Tonight, I ask my colleagues’ indulgence in allowing me to use my announcement time to talk briefly about another issue that pulls at my heart.
Ron, would go ahead and run the—the parents of Asher Brown, who you can see above, complained to school officials in the Cypress- Fairbanks ISD, outside of Houston, that their son was being bully and harassed in school. The bullies called him “faggot” and “queer.” They shoved him. They punched him.
And in spite of his parents’ calls to counselors and principals, the harassment, intimidation and threats continued. For years, it continued.
A couple of weeks ago, after being bullied at school, Asher went home, found his father’s gun, and shot himself in the head. His father found Asher dead when he came home from work. Asher was 13 years old.
I’d like for you to look at his face. Unlike Asher, Indiana teen Billy Lucas never self-identified as gay, but was perceived to be by bullies who harassed him daily at the Greenberg Community High School. Three weeks ago, he hung himself in his grandparents’ barn. He was 15 years old.
Minnesota 15-year-old Justin Aaberg came out to friends at age 13 after which the harassment and the bullying began. It grew as he moved from middle school to high school. When he found the harassment more than he could bear, he hung himself in his room and was found by his mother. Classmates started teasing and name-calling Seth Walsh in the fourth grade. It continued through his middle school years, where other students told him the world didn’t need another queer and that he should “go hang himself.”
On September 18th, after being threatened by a group of older teens, he went home, threw a noose around a tree branch, and he did just that. He hung himself in his back yard.
His mother saw him, pulled him down. Seth survived on life support for nine days before dying a couple of weeks ago. He was 13 years old.
Teen bullying and suicide has reached an epidemic in our country, especially among gay and lesbian youth, those perceived to be gay, or kids who are just different.
In recent weeks, New Jersey teen Tyler Clementi jumped off a bridge to his death after his roommate outed him on the Internet. Rhode Island teen Raymond Chase hung himself in his dorm room. And we learned just yesterday of Oklahoma teen Zach Harrington, who killed himself after attending a city council meeting in Norman, Oklahoma, where speakers made disparaging anti-gay remarks.
There is a conversation for the adults watching in this room and those watching to have, and we will have it. But this bullying and harassment in our schools must stop. And our schools must be a safe place to learn and to grow.
It is never acceptable for us to be the cause of any child to feel unloved or worthless. And I am committed to being a part of that conversation.
But tonight I would like to talk to the 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17-year-olds at Paskel and at Arlington Heights, and at Trimble Tech High Schools, or at Daggett and Rosemont Middle Schools, or any school in Fort Worth, or anywhere across the country, for that matter.
I know that life can seem unbearable. I know that the people in your household or in your school may not understand you, and that they may even physically harm you. But I want you to know that it gets better.
When I was 13, I was a skinny, lanky, awkward teen who had grown too tall, too fast, who would stumble over my own feet. I was the son of a Methodist church pianist named Jeanette and a cowboy named, fittingly, Butch in Crowley, Texas.
As their son and as a kid in a small town, there was a certain image of who I thought I was supposed to be. And as I entered adolescence, I started having feelings that I didn’t understand, I couldn’t explain. But I knew they didn’t mesh with the image of what I thought I was supposed to be.
I was a sensitive kid, but friendly. I was a band dork. I played basketball, but not very well. I was teased like all kids, but I was fairly confident and I didn’t let it bother me much.
One day when I was in the 9th grade, just starting Crowley High School, I was cornered after school by some older kids who roughed me up. They said that I was a “faggot” and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged.
That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down, that what I was beginning to feel on the inside must somehow be showing on the outside. Ashamed, humiliated, and confused, I went home. There must be something very wrong with me, I thought.
Something I could never let my family or anyone else know.
I think I’m going to have too hard a time with the next couple of sentences that I wrote. And also, I don’t want my mother and father to bear the pain of having to hear me say them.
I have never told this story to anyone before tonight, not my family, not my husband, not anyone. But the numerous suicides in recent days have upset me so much, and have just torn at my heart.
And even though there may be some political repercussions for telling my story, this story is not just for the adults who might choose or not choose to support me. This story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight, or the rope, or the pill bottle.
You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it, on that unfortunate day. There is so, so, so much more. Yes, high school was difficult. Coming out was painful, but life got so much better for me. And I want to tell any teen who might see this, give yourself a chance to see just how much life—how much better life will get.
To those who are feeling very alone tonight, please know that I understand how you feel, that things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself. It may not seem like it tonight, but they will. And the attitudes of society will change.
Please, live long enough to be there to see it.
And to the adults, the bullying and the harassment has to stop. We cannot look aside as life after life is tragically lost.
If you need resources, please check out the TrevorProject.org online, and you can call me and I will get you whatever resources you need. My number is [DELETED].
I want to thank those in this room for allowing me this time.
And to J.D. and the rest of my family, I am sorry for you learning of this painful personal story in this public way for this first time. But know that I am able to tell it because of your love for me.
And mom and dad, I’m alive today because you loved me.
Again, attitudes will change. Life will get better. You will have a lifetime of happy memories, if you just allow yourself and give yourself the time to make them.