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!