
“We still continue to investigate whether or not bullying may have been a factor in this case. However, we can find no direct relationship. It continues to be rumors circulating on social media sites,”
Bloomington North High School Principal, Jeffry Henderson chimed in:
"We can't find a single incident where she was treated in a disparaging way. There are rumors and innuendoes, but we can't find an eyewitness who can say she was mistreated. She never made a report. I'm certainly not saying it didn't happen, but what I am saying is we cannot find anyone who can substantiate it,” 
Yet, Tori, herself posted to her own facebook wall this message to her tormentors:
'IM NOT TALKING TO NO ONE. so go ahead and spread that RUMOR around! Keep my name out of your mouth. LEAVE MY BUSINESS TO ME!'
Why are the officials so reluctant to acknowledge that bullying is taking place, particularly when the bullying is leading to young lives being lost?  It is my opinion that these "officials" need to have their feet held to the fire.  They need to step up their own awareness, and they need to be reacting to every single instance of bullying that's going on.  Further, as has been suggested by one of the members of the facebook blog page, there should be an active anti-bullying club in every single school around the country.  It is up to us, the grieving families and friends as well as  the concerned citizens, to start holding these officials accountable.  To keep saying that "more needs to be done" is an empty statement if we don't have people willing to step up and start forcing the issue.

This has become a runaway train.  What I want to see in my lifetime is real action being taken to prevent these egregious events from continuing to happen.  There are people who are now saying that they're tired of reading about these teen suicides.  They're missing the point.  I don't love writing about another teen who took their life.  It's something that needs to be done.  It's something that needs to be done because every single person needs to be made aware that this is an enormous this country, and around the world.  Without awareness, even less would be getting done that it is today.  That's completely unacceptable.  

I wish I didn't have to write this article about you, Tori.  You should still be here, enjoying your youth.  Rest in peace.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Peter Blake McCullers, 15, Death by Suicide

I'd announced on the facebook blog page that there were currently 5 suicides that I knew of which had occurred in the past 48 hours.  Sadly, this was one of them.
Blake to his friends and family, Peter Blake McCullers ended his life early Wednesday morning.  He was a sophomore and cheerleader at J.P. Taravella High School in Coral Springs, FL.

The first posting I read about Blake's demise specified that he had been bullied for being a male cheerleader.  In today's news article, the Broward County sheriff's office stated that their investigation has turned up no evidence of bullying.  Then again, we've heard that before and in cases where bullying was very definitely the cause.  However, Blake's sister also said:
... that her brother was not bullied or gay, and that she hopes he won't be remembered as a victim.
By all accounts, Blake was a very happy, well-loved student, friend, and family member.  Something, however, had to drive him to the point of no return.  Family and friends will now be left to wonder what, possibly for the rest of their lives.

Shawn Cerra, the principle at Blake's high school, had this observation:
"None of us had any indication that he was going through anything or having a difficult time," Cerra said, describing McCullers as friendly, confident and an unlikely target for bullies.
"Friendly".  "Confident".  "An unlikely target for bullies".  Still, something pushed Blake over the edge.

Two issues come immediately to mind:

  1. The immediate assumption that every teen who commits suicide is gay and/or bullied is a very pervasive problem.  I did a blog post a couple months ago about a suicide that never even happened, yet immediately Twitter was riddled with people sounding off about the bullying of another LGBT teen.  Bullying is a very serious issue, to be sure, and it's an issue that warrants a lot more attention than it's getting.  However, it's important to make sure that the cause was, in fact, bullying before we start sounding off.  I've been guilty of it, myself, so I understand fully the temptation to go there.  We just can't.
  2. The fact that this vibrant, confident young man felt compelled to end his life, a life that according to all accounts from those close to him, and no one has any idea of why poses a whole different issue.  Getting young people to open up and talk, hopefully to their parents but, if not, a trusted adult (maybe an older sibling) is so vital.  Perhaps, life saving.

While I was playing music today, a large group of young high schoolers passed by, apparently coming from a field trip of some sort.  As they walked by, and as I looked at some of the faces, I got chills.  The reality hit me that "this is the age group I'm writing so often about".  It was a haunting reality, indeed.

Blake McCullers, I shouldn't be writing about you right now.  You should be enjoying the time of your life right now, cheering your school teams on, continuing your work towards a bright, productive life.  May you rest in peace.  To the family and friends of Blake, there are no words to express the depth of my sympathy.  May you, too, find, peace.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

His Friends Called Him Corey: Jay'Corey Jones, 17, Death by Suicide

Sunday night, 17-year-old, Jay'Corey Jones, "Corey" to his friends, ended his life in Rochester, MN.  According to his father, he had been bullied for a very long time because of his sexual orientation.  That bullying lead to depression.  And, like many before him, that combination proved to be deadly.
According to the news report, in which Corey's father, JayBocka Strader was very candid and forthcoming about the life of his son, everything that could be done was being done.  His single-parent father was very supportive of his son.  Corey had friends who loved him.  He was even briefly involved with his school's Gay/Straight Alliance.  He was out and proud.  He wanted to make a stand for gay rights.  Unfortunately, that put him in the cross hairs for bullies.  And, once again, rather than seeing all of the positives going on in his life, the negative of being bullied proved too much for him to handle.

Still reeling from the report of a 16-year-old girl who ended her life just a few hours ago right here in Maryland (much too early for any details), I'm left to wonder "what are we not doing enough of!?"  We're very obviously missing a beat somewhere, somehow.  Yes, we know about the problem with bullying and how it needs to be dealt with on a much different level than it is today.  Yes, we have an idea of the mental health issues involved with many of the teen suicides.  Whether they're being properly addressed, however, is a question mark.

Somehow, these teens who give up on their young lives are seeing a world that's so dark, so bleak for them, they see no point in going on.  And, that's an issue that we, as adults, must find a way to figure out so that we can deal with it.

In a case of an LGBT teen, as Corey was, it's really not too hard to see where their vision of a too-bleak world comes from.  The bullying they endure from their peers at school and in cyberspace is only exacerbated by the bullying they see from adults in the news and on the Internet.  Bullying directed specifically at the LGBT community.  They're hearing the message from politicians and so-called religious leaders that their lives are invalid.  That their feelings are moot.  They're seeing and hearing, as hate-filled, intolerant politician after hate-filled, intolerant politician attempt to legislate their own bigotry, that the bullies they deal with in school are only a mirror-image of what they perceive as the real world.  As states like North Carolina legislates hate and discrimination, the message is driven home that they are second-class citizens, that their lives will always be inconsequential, that there are people in power who don't care a bit if they end their life.  They hear that.  They see that.  And, guess what?  So do the ones who do the bullying.  They feel vindicated in their actions because they, too, see and hear that same message.

Make no mistake:  no one should ever allow someone else define who they are.  It doesn't matter if "they" hate you.  That's their burden to carry.  What's important is loving yourself, first and foremost.  However, that is also a very difficult message to get across to an already fragile teen.  Jamie Hubley had an amazing, very loving and supportive family.  He had incredible friends who still adore him.  Yet, he couldn't see past the negatives of life long enough to wrap that warm blanket of support around himself.  Smart money says that that is the issue in many of these tragic events.  That was the issue with Corey Jones.

So, sadly, we say goodbye to yet another young person.  A young person who will never get to know just how good life could've been.  Corey, I wish things could've been different for you.  And, to his friends and family, I wish you love and support during this incredibly trying time.

Setting the Record Straight

After writing a blog post about one of the recent suicide victims, I received an email:
Why did you post a facebook page suggesting [the suicide victim] was gay?  Take is down...his parents don't need that sh*t.
Alarmed, I rushed to reread what I had written.  There was absolutely nothing in that article to suggest that he that he was gay, so I responded accordingly.
There is absolutely nothing in my article to suggest that he was gay. I made it a point to make sure that there was nothing that would even remotely suggest that he was. People make assumptions, and I can't control that. It's unfortunate, and I often warn against that. Yet, they continue to do it. I tried my very best to be as honest and objective is the article as I possibly could, hence the opening paragraph clearly setting aside the earlier rumor of there being bullying
It raises an important issue:  far too often, people see the words "teen" and "suicide", and there's an automatic rush-to-judgment that said teen was a.) gay, and b.) bullied.  Whereas that is an issue, and a very serious one at that, it's obviously not always the case.  Because of that rising issue, the issue of rushing to judgment, I even started that particular article off with the disclaimer that the person had not been bullied.  And, I took special care to make sure that nowhere in the article would I even allude to the notion that he was an LGBT teen.  Still, with all the precautions, some of the comments responded as if he were both LGBT and bullied.  He was a teenager who ended his life far, far too soon, and that's really all we need to know.  At least in this particular case.

I woke up this morning to an email response from the person who had initially emailed me about this.
I don't Facebook, my business is nobody else's business.  Your facebook page is misleading even if unintentional, just look at the comments.  I have a son, 15, just like [the suicide victim], a jock, in fact, playing [the suicide victim's] team tonite (probably will be cancelled).  This Facebook page is hurtful to his parents and should be taken are far, far removed from this event.
I also believe all this glamorizing of the death...tributes, tee shirts, facebook pages, tweets ("look **** you're famous" said one girl) will encourage the next depressed kid to go out in a blaze of glory.
Now,  that's a horse of a different color.  Now, I'm under attack for the integrity of the work I'm attempting to do.  Look, I get the part about glamorization of teen suicides.  I, too, am concerned that perhaps the Internet is helping to propel the acceleration of these events.  And, make no mistake:  we are seeing an acceleration.  To wit, from perusing another facebook page honoring those young people who are gone too soon, I was able to see a disturbing reality:  for every suicide that I write about, there's at least one that I didn't know about.  That's not a brush fire.  That's a firestorm.  That said, and armed with that knowledge, I do my best to stay away from glamorizing a very solemn event.  What's needed is awareness.  And, more of it.  For far too long, these devastating events have gone unreported, and under-reported.  Because of that, this has been going on in relative silence.  And, because of that, no one except for the families and friends of the victims had knowledge of this problem.  This is a cancer to the body of our society.  Early detection saves lives.  Left undetected and untreated, it kills.

The facebook blog page was created in December to support the blog, itself.  In truth, I was having issues with facebook and the posting of the blog's link.  It has grown into a sizable, interactive community of awareness and support.  Its message is clear:  love and acceptance.  People there help one another, talk to each other, support those who need support.  Lives are being saved through the blog and the blog page:
I wanted to contact you to say, simply, thank you.

I was considering suicide tonight, but decided against it, and your blog Enough is Enough was a major reason why I didn't. I am a 19 year old closeted bisexual male. Thank you for everything you are doing for not only the LGBT community, but for humanity as a whole. Your blog brought me to tears.

Again, thank you. I owe you big time.
It's because of this email, and others like it, that I will continue pressing forward.  As for the recent emails complaining about what I do, I offer this:  a look at some of the comments will show you that some of his friends have read the article and left their heartfelt comments.  Follow their lead.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ryan Nash, 15, Death by Suicide

Let's put this on the table first and foremost:  by all accounts, from people close to the family, Ryan was not bullied.  As has become the norm as soon as word hits the social media "grapevine" of yet another teen suicide, bullying is automatically assumed to be the culprit.  That is simply not always the case.  What matters most at the end of the day is that yet another youth has taken his or her life, that another family has been devastated, that friends who were close to the deceased are left to wonder "why?".
What IS known at this point is that yesterday, May 6th, 15-year-old Ryan Nash ended his young life.  What is known, also, is that he was a freshman baseball player at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Illinois.  And, sadly, what is known is that Ryan's family, friends, and, indeed, entire community are in a deep state of shock and mourning.  Everything else, at this point, is pure speculation.

What is important to realize, and reinforce, to all teens - whether you think they're struggling or not! - is that there are resources available for them at all times.  There are people for them to talk to.  Let's face it:  being a teenager is tough.  It was tough when I was a teen.  It's even moreso today with the prevalence of the social media medium in our culture.  Today, more than ever, having resourses readily available, and visible!!, for teens can be a difference of life and death.  Literally.

The deeper I delve into this whole issue of teen suicide, the more I learn.  Obviously.  And, one of the common threads has been the deadly silence.  That needs to be addressed.  We need to find a way to get the point across to all teens that if they're struggling with something - bullying, relationship issues, depression, whatever! - they need to talk to someone.  Find an adult to talk to.  If not their parents, maybe the parents of a close and trusted friend.  Maybe an aunt or uncle.  SOMEBODY!!  The biggest key is to let them know that they don't have to suffer in silence.  Silence is deadly.

In the case of Ryan Nash, by all accounts, he was a very popular young man, very well-liked, a baseball player.  His friends have been speaking up, via twitter, since Sunday's tragic event.  They speak of him with nothing but love, respect, and sadness.
Still in pain and shock ill miss you friend #RN20 never forgotten we have this eagles!
Knowing my best friend, he would be doing the same thing if anyone else were in this position #RN20 
His sister has even chimed in:
niki nash ‏
My brother can see how loved he was #RN20 thank you all so much for all of your support today
The bottom line is that, for all the effort that so many people are putting in, in an effort to stem the tide of teen suicides, we're obviously not doing enough.  That means that, collectively, we all have to work harder, and faster!!, to find a solution.  It can, and must, be done.  The world is losing far, far, far too many young people to suicide.

To the family and friends of Ryan Nash, I send my deepest sympathy and condolences.  Rest in peace, Ryan.

Ryan Alexander Cranford, 17, Morgantown, WVA

Ryan was 10 days away from graduating from Morgantown High School.  Just 10 more days.  According to one of his schoolmates, however, the bullying at that school, from teachers and students alike, is fierce.  And, even as the light at the end of the tunnel was clearly visible, Ryan couldn't see it.  He couldn't take one more day.  Monday, April 30th, he ended his life.
Just 10 more days.

I haven't been able to find any news stories or other verifying information.  The student classmate indicated that he was bullied but didn't give a reason for it.  Here's what she posted on her tumblr blog:
Today is a sad day for me. On this day, April 30, 2012, a sweet soul lost his life.
He was a senior at Morgantown High School. He had just 10 days of his high school career left, JUST 10 days.
I was not close to him or his friend, but I saw him from time to time walking down the hallways all alone. I never took the time to stop and say, “hey!”, or “how is your day?” to him. I would just go on with what I was doing like he wasn’t searching for someone to be kind or someone to just stop and tell him he looked nice today.
I should’ve taken the time to stop what I was doing for two minutes just to ask him how he was doing or if he was having a good day. If I would’ve done that, maybe he would still be here.
I just can’t believe how hard this hit me. WHen it comes to people my own age and it’s someone you saw every single day at school, it becomes really difficult to deal with.
You can’t help but blame yourself for it happening when you know you could’ve been there for him and been a friend to him.
I’ve been asking myself so many questions and wondering if I was ever mean to him or a bully like the others were.
Bullying is a very serious issue at MHS.
The staff and students ALL do it without realizing it. They just don’t have any respect for others or themselves anymore and it’s caused so much chaos. They all need to wake up and see that this is a serious matter and that it has caused a lot of hurt for people.
If this horrible thing does not wake them up and make them see how bad it is, then I don’t know what will.
Today was the first time I’ve seen a lot of our MHS students come together and support something so much.
I hate that it came to this for him. He had so much potential and so many talents that nobody will ever get to see.
We’re all going to miss you Ryan. We will never forget you. YOu will always be in our memory, minds, hearts and souls.
We love you.
I'm convinced that this issue is not being taken nearly as seriously as it warrants.  I'll explain why I'm convinced in the next blog post.  I will say, though, that tonight's experience convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the concern level isn't anywhere near where it should be for this issue of bullying.  Therein lies the lion's share of the problem.

Ryan, and his family, should be planning for his graduation from high school and his 18th birthday, which is right around the corner.  These are supposed to be some of the happiest days of his and his family's life.  Ryan is supposed to be looking for that summer job in preparation for the excitement of his coming freshman year of college.  What his family wasn't supposed to be doing was burying their 17-year-old son less than 10 days from his high school graduation.

Look, I'm not naive.  I don't think for one second that this is going to go away overnight.  Would I love to see that happen?  Well, certainly.  Rather, it's going to take a continued persistent effort from many people before we'll truly see bullying, and teen suicide, become a thing of the past.  At the same time, every single time I see another teen end their life because of it, I realize that we've still got so, so far to go.  But, as David Long put it, everything starts with one.  Please don't miss out on your chance to make a difference.  There's someone, no matter where you are in the world, who's waiting to hear you tell them that things are going to get better, that they can make it thought the overwhelming turmoil they're facing right now...that there truly are people who care about them and their lives and would do anything in this world to keep them from committing suicide.

Sadly, all of our efforts will be too late for Ryan Cransford, and his family.  May your soul now find the peace it deserves.  Ryan Cranford: June 9, 1994 - April 30, 2012.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Together, WE Can Stop Massachusetts School From Torturing Students

Ok, so, on the facebook blog page, there are over 10,000 members.  And, it's growing daily.  There are almost 600 people subscribed to the blog, itself.  And, there are other outlets with scores of other people reading it.  We need every single one of the people reading this to a.) SIGN the petition; b.) SHARE this blog post.  You'll understand in a minute.

When I checked my inbox today, I had a notification from about a Special Needs school in Massachusetts that basically electrocute its students.
In 2002, a special needs student named Andre McCollins was allegedly strapped down and electrocuted for hours, leaving him with permanent brain damage, all because he refused to take off his jacketThe people torturing Andre were officials at his school. You can watch what happened on video.
The video was shot at a Massachusetts school for special needs kids called the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC). Gregory Miller used to be a teacher there, and he says electrocuting kids as punishment is extremely common -- even for minor offenses like raising your hand to go to the bathroom.
"A non-verbal, nearly blind girl with cerebral palsy was shocked for attempts to hold a staff member's hand -- her attempts to communicate and to be loved," Gregory says.
Gregory desperately wants to help the kids at the JRC --that's why he started a petition demanding that the JRC stop using electroshock to punish kids. Click here to add your name.
Gregory says the JRC's founder created electroshock devices which are even stronger than police stun guns to punish students for bad behavior. An official at the United Nations said that using these devices on children is considered torture.
According to the Boston Globe, the JRC’s founder resigned after being charged with misleading a grand jury by destroying video footage of other students being shocked.
Gregory believes that if thousands of people sign his petition, his former bosses will capitulate in the intense pressure generated by a national spotlight.
Thanks for being a change-maker,
I.  Was.  Livid.  Reading that was bad enough.  Watching this video, which school officials tried desperately to keep "sealed", revealed an unfathomable level of brutality.  Staff on student.  Bullying to the inth degree.  Andre McCollin restrained, faced down, and electroshocked 31 times during the course of the day.  This is a whole different level of bullying, actually.  It's called torture.  It's called criminal abuse.  And, every pair of eyes who reads this can play a part in bringing it to a screeching halt.  For the students, the special needs students!, being brutally abused by this staff, it can't end fast enough.  Imagine your son or daughter, your neighbor's kid, or even a total stranger!, being subjected to being restrained and being zapped by electroshock devices that are stronger than police stun guns...for hours!!  Is you blood boiling, yet?  Good.  Sign the petition.  Share this blog post.  Encourage OTHERS to share it.

This taking ending bullying to a whole different level.  We have the power, in numbers, to make this change.  I've already signed.  Your turn.

"How I Feel": 11-Year-Old Girl Talks about Being Bullied

A member of the facebook blog page sent me a message that she'd gotten through yet another friend.  I'm so glad she did.  The story I read was heart wrenching.  It was heart wrenching because, with this, one can see that it doesn't get any clearer that there's a major injustice being afforded young people all around this country, and around the world.
How I feel: I want to leave the underworld that I’m in. I get hurt, cussed at and flipped off every day. Where ever I go at (school name) I feel like I get killed and go to the underworld. Whenever I see and /or hear the place, I get afraid. I don’t want to lie, I don’t feel safe, and I don’t want to get hurt. All I need is an apology from the whole 5th grade classes. I need to feel safe. The teachers aren’t listening at all. I even get threatened at (school name). It’s named after a solder, but nobody is that in my class. I feel that I am better in jail than (school name). I don’t need education, I need safety. I don’t need to lie about the cussers, I tell the truth. I think their motto isn’t true. I think it’s a lie. I’m scared!!! I’m better in an underworld than in (school name). I just want to be on earth, not the “H word” (hell)”.
This girl is just 11-years-old.  At that tender age, she's already having to go through now only the bullying that we're seeing far too much of today, but yet again an administrative staff that does nothing to intervene or prevent it.  And, because of their lack of responsibility in this case, her musician, single-parent dad has to embark upon a crusade to draw attention to the situation.  It shouldn't have to be that way.  Luckily for her, she has a father who is committed to making sure his daughter's well-being is a priority in her school.

[I'm going to leave her anonymous for now.  Her father will make comments to the blog if and as he sees fit.]

As part of his mission, he had his daughter write, in her own words, exactly how being constantly bullied made her feel.  On the up side, hearing a first-hand, first-person recant of what it's like to have to endure constant bullying it extraordinarily powerful.  The down side, of course, is that she and her dad have to go to this length in the first place.

The part that really got under my skin, however, was the girl saying that her "...teachers aren't listening at all."  How can that be?  How can it be possible that, in today's world, with bullying and teen suicides being in headlines around the world and almost daily, the school administrators can even think of taking the easy way out and not pay attention to a student who's reaching out for help?  Worse, there are those who simply say they don't believe the bullying is taking place!  Once again, I have to say that there needs to be accountability.  What my hope is, of course, is that the father will provide the necessary information, i.e. school name, name of administrators, etc., so that a massive email and phone call campaign can descend upon that school.

Things are only going to continue to change as long as people like this courageous and devoted dad continue to stand up and speak out again the environment of hatred and intolerance that we're witnessing today.  Keeping bullying, and all of the tragic aftermath that comes with it, on the back burner and out of the headlines is a travesty.

Kudos to you, dad, for stepping up and forcing this issue to be looked at on your daughter's behalf.  Whether you know it or not, your efforts will have a ripple effect on countless other students who are also dealing with being bullied.