Asher Brown’s suicide inspires ‘Bring Your Gay Teen to Church’ event in Houston

LGBT-affirming churches in the Houston area are participating in “Bring Your Gay Teen to Church” on Sunday, which aims to counter negative messages gay youth often receive from religion. The Houston Chronicle reports:

“We think it’s important for families to know there’s a safe place to go to worship,” said Jim Bankston, senior minister at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. “Families who have gay members want to make sure they feel welcome in church and aren’t bashed in any way.”

Joanna Crawford, a seminary student at the Houston Graduate School of Theology, said the idea came up after the suicide last fall of Asher Brown, a Cypress-area eighth-grader who killed himself after what his parents said were years of bullying and taunts that he was gay.

It is a project of the Houston Clergy Council, formed last year to allow churches to work together on shared concerns.

“None of us knew Asher, but we felt if we could get families into our churches, where they have support, where they feel loved for who they are, not in spite of it, something good could come of that,” Crawford said.

Organized religion has had a complicated relationship with homosexuality.

To see a full list of churches participating and learn more about the event, go here.

—  John Wright

Advocates push safe schools bill in wake of suicide

Parents of Houston teen who shot himself last week say school officials didn’t respond to repeated complaints, leading to 13-year-old being ‘bullied to death’

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Asher Brown
Asher Brown

HOUSTON — The recent bullying-related suicide of a gay Texas teen highlights the need for comprehensive safe schools legislation protecting LGBTQ students, advocates said this week.

Asher Brown, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School in northwest Harris County, fatally shot himself on Thursday, Sept. 23 after his parents said he was “bullied to death” over a period of 18 months for, among other things, being gay.

Asher’s parents allege that school officials failed to respond to their repeated complaints about the bullying — which included other students simulating gay sex acts on their son. Asher came out as gay to his stepfather the same day he took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a 9mm Baretta.

His suicide was one of four in recent weeks around the country tied to anti-gay bullying, prompting calls to action from advocacy groups and tentative plans for vigils in cities nationwide the weekend of Oct. 9-10.

“It’s devastating. It’s horrible,” said Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group. “You don’t want to see any child hurt, much less lose their life, because of an unsafe school environment.”

Asher’s suicide is the first in recent memory in Texas that can be directly tied to anti-gay bullying, Smith said. However, a national survey in 2009 found that 90 percent of LGBT middle and high-school students had experienced harassment at school in the last year, while nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

A safe schools bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced — but failed to pass — in each of the last two state legislative sessions.

“Part of the reason why the bill hasn’t passed is because it hasn’t risen to the level of being deemed legislation that we absolutely have to deal with,” Smith said.“If there is any silver lining to Asher Brown’s death, hopefully it raises awareness that please, let us deal with this before another child dies.”

Equality Texas this week called on members to contact legislators and urge them to support the safe schools bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, in next year’s session. The group also noted that Asher’s suicide marked the second time in less than a year that officials in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District have been accused of failing to respond to complaints of anti-gay bullying until it was too late.

Last November, a freshman at Cy-Fair ISD’s Langham Creek High School was beaten with a metal pipe in what he said was an anti-gay attack. Jayron Martin, 16, said at the time that he had begged two principals and his bus driver to intervene prior to the attack, but they failed to do so.

Asher’s death was one of four this month in the U.S. that stemmed from anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools, according to media reports.

Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from California, died in a hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 28 after hanging himself from a tree in his back yard several days earlier.Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman, hung himself in his family’s barn in Greensburg, Ind., on Thursday, Sept. 9. And Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off a bridge this week after his roommate secretly streamed on the Internet a live recording of him having sex with another man.

“These horrific stories of youth taking their own lives reflect on school bullying culture in this country,” said Charles Robbins, executive director of Trevor Project, a national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

“To be clear, they do not point to a contagion of teen or youth suicide, but that the media, parents, teachers and friends are more in-tune to speaking up about the causes,” Robbins said. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends affected by the loss of these wonderful individuals.”

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, the national LGBT civil rights group, also expressed condolences.

“But sympathy is not enough — we all have a responsibility to take action, and to keep working until all young people are safe and respected, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gorenberg said. “We must push for laws on the federal level and in every state that prohibit bullying and discrimination.

“We must hold people accountable, and use the courts when necessary. And most importantly, we must love and teach all our children to be their best selves and to respect and support others to do the same.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Does Asher Brown’s suicide indicate a pattern of ignoring anti-gay bullying in Houston district?

Asher Brown

Asher Brown’s suicide marks the second time in less than a year that officials in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks school district have been accused of failing to respond to complaints of anti-gay bullying until it was too late.

Brown, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Cy-Fair ISD’s Hamilton Middle School, took his own life last Thursday, the same day he had come out to his stepfather as gay:

The 13-year-old’s parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.

David and Amy Truong said they made several visits to the school to complain about the harassment, and Amy Truong said she made numerous phone calls to the school that were never returned.

Last November, a freshman at Cy-Fair ISD’s Langham Creek High School was beaten with a metal pipe in what he said was an anti-gay attack. Jayron Martin, 16, said at the time that he had begged two principals and his bus driver to intervene before the attack, but they failed to do so.

Hours before the incident, Martin said a friend told him a group was planning to attack him. The teen said he talked with two administrators about his concerns. The administrators took a written statement from him, said Martin.

“I sat down in the cafeteria and I started writing the letter and so then I handed it to them and they said, ‘We are going to call y’all down and stuff like that,’” he said.

Martin said he was never called to the office, and the administrator didn’t call his mother.

Equality Texas, the statewide gay rights group, issued an action alert Tuesday calling on people to contact their legislators and urge them to pass safe schools legislation that protects LGBTQ youth. In particular, Equality Texas targeted members whose state representatives’ districts include Cy Fair ISD: HD 126, Patricia Harless; HD 130, Allen Fletcher; HD 132, Bill Callegari; HD 133, Kristi Thibaut; HD 135, Gary Elkins; and HD 138, Dwayne Bohac.

Also, Change.org has launched a petition addressed to Cy-Fair Superintendent David Anthony, spokeswoman Kelli Durham and the district as a whole. But if you’d like to give them a call instead of signing the petition, here’s a full list of district staff phone numbers.

UPDATE: Below is a follow-up story that aired Tuesday about Asher’s suicide and the district’s response:

—  John Wright

Anti-gay bullying drives Houston teen to suicide; parents say school officials ignored complaints

Asher Brown

A 13-year-old in Houston committed suicide last week in response to anti-gay bullying at school, The Houston Chronicle reports.

The parents of eighth-grader Asher Brown say he was “bullied to death” after officials at Hamilton Middle School ignored their complaints:

Brown, his family said, was “bullied to death” — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said.

The 13-year-old’s parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.

David and Amy Truong said they made several visits to the school to complain about the harassment, and Amy Truong said she made numerous phone calls to the school that were never returned.

Asher Brown shot himself with his stepfather’s 9mm Beretta last Thursday. The Chronicle says Asher had come out as gay to his stepfather on the morning of his death. But KRIV-TV Channel 26 reports that Asher came out to his parents over the summer.

Unlike many states, Texas has no law that prohibits bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

—  John Wright