It’s a celebratory month for American LGBT rights. Marriage equality is becoming the norm in more and more states — with Rhode Island approving it just last week. After a deluge of bad publicity, the Boy Scouts are at long last making noises about admitting gay scouts. When New Jersey teenager Jacob Rudolph came out to his class while accepting an acting award, he was greeted with cheers and his speech went viral. Even famed former champion of “traditional” marriage David Blankenhorn is now proposing “a new conversation that brings together gays and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.” And on Jan. 21, Barack Obama became the first president to mention gay and lesbian rights in his inaugural address.
Yet in the midst of all the good news, we still have so much more to do, and so much hate to still overcome. We still have to fight hard, every day, so there are fewer tragedies like Jadin Bell. Bell, a 15-year-old high-school sophomore in La Grande, Ore., was taken off life support earlier this week after hanging himself on a playground structure at Central Elementary School. His family says that he had been bullied for being gay.
In a conversation with local news station KATU on Tuesday, family friend Bud Hill told reporters that Bell had been bullied both in person and online, and that he’d asked his parents to home-school him. The boy had recently communicated about the problem with school officials, who told KATU that they were in the process of an investigation when Bell hanged himself. “He was different,” Hill said, “and they tend to pick on the different ones.”
At a vigil last week, Bell was remembered by friends as an “amazing young man,” a kid who loved cheerleading and volunteering at the local assisted living home for seniors. His mother, meanwhile, had a pleading message for the school bullies. “The next time you are thinking of being unkind to someone,” she told the La Grande Observer, “think to yourself, ‘If that person was a member of your family, would you want them treated like that?’ Don’t treat them like that.”
So for all the strides we’re making, we need to remember that teenagers are still killing themselves because bigoted monsters are making their lives hell. Tyler Clementi. Seth Walsh. Kenneth Weishuhn. Josh Pacheco, just last month. And families and friends are left shattered and grieving because we still live in a climate where bullying is too often not taken seriously enough, and where LGBT individuals are subject to institutionalized discrimination and flippant homophobia on a regular basis. It does get better, and a whole lot of things in this country have gotten better, but as long as kids are dying because hateful creeps are pushing them around, we have miles and miles to go. As Bud Hill told the La Grande Observer, “It should not have come to something like this.” Not for Bell. Not for any kid. Not again.