Judy Shepard statement on gay-bullying suicides

There’s a national conference call under way as we write this to coordinate vigils in honor of the four gay-bullying suicides of the last three weeks. Since we’re not taking part in the call, we figured we’d share this statement that just came across from Judy Shepard. We’ll update you on any plans for local vigils as soon as they’re announced. Shepard is, of course, the mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998. Here’s her statement:

Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide

Our family, and the staff and board at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, are all deeply saddened by the devastating report of at least the fourth gay or gay-perceived teen to commit suicide in this country in the last month.

Reports say that Tyler Clementi, 18, leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge near his New Jersey college campus after a roommate allegedly broadcast him in a same-sex encounter behind closed doors in his dorm room, and apparently invited others, via Twitter, to view it online. Regardless of his roommate’s alleged tweet, Tyler had apparently made no statement about his own sexual orientation. I’m sure we will all learn more about this terrible tragedy as legal proceedings unfold, but the contempt and disregard behind such an invasion of privacy seems clear. In the meantime, we send our thoughts and prayers to Tyler’s family as they mourn their loss.

In the last month there has been a shocking series of teen suicides linked to bullying, taunting, and general disrespect regarding sexual orientation, in every corner of America. Just a few days ago, Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., passed away after 10 days on life support after he hanged himself. Police say he had been mercilessly taunted by fellow students over his perceived sexual orientation.

Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself a few weeks ago at his Indiana home after years of reported harassment by students who judged him to be gay. Asher Brown, a 13-year-old in Harris, TX, who had recently come out, took his life with a gun after, his parents say, their efforts to alert school officials to ongoing bullying were not acted upon.

Many Americans also learned this week about Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old boy in Ohio who decided to join a cheerleading squad that had been all-female. As a gymnast, he was interested in the athletic elements of cheering. He was taunted with homophobic remarks and had his arm broken by two schoolmates who apparently assumed him to be gay. He told “Good Morning America” that since returning to school, he’s been threatened with having his other arm broken, too.

Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Suicide is a complicated problem and it is too easy to casually blame it on a single factor in a young person’s life, but it is clear that mistreatment by others has a tremendously negative effect on a young person’s sense of self worth and colors how he or she sees the world around them. Parents, educators and peers in the community need to be vigilant to the warning signs of suicide and other self-destructive behaviors in the young people in their lives, and help them find resources to be healthy and productive. We urge any LGBT youth contemplating suicide to immediately reach out to The Trevor Project, day or night, at (866) 4-U-TREVOR [866-488-7386].

Judy Shepard
President, Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors
September 29, 2010

—  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

The search continues

Police acknowledge foul play likely in disappearance of Lisa Stone; friends fighting to keep investigation alive

WATCH VIDEO OF LISA STONE’S FRIENDS TALKING ABOUT THE CASE

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

GARLAND — Dallas police for the first time this week publicly acknowledged that they believe foul play is likely in the disappearance of Lisa Stone, a 52-year-old lesbian who’s been missing for more than three months.

However, Sgt. Eugene Reyes of DPD’s special investigations unit said detectives won’t formally reclassify the case as a homicide until Stone’s remains are found, and he stopped short of identifying her longtime partner, Sherry Henry, as a suspect.

“Every time there’s a body found, we’re hoping it’s Lisa,” Reyes told Dallas Voice in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Sept. 14. “Not that we’re hoping she’s dead, but at least that will bring closure and get us closer to a suspect. It’s not like her to be out of touch this long. I think foul play is very likely, yes, because it’s out of her characteristics.”

Stone’s friends, who’ve long said they suspect foul play in her June disappearance, expressed frustration with DPD’s handling of the case and said they recently hired a private investigator. But Reyes insisted that investigators have tracked down every lead, including sending 70 officers to search a wooded area of Hunt County in July. Police also searched the home Stone shared with Henry and are awaiting results from forensic tests, Reyes said.

“I am just as frustrated as they are, but we’re bound by the Constitution, and there’s only certain things you can do without violating that, and if we violate them then what good is it if we go to court and everything gets thrown out?” Reyes said. “Whoever did this told someone. All we need is that someone to step up.”

Stone’s friends, many of whom have known her since they attended Mesquite High School together in the 1970s, have held several vigils outside her home on Truxillo Drive in Northeast Dallas. Their Facebook page, “Looking for Lisa Stone… help us find her!,” has almost 2,000 fans. They’ve also set up another website, www.ForTheLoveofLisa.webs.com, and rented a billboard in Garland.

Standing beneath the billboard at LBJ Freeway and Northwest Highway this week, two of Stone’s friends said that while they may be growing increasingly desperate, they’re not about to give up until they obtain both closure and justice.

“It’s very frustrating at this point to have brought all this evidence to the police, and now feel like we don’t know what’s going on,” said Lyndi Robinson, one of Stone’s gay friends. “That’s probably the most frustrating part of the whole thing, is we feel like nothing’s happening, so we’re to the point where we want to scream. I don’t know what we need to do. We need to raise a ruckus, because we want to know the answers.”

Tina Wiley, one of Stone’s straight friends, noted that a $10,000 reward is being offered through Crime Stoppers, and that another vigil is planned for Sunday evening, Sept. 19 at the site of the billboard.

“I know without a doubt she’d be doing the same thing for me, and I basically have no choice,” Wiley said. “I cannot go to sleep at night if I don’t feel like I’ve done everything I can, and I don’t feel like I will ever rest until I feel like I’ve done everything I can.”

Henry, Stone’s partner, isn’t cooperating with police or communicating with her friends. According to both Reyes and Stone’s friends, Henry has left the state and may be staying with relatives in Missouri.

Shortly after her disappearance, one of Stone’s friends witnessed Henry discarding some of Stone’s personal items in a Dumpster, including her birth certificate and the last effects of her late gay brother, Dennis. Henry has also filed a stalking complaint against Stone’s friends and threatened to sue them for harassment, they said.

Stone’s friends questioned why given that they were together for 17 years, Henry isn’t actively assisting in the search for Stone.

Police questioned Henry when they searched the home in July but released her later the same day. Henry couldn’t be reached for comment.

Robinson, who was close friends with Stone’s brother Dennis who died from AIDS in 1997, said she promised him before he passed away that she would look out for Lisa.

“Any one of us, especially in the gay community, could be the last of their family, and your friends are your family, and we’re here to say we’re not going away until we find you, Lisa, and we bring you home,” Robinson said.

Anyone with information about Stone’s disappearance should call Crime Stoppers at 877-373-8477.  Sunday’s vigil will be at 7 p.m. at the site of the billboard, 2010 Eastgate Drive in Garland. For more info, e-mail fortheloveoflisa@aol.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens