Kenneth Weishuhn. Maybe his name means something to you, maybe it doesn’t.
Jacob Rogers, Jeffrey Fehr, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Jamey Rodemeyer, Jamie Hubley, Kameron Jacobsen, Lance Lundsten. More names, faces, and lives that you may or may not have heard of.
For me, the name was Asher Brown. His was the face that was instantly branded into my memory as the face of gay youth suicide. Asher was 13 years old. On the morning of September 23, 2010, he told his stepfather he was gay right before he took his stepfather’s 9mm Beretta and shot himself in the head, falling dead to the closet floor.
Just a few days ago, Kenneth Weishuhn became another name in the neverending list of kids who can no longer deal with the constant emotional, mental, and physical abuse brought on due to their sexual orientation. After coming out, he received death threats over the phone from his peers and was the subject of a hate page on Facebook. Kenneth was 14 years old.
So much has been said in the media about bullying and the effect it has on kids who may identify as gay or may just be different. But rarely does that criticism extend to the adults, especially those in the political realm and the religious community, who contribute to the overwhelming burden that hinders a young kid who knows he is gay.
Children hear, and children listen. And more importantly, children mimic. What are we to expect from kids who bully, when politicians like Michele Bachman demonize gays at every opportunity? (She is quoted as saying “gays are part of Satan.”) Then there is erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who also used fear of gay people to gain votes from social conservatives. In Bachmann’s old school district in Minnesota, nine children, most of whom were gay or perceived as gay, have committed suicide in the past two years.
When a young person who is gay hears a neverending stream of derogatory comments from adult leaders, they are sending a message: “You are different and deserve to be treated differently.” Those adults are responsible for pushing that child toward taking his own life. None of these comments fall on deaf ears. They pile up on a child and weigh them down, crushing their very spirit and self-worth. Combine this with condemnation from some pulpits, which can eat away at a child’s spiritual soul, and then the internet age, which makes bullying far more public, and you have created the perfect storm for young gay kids to take their lives.
At its very core, this issue is about adults’ understanding and acceptance of sexual orientation. If adults refuse to accept that orientation is something you know as early as childhood, and it is not something you “do” or decide, then they will never see the error in their ways. How many more names will we see in the paper before unaccepting adults, especially politicians and religious leaders, realize they have contributed to the deaths of these children?
Kids will be kids, and some adults will always be proud of their ignorance. Others do all they can to educate and inform others while trying to help kids who are struggling. The string of suicides made such an impact on me that I recently became a volunteer with the Trevor Project, which provides support for gay kids contemplating suicide.
One thing is for sure: This will change. The truth about sexual orientation being part of the natural makeup of the human condition will once and for all be understood and accepted, and gay kids will not be made to feel like they don’t belong in this world.
I was lucky. I was never bullied. But I remember the pain I felt when hearing comments from adults regarding something I knew and could not change about myself.
We know. I knew. I've been there.