La Grande, Oregon – A 15-year-old gay teen who attempted suicide after being harassed by bullies on the internet was removed from life support late last week. Anti-gay bullying, which the young Jadin Bell faced for years, has been identified by his friends as the prime cause of his act of desperation.
Bell, a sophomore at La Grande High School, hanged himself from a playground structure at Central Elementary School, according to KATU News. A quick response from a passer-by rescued him. The youth was rushed to a local hospital and placed on life support. Hill was then transferred to a major Portland trauma center, where he had been clinging to life until the family determined that further heroic efforts to keep him breathing were in vain.
The La Grande community rallied to support Bell and his family with a vigil on January 25 which was attended by over 200 people, many of whom had great memories and good things to say about the gifted youth who loved cheerleading, and volunteered at a senior citizen’s care facility. But the undertone of the vigil was a mixture of frustration and denial–frustration that a second young person had fallen prey to bullying (a 16-year-old girl had taken her life in La Grande earlier in the year), and denial of the overarching reason Jadin Bell had hanged himself: anti-gay bullying. No mention of the anti-gay harassment Hill suffered on the internet and in person was made in the reportage surrounding the vigil, even though the cause was well known throughout the town of 13,000 in Northeastern Oregon.
In a Skype interview, Bud Hill, a friend and mentor of Bell, told KATU reporters that the family considers anti-gay bullying the aggravating issue in their son’s suicide. Hill, who has vowed to start a foundation in Jadin Bell’s memory, said that the youth’s sensitivity and kindness made him a target to school toughs. “He was different, and they tend to pick on the different ones,” Hill said.
Bell had avoided confronting his harassers, saying to his family that making their hateful attacks on him public would only make his torment worse. But in recent days, the family says, Bell had gone to school officials to complain of the verbal assaults on his sexual orientation. The superintendent had initiated an investigation into Bell’s allegations, which was proceeding at the time of the suicide attempt.
“Driven to suicide”: the phrase rolls too easily off the tongue. The horror of the loss of Jadin Bell is that he is one of so many. Every town and city in the nation is susceptible to become the next La Grande. The time to stop the homophobic violence preying on the youth of the nation is now, not after it is too late.
The Trevor Helpline operates the nation’s only 24/7 suicide and crisis hotline for gay and questioning youth. Don’t wait any longer. Call the Trevor Helpline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
Boston, Massachusetts – Gay students and Law School officials were stunned to discover homophobic slurs scrawled on the walls of the Lambda Students Association the day following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. When LGBTQ students arrived at the Boston College Law School LGBT Center, they found the door unlocked and scads of epithets demeaning queer folk covering the office walls.
Demeaning slurs such as “cum shot,” “muff diver,” “felching,” “cock gobbler,” “gay bukkake,” and the like competed with a few racial ethic epithets that seem to have been thrown in for good measure. Some sources opined that LGBTQ people were not singled out for humiliation, since Blacks were also targeted by the vandals. Sexual minority students, however, are not buying such denial. They feel the crosshairs of hate aimed directly at them. The Boston College Police Department and the Newton Police Department are investigating the incident.
Robert Trescan, Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League of New England, said to Boston.com that while hate speech incidents occur on many campuses, this one has a more sinister character to it. “This is a targeted message at a particular place that is important to students, specifically designed to send a message,” he said. “From the police and school’s perspective we want this to be treated as a priority, and all indications is that they are treating this as a priority.”
EDGE Boston reports that the Dean of the Law School was notified in a meeting of the hate graffiti, and rushed to the LGBT Center immediately to see the damage himself. Dean Vincent Rougeau wrote an open letter to the college community, a portion of which says,“The administration of Boston College Law School condemns this reprehensible action and will not tolerate hateful or threatening speech of any kind. This behavior is the antithesis of all we stand for as an institution, and is an assault on our shared values of a welcoming, loving, and inclusive community.”
Joe Triplett, co-chairperson of Above the Law, a student group, said that the entire Boston College community has been concerned and supportive, according to Huffington Post. Triplett also related that a student suggested that the hatefulness of the incident could be diffused and channeled to energize the pro-LGBTQ effort on the Jesuit school’s campus. Inspired by President Obama’s Inaugural endorsement of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality, the unnamed student said that the vandalism should serve as a “backdrop for a dedication to the gay rights movement… posting articles, pictures, and quotes on top of them that show our fight for equal rights from Stonewall to the President’s historic inclusion of gay rights in his inauguration speech yesterday… to show where we have come from and yet how far we still have to go.”
Washington, D.C. – Richard Blanco delivered his poem at the Second Inaugural Swearing-in Ceremony of President Barack Obama on the threshold of a new era for the descendants of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Gay people make a great stride forward today with our poet leading the way: the youngest Inaugural Poet in the nation’s history, a Cuban-American, and an openly gay man. With this groundbreaking cultural and literary event, Richard Blanco, at the behest of President Obama, has inaugurated a new dignity and impetus for LGBTQ Americans, and ushers us along the path to becoming a People: diverse, empowered, graced, and maturing into the full equality of national citizenship. This is one step in a long journey, and no one must be fooled into a sense of ease or rest on a bed of laurels. But nonetheless we have lived to hear the voice of Our People ring out openly and unhindered across the great mall of the National City, and we have every right and reason to be proud. Gracias, querido Richard! Muchísimas gracias!
Here is the poem in its entirety (video of Blanco’s delivery of the poem available here):
Washington, D.C. – The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that poet Richard Blanco is President Obama’s choice for his Second Inauguration–a gay of Cuban extraction who was shamed by his own family for being gay. In one historic move, President Obama has chosen the first gay man, the first Latino, and the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. According to Huffington Post, Blanco will recite a poem at the presidential swearing-in ceremony on the U.S. Capitol steps on January 21.
“I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude,” Blanco responded to the announcement. “In many ways, this is the very ‘stuff’ of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story—America’s story, really. I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry.”
Blanco is the son of Cuban exiles who fled to Madrid, where he was born. The family moved first to New York City, but then settled eventually in Miami, where Blanco was reared and educated. He now lives in Bethel, Maine with his life partner. Politico tells the story of the price he paid as a gay person in Latino culture–even in his own family. Cross currents of cultural identity–Cuban-American and gay–threatened to sweep him into depression or worse. Politico highlights Blanco’s essay, “Afternoons with Endora,” that appeared in the 2009 anthology, “My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them,” where Blanco describes himself as “a boy who hated being a boy.” As a child, Blanco says he retreated from playing sports to his notebooks, writing and drawing; that he much preferred women’s Tupperware Parties to Clint Eastwood movies.
His grandmother lashed out at Blanco for being gay, calling her own grandson “the shame of the family,” and “little faggot.”
“According to her,” Blanco wrote, “I was a no-good sissy — un mariconcito — the queer shame of the family. And she let me know it all the time: ‘Why don’t we just sign you up for ballet lessons? Everyone thinks you’re a girl on the phone — can’t you talk like a man? I’d rather have a granddaughter who’s a whore than a grandson who is a faggot like you.’”
“Her constant attacks made me an extremely self-conscious and quiet child,” Blanco wrote of his grandmother. “But it also made me a keen observer of the world around me, because my interior world was far too painful. This inadvertently led me to become a writer, a recorder of images and details.” Seeking refuge from his family’s harsh, anti-gay nagging, young Blanco would secretly dress up in his own room as Endora, the magical character from the hit television show Bewitched, and pretend he lived in a world without queer shame. “I wanted to be as powerful as [Endora], and for a little while every afternoon I was,” he wrote. “I could conjure up thunderstorms so I wouldn’t have to go to baseball practice…I could concoct love potions that would make me like girls instead of boys and make my grandmother love me.”
It is a testimony to Blanco’s strength of character and web of supportive friends that he rose above queer shame to become one of the premier poets of this era, a rise that caught the attention of President Barack Obama. The President said, “I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural. His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity.”
Achy Obejas, a commentator for WBEZ.org, reflects on the significance of Blanco’s selection as Inaugural Poet, and upon his reasons for crying for joy when he heard of the pick: “The President of the United States, the most powerful man on earth, has chosen a guy you know — a fag, a cubiche who likes to joke that he was made in the U.S. with Cuban parts, with whom you codeswitch about Miyami and lechón and our mamis — to consecrate this moment in history with his — our — words.
“And you nod and grin through your stupid tears because you know — you really know — that damn arch really does bend, it really does indeed point to a shinier day.”
Blanco has had a distinguished teaching career at Georgetown, American, and Central Connecticut State universities. His award-winning books of poetry include City of a Hundred Fires, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh, and Directions to The Beach of the Dead, which won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award.
When Richard Blanco mounts the podium on Inauguration Day with the whole world watching, they will see a cubiche, no longer un mariconcito–but a spokesperson for all LGBTQ people whose longings are rising above the challenges of discrimination to the heights of full citizenship. “Felicidades, querido Richard,” indeed!
Seale, Alabama – Eastern Alabama police announce that a hate crime bomb plot targeting gay and black classmates of a 17-year-old white supremacist has been foiled in Russell County.
Authorities arrested Derek Shrout, a self-proclaimed white power advocate, last Friday, responding swiftly to threats to bomb Russell County High School written in Shrout’s own personal journal. The journal, carelessly left behind in a classroom by Shrout, fell into the hands of a teacher, who rushed the document into the hands of police investigators. According to WTVM-TV, Shrout threatened in his journal to harm six students and one teacher, citing hatred of blacks and gays as his motive. Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor told reporters, “The journal contained several plans that looked like potential terrorist attacks, and attacks of violence and danger on the school.” Five of the students Shrout specifically named were black. Shrout believed the sixth student he named was gay, also a class of persons the 17-year-old professed to hate.
Sheriff Taylor said that the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut were an inciting factor in Shrout’s intention to bomb the high school. The first entry showing the student’s intent to attack his school is on December 17, only three days after the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. Fox News reports that law enforcement officers discovered over 25 smokeless tobacco tins and two larger cans with holes drilled in them in Shrout’s rooms on Friday. The tins were filled with pellets, partially outfitted as homemade bombs and grenades. One of the tins was labeled “Fat Man,” and another “Little Boy,” apparently in emulation of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The improvised bombs were only “a step or two away from being ready to explode,” the Sheriff observed, going on to say that the quick thinking of school officials averted a horrible outcome. “The system worked and thank God, it did,” he said. “We avoided a very bad situation.”
In his own defense, Shrout claims that the entries in his journal were fictions, and that he never intended to harm classmates or the teacher. He was held in custody on $75,000 bond on a felony charge of assault until a court appearance this Monday, when he made bail. The presiding judge released Shrout under the following conditions: he must remain at home; wear a GPS locator bracelet on his ankle; refrain from initiating contact with anyone connected to the school; and be monitored by a parent while on the Internet. A court date for the teen has been set for February 12.
Shrout, who moved to Alabama from Kansas with his military family, had become well-known in Russell County High for his anti-gay and racist views. Classmates noted that he and a circle of other white supremacist friends often espoused white power propaganda, and gave each other the Nazi salute. Senior Class President David Kelly is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “In the hallway, at breakfast, at the lunch tables, after school where we have our bus parking lot, he’d have his big old group of friends and they’d go around doing the whole white power crazy stuff.”
Authorities say that the teen was involved in neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, and had learned bomb making from the internet. Now his classmates are expressing anger and frustration at Shrout’s intended attack on their school. David White, who used to hang out with Shrout after JROTC meetings, exclaimed to reporters, “Why would you want to go to a school and blow it up? You know you’re going to hit somebody else; you’re not just going to, in particular, hit one person. You’re going to injure more than one.”