Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Ohio Transgender Teen Commits Suicide, Cites Religious Zealot Parents’ Attempt to Control Her Life

Leelah Alcorn, 17, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Leelah Alcorn, 17, lazerprincess, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.

Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.

The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.” 

When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”

“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
“Goodbye,
“(Leelah) Josh Alcorn” 

Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.” 

We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)

Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.

For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now. 

December 30, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Councilman Chris Seelbach, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Ohio, religious intolerance, Reparative Therapy, transgender persons, TransOhio, transphobia, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

California Boy Bullied for Being “Fag Cheerleader”; Takes His Own Life

Ronin Shimizu, 12, fell victim to bullying for being a "fag": the only boy on his middle school cheerleading squad.

Ronin Shimizu, 12, fell victim to bullying for being a “fag”: the only boy on his middle school cheerleading squad.

Folsom, California – 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu took his own life because he couldn’t bear the bullying anymore. KXTV reports that after incessant bullying for being a “fag” and loving cheerleading so passionately, this young person became yet another in the growing number of children who found rumor and bullying online and in school too much to take. His parents repeatedly warned local school officials that Ronin was being incessantly targeted by bullies. It had gotten so bad in the sixth grade that Brandon and Danielle Shimizu withdrew their son from Middle School, and schooled him at home. But the accusations of homosexuality and denial of his masculinity for being a cheerleader followed him, and in the end overwhelmed him.

In the wake of Ronin’s suicide, officials of Folsom Middle School, and of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, expressed grief and regret at his passing–too late. Whatever steps they took to stem the tide of cruel bullying were ineffective. According to Gay Star News, Ronin was targeted because he was the only boy on the cheerleading squad. Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for Ronin on December 4 in his neighborhood. A sixth grade member of the Vista Junior Eagles Cheerleading Squad, Riley Coleman, broke down in tears as she said, “He was bullied very badly. It is not OK to bully people.” Cynthia Brown, a concerned parent from the neighborhood told KXTV Channel 10, “He was just a sweet child. For him to feel that hopeless is heart-breaking.” 

Ronin’s parents issued a statement on December 6 as a moving tribute to their son, and a warning to the community about the seriousness of youth suicide from bullying:

“The tragic loss of our son has and will forever change our life. The love and support that we received from family, friends and the Folsom community has been immeasurable and words cannot begin to express our gratitude through this most difficult grieving process. The people close to our family know exactly who Ronin was, but since the story of this tragedy has spread worldwide, we want to take a minute to let the world know who he was. Ronin was one of the most loving, compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny kids to grace this earth. Ronin was a child who was not afraid to follow his heart, and we as his parents did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions, while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed. As you already know, Ronin loved to do Cheer, but he also loved art, fashion, being a Scout and most recently crew/rowing. It is true that because of his specialness, Ronin was a target of bullying by individuals that could not understand or accept his uniqueness. Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin. We as his parents always knew that he would make an impact on the world, we just thought it would be in something like fashion design or art related. We had no idea that God and Buddha had a more important role for him, and we as his parents will make it our mission in life to turn this tragedy into something positive and hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy. In closing, please remember that education in regards to bullying prevention does not only need to occur in our schools but also in the home.” ~ Danielle and Brandon Shimizu

There is help for families battling school bullying. A Sacramento-based non-profit, B.R.A.V.E. Society, “Bullies Are Actually Violating Everyone,” offers solution focused resources for parents and school officials to help stem the rising tide of pre- and teenage suicide.

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Asian Americans, B.R.A.V.E. Society, Bullying in schools, California, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Mistaken as Gay, Vigils | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gay Student Condemned By Church Dies By Suicide

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville.  Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins.  The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged.  The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog.  As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers.  The leader said, You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay.  Who here is comfortable being around him?”  Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?”  Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben.  Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip.  His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later.  Mrs. Wood writes:

“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip.  He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed.  He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group.  He was no representative of God. 

Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway.   Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway.  One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened.  The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip.  His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over. 

The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake.   He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated. 

While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.” 

Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens.  Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people.  On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.”  On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.

So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death?  The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be?  Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness?  The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other?  And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?

Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being.  The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel  records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.”  The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman.  But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours.  So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood.  While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives.  Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks.  But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”

Dr. Sprinkle concludes:  “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate.  And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, Bullycide, gay men, gay teens, GLSEN, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, United Methodist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Gay New Mexico Teen Is Latest Victim of School Bullying

Carlos Vigil,17,  tormented to death by bullies during his senior year in high school.

Carlos Vigil, 17, tormented to death by bullies during his senior year in high school.

Albuquerque, New Mexico – A gay New Mexico teenager took his life, despairing after years of incessant bullying by classmates.  Carlos Vigil, 17, posted a heart-wrending Twitter post on Saturday, July 13, finally crumbling under the weight of the epithets and ridicule his classmates put on him.  The tweet, posted as a screen capture by EveryJoe.com, reads in part: “I’m sorry to those who I offended over the years.  I’m blind to see that I, as a human being, suck.  I’m an individual who is doing an injustice to the world and it’s time for me to go. . . I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to love someone or have someone love me.  I guess it’s best, though, because now I leave no pain onto anyone.  The kids in school are right, I am a loser, a freak, and a fag and in no way is that acceptable for people to deal with.  I’m sorry for not being a person that would make someone proud.”

Ending his tweet, Carlos texted, “I am free now.”  His father, who ironically had only recently returned from a conference in North Carolina where he had spoken out against anti-gay bullying in schools, saw the tweet, and rushed home, too late.  Carlos was sped to the University of New Mexico Medical Center in a coma.  Late Sunday night, his parents requested that doctors remove life support from their son, after his organs had been harvested to benefit others.

The pathos and horror of anti-gay bullying scream out from the story of Carlos Vigil.  His mother said to reporters that her boy had been bullied in some form or another for being perceived as different and effeminate since he was eight years old.  Lately, she said, Carlos had been dogged by hateful speech about his sexual orientation, his acne, his glasses, and his weight.  He and his family tried valiantly to withstand the bullying, complaining to school officials, and transferring from a nearby high school to Valley High where the latest wave of bullying crashed over him.  Carlos had counseled and consoled others who were verbally attacked, and his parents were constantly checking in to ask how he was doing.  He had spoken out against bullying himself.  But according to the New York Daily News, no one guessed at the depth of his own personal anguish until his sudden, untimely death.  Eddie Vargas, sports director of Warehouse 508, an Albuquerque youth entertainment and arts center that Carlos helped to establish, said, “It’s an eye-opener that it can happen to anybody. The people we think are the most confident can also be the ones who are hurting the most.” 

We should no longer be surprised that gay youth like Carlos who show compassion for the hurts of others often swim in oceans of despair that they alone are helpless to overcome.  Carlos had deeply supportive parents who loved him just the way he was.  But the depth of the pain of a youth who had been bullied since the third grade was beyond usual measures of love, support, and affection.  Prevention is the best remedy for the multitude of LGBTQ and gender variant youth who take their own lives as a consequence of the rejection and hate speech to which they are subjected in school among their peers.  Teachers and administrators, clergy, health professionals, lawmakers, and cultural icons must act decisively to stem the tide of gay teen suicide by refusing to see LGBTQ youth as “the problem,” and, while knowing and acting on the signs of youth in trouble, must defend vulnerable boys and girls by making any hint of school bullying a serious offense.  Bullies need help, too.  So do the families of bullies who often enact what they hear at home, or act out from experiences of torment themselves.

Now, Carlos’s family is asking for everyone to work hard to prevent another useless, senseless death like his.  Early this morning, apparently unable to sleep well, his father and mother tweeted this note on their son’s Twitter account: “Carlos is finally at peace! Thank you everyone for your support and prayers. Please don’t forget what he wanted STOP THE BULLYING!”

If anyone is in need of a listening, sympathetic ear, call the Trevor Project Helpline, 24/7, to speak to a real person who will reach out to you: 1-866-488-7386.  Don’t wait! Call Now!

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, Internalized homophobia, Latinos, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, New Mexico, Slurs and epithets, suicide, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay New Mexico Teen Is Latest Victim of School Bullying

Gay Teen, Threatened By Bullies, Hangs Himself in Oregon School Playground

Jadin Bell, 15, driven to suicide by anti-gay bullies.

Jadin Bell, 15, driven to suicide by anti-gay bullies.

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).

January 29, 2013 Posted by | gay teens, GLBTQ, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Oregon, suicide, Trevor Project, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay Hate Crimes Blog Reaches New Milestone! 400k!

Dallas, Texas – Unfinished Lives Blog, a cyber effort to change the conversation about anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, reached at significant milestone at approximately Noon Central Time: 400,000 site visits.  The Unfinished Lives Project Team, past and present, thank our readership most sincerely, and move ahead with this project in the knowledge that breaking the silence and remembering the dead are acts of justice supported by so many good people.

The Unfinished Lives Project was launched in response to the over 13,000 women, men, youth, and GenderQueer people in the United States who have lost their lives so outrageously since the early 1980s to heterosexism, homophobia, and the culture of violence so prevalent in this country. As the graphic from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)  and GLAAD shows, the crisis of hate crime violence against queer folk is not abating—it is growing annually, at an alarming rate. Bias-motivated hate crime prevention was never more important than now.  We mourn the outrageous losses these data represent, and cry out against the injustices that instigate them.

Transgender people, especially transgender youth of color, and gay men are the main targets of unreasoning hatred today.  Our suspicion is that the number of lesbians killed for their sexual orientation is alarmingly high, as well, masked in our culture by misogynistic violence that takes the lives of so many women in this country everyday.  While the number of documented attacks against lesbians is growing, we believe that the statistics we have on the murder of lesbians are the only tip of the iceberg.

This blog was also created to support the publication of Dr. Stephen Sprinkle’s groundbreaking book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011).  The Unfinished Lives Project Team is glad that many of our readers have also discovered the book, authored by our Founder and Project Director.  Book signing and promotion events have carried the message of hate crimes prevention, LGBTQ equality, and hope throughout Texas, and to Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Toledo, South Florida, Birmingham, Chicago, New York City, St. Louis, and six cities in North Carolina. Plans are in the works for a book tour event in Indiana. Filming has begun for a made-for-cable series based on the stories of the 14 victims told in the book.  This past June, Dr. Sprinkle received the 2011 Silver Medal for Gay-Lesbian Non-Fiction from the Independent Book Publishers Awards (the IPPYs).  A translation of Unfinished Lives is in process in the Korean language, furthering the reach of this message of justice and hope on an international stage. When released in Korea later this year, Unfinished Lives will be only the second book on homosexuality to be published in South Korea.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support.  400.000 visitors is a sign of health, hope, and sacred trust. This work was and remains to be a voluntary labor of love.  We who believe in Justice cannot rest.  We who believe in Justice cannot rest until it comes!

November 24, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, Social Justice Advocacy, South Korea, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinished Lives Book Signings, women | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Susan Sarandon is Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award Winner

Susan Sarandon, The Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award honoree [New York Daily News photo].

New York, New York – Oscar winning actress, Susan Sarandon will be honored by The Trevor Project as their 2012 Hero Award Winner.  Stanley Tucci, President of MTV, will be presenting the award Monday, June 25th, at “Trevor Live,” the LGBTQ teen suicide prevention group’s high profile benefit event.

Sarandon, famed for her artistry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show [“Dammit, Janet!”], The Hunger, and Thelma & Louise, is being honored for her forthright advocacy for marriage equality, publicly opposing homophobia in the media, speaking out to save the lives of LGBTQ teens from bullying and suicide, and her gifts to HIV/AIDS research and treatment. Speaking for the Trevor Project, Abbe Land, Trevor’s Executive Director and CEO, said: “The Trevor Project is proud to honor Susan Sarandon with the Trevor Hero Award. As a straight ally, Ms. Sarandon has a long history of working to raise awareness of the importance of treating everyone fairly and ensuring same basic civil and human rights for all.” Ms. Land continued, “Our honorees know through their work with The Trevor Project that it only takes one resource – one friend, one ally, one parent – to help save a life. We are proud to honor Susan Sarandon with the Trevor Hero Award.”

Responding to the news she was Trevor’s 2012 Hero honoree, Ms. Sarandon said: “It is truly an honor to be recognized by The Trevor Project as a Trevor Hero. All people deserve respect, and young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender deserve to know that there are people who care for them and who are fighting to make this world a better and more accepting place for them.”  When she accepts the award, Ms. Sarandon will join the company of other celebrity advocates such as Daniel Radcliffe, Lady Gaga, and Neil Patrick Harris.

Every day, the Trevor Project saves the lives of young LGBTQ people struggling to reconcile their authentic selves with a world that is often hostile and rejecting.  The Trevor Helpline is the premier 24/7 online and phone counseling service dedicated to saving the lives of youth from suicide. An innovator in suicide prevention, The Trevor Project has been recognized by President Obama as a Champion of Change. For more information, go to the Trevor Project’s website, accessible here.

June 23, 2012 Posted by | GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Marriage Equality, Media Issues, New York, Social Justice Advocacy, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Susan Sarandon is Trevor Project’s 2012 Hero Award Winner

Gay Teen’s Heartbreaking Suicide Note: Bullying Led to El Paso Youth’s Untimely Death

Brandon Joseph Elizares, 16: artist, poet, Shakespeare lover, gay boy. Bullying led to his suicide June 2.

El Paso, Texas – Brandon Elizares came out to his mother when he was 14. “I’m still me. I’m Brandon. Nothing has changed, except I like boys,” his mother, Zachalyn Elizares remembers. Bullied relentlessly for being gay, he Andress High School sophomore barely made it to 16. News of his plaintive farewell note hit the media Thursday, compounding the impact of his June 2 death from an overdose of pills. “My name is Brandon Joseph Elizares,” he wrote, “and I couldn’t make it. I love you guys with all my heart.” His younger brother found Brandon’s body in his room, where the note was left along with a careful display of all his school awards and his art work, according to the KVIA-TV News 7, the local ABC affiliate.  His mother commented on the rest of the note’s content: “He wrote that he was sorry, that he felt like he had to hide under his skin from being who he was because it made him feel terrible.” 

His mother and his friends painted a grim picture of Brandon’s last days at Andress High. The precipitating hate message that seemed to tip Brandon over the edge was a text message on Friday from a boy who threatened to fight him for being gay.  The El Paso Times reports that Brandon had attended Andress for only about two months, having transferred from Chapin High School where the anti-gay bullying had become intense. The bullying followed him to his new school.  Taunts and threats plagued him, though Brandon tried to put a brave face on things for his mother.  “I know it’s hard being a teenager, and it’s especially hard being a gay teenager,” Zachalyn Elizares told reporters, “but I didn’t realize how hard it was. Knowing when to step in is always difficult.” When Brandon told her students threatened to shoot him and to set him on fire, she dove in to rouse school officials first at Chapin and then at Andress to the problem. Brandon reported the bullying to school authorities, and they did reprimand some of his tormentors in the school–but they didn’t notify the bullies’ parents, according to Ms. Elizares.  “I don’t know if they didn’t take it seriously unless it turned physical,” she said. “Parents should know what their kids are doing, especially if they’re being taught these things at home.”

His mother doesn’t want anyone to face prosecution for her son’s death by suicide.  She says he made a choice. But it is clear to her, to Brandon’s friends, and to El Paso community leaders that bullying led to Brandon’s suicide.  Instead of retribution, Ms. Elizares hopes the parents of bullies and their victims across the nation will learn from her awful loss. Parents, she says, must become more aware of what their children are doing in school, whether they are bullying others, or are the target of bullying. “You can’t fix anything if you don’t know what the problem is,” she said.

Brandon’s story is going viral around the nation.  Many are learning about him, his challenges, and the courage of his family. Though news outlets usually refrain from reporting on suicides, the special circumstances surrounding Brandon’s death have caused many media organizations to make an exception.  Homophobic bullying has to be exposed in order to effectively confront it.

Meanwhile, Zachalyn Elizares and her surviving son and daughter are doing the best they can.  Brandon was a premie, just three pounds when he was born, she remembers.  He was her first child, born when she was just 16 herself, a very young mother in Hawaii. She said to the El Paso Times, “I literally had to grow up with him.”  As a military family, the Elizares clan moved to El Paso. She intends to take her son’s body back to Hawaii for burial next week. A memorial service is planned on Friday, June 15 at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, beginning at 7 p.m. El Paso’s PFLAG Chapter is sponsoring the service, and is collecting a fund to help with expenses. The hurt his mother feels breaks through from time-to-time, tears bleeding through the laughter and smiles she tries to show the world. “He worried about everyone else before himself,” she said. “He would say, ‘It’s OK, it doesn’t bother me.’ My son had a right to live how he wanted to live.”

June 15, 2012 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, military, PFLAG El Paso, suicide, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Another Gay Minnesota Teen Crushed By Weight of Homophobic Bullying

Portrait of gay bullycide victim Jay’Cory Jones, 17, held by his father, JayBoka Strader.

Rochester, Minnesota – A 17-year-old openly gay teen succumbed to overwhelming bullying, taking his own life this past Sunday.  Jay’Cory Jones jumped to his death into traffic from a pedestrian bridge near Century High School, according to police reports.  According to his father, Jones was beaten down by the incessant school bullying he endured for being open and vocal about his sexual orientation.  His father, JayBocka Strader, told the PostBulletin.com“He said all of his life they always picked on him. He’d still try to keep his head up at school, but then he’d come home and be really sad about it.”  Mr. Strader went on to say that his son was depressed because other boys wouldn’t accept him for who he was.

Jones knew of his sexual orientation since he was a little boy.  He took pride in who he was, and declared on his Facebook page that he was “Gay & Proud.”  A member of the Century Gay Straight Alliance, he sought help with his feelings from the Gay and Lesbian Youth Services in Rochester where he attended weekly meetings.  In the end, the pressure on him from his peers was just too much to bear.

ABC 6 News reports that Jones’s high school friends confirm that the abuse he suffered from bullies was a large factor in his death.  “You could tell it upset him because like he didn’t understand why people couldn’t accept him for who he was,” his friend Rachel said. “It just sucks that we had to lose somebody because of people’s words, and they didn’t realize that words hurt more than anything else.”

Communities across Minnesota, even the notorious Anoka-Hennepin School District in suburban Minneapolis, as well as towns and cities around the nation are attempting to staunch the numbers of gay and lesbian teens who take their lives because of homophobic bullying.  There is help available, like the Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Rochester, and the nationally based Trevor Helpline, but it appears to be too little too late for so many, like Jay’Cory.

As EDGE On The Net reports, his dad said, “Up until his death, he took a stand. He was like, ’Whatever happens, happens — I’m just going to take a stand.’ And he started to take a stand.”  The homophobia in Century High School was just too heavy to win against. To honor Jay’Cory, Mr. Strader requests that people wear pink.  “I told him he looked really good in pink,” he said.

The Trevor Project 24-hour Lifeline number is 866-488-7386.  For God’s sake, use it!

May 12, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, Gay-Straight Alliances, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Minnesota, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Another Gay Minnesota Teen Crushed By Weight of Homophobic Bullying

Gay Hate Crimes Book Receives National Independent Publishers Award

New York, New York – Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims by Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle has been awarded the national Silver Medal from the Independent Book Awards for outstanding excellence in Gay/Lesbian Non-Fiction.  The IPPY Awards, created 16 years ago by the Jenkins Group, honors independently published books throughout the United States. Jim Barnes, Awards Director of the IPPYs for the past 14 years, made the announcement of Dr. Sprinkle’s groundbreaking book on May 2. For Dallas Voice coverage of the award by David Taffet, click here.

Unfinished Lives is Dr. Sprinkle’s labor of love, telling the stories of 14 LGBTQ hate crimes murder victims throughout the U.S., representative of over 13,000 women, men, and youths who have lost their lives to unreasoning hatred since 1980.  It took four-and-a-half years to research and write the book. Dr. Sprinkle traveled throughout the country, meeting family members, law enforcement officers, journalists, brokenhearted lovers, and friends who told the stories of their loved ones so that their memories would not be lost. “I set out to change the conversation on hate crimes in this country,” Dr. Sprinkle said, “to put a human face on the outrage of homophobia and transphobia robbing us of so many so brutally.”  In regard to the IPPY Award Silver Medal, he said, “I am grateful to the judges and to my publisher, Wipf and Stock–but most of all to the women related to the victims who have become my teachers during the struggle to write this book.  These mothers, sisters and aunts became courageous human rights advocates by tragic happenstance.  In their names I gratefully accept this award.”

Known as the “Oscars of Independent Publishing,” the IPPY Awards were launched in 1996 as “the first unaffiliated book awards program open exclusively to independents.”  Awards Director Barnes says: “Even today, authors choose to publish independently to break free of the rules and constraints of conglomerate publishing, and this rebellious attitude still influences the Awards’ mission today, ‘To reward those who exhibit the courage, innovation, and creativity to bring about change in the world of publishing.’” Over 4,000 titles compete for the honors each year in over 72 categories.  Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded in each category. “As far as we know,” Barnes went on to say, “it’s the largest book awards contest in the world.”

Award winners gather this year on June 4 for the awards ceremony at Providence NYC, in the Midtown West area of New York City, a venue where the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon recorded their music. The IPPYs are given in conjunction with the mammoth annual BookExpo America convention to insure the greatest exposure possible for award winners.

Unfinished Lives was published in January 2011 by Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon. Stephen V. Sprinkle is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Brite Divinity School, on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.  He also serves as Theologian in Residence of Cathedral of Hope (United Church of Christ) in Dallas, Texas, the largest congregation in the world with a predominant outreach to the LGBTQ community.

May 3, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Cathedral of Hope, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, New York, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transphobia, Unfinished Lives Book | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Hate Crimes Book Receives National Independent Publishers Award

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