When people ask where I’m from, I say I’m from Harrisburg, PA. The truth is that I actually live 25 miles northwest of Harrisburg in a tiny town called Newport. Enough people don’t know where Pennsylvania’s state capital is, let alone my blip on the map.
Well, my blip on the map is now circulating on LGBT blogs, because it was the State Police from my little town that responded to the suicide of a 14-year-old named Brandon Bitner two little towns over. He ran in front of a tractor-trailer at 3 AM Friday morning. He’d been bullied for his perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It was because of bullying,” friend Takara Jo Folk wrote in a letter to The Daily Item.
“It was not about race, or gender, but they bullied him for his sexual preferences and the way he dressed. Which,” she said, “they wrongly accused him of.”
Brandon went to Middleburg High School. I know Middleburg High School. I’ve been there plenty of times for football games, basketball games, and even cheerleading competitions. It’s just like any other little school here in rural central Pennsylvania. And Brandon was surely bullied just like kids at all the other little schools are bullied. Just like little schools in little towns in every other state of this country.
“Anyone in our school who looks different is tortured,” said sophomore Emily Beall-Ellersieck, of Middleburg, who said Bitner had “changed” around the eighth grade.
Bullying is a problem at the school, she said, and “It needs to be dealt with.”
A website has been set up at BrandonBitner.com to remember him. Take some time to look around it. Get to know this young man who left us and the friends who miss him.
The suicides that have been reported over the past few months are not new, they’re just newly visible. The toxic culture in these schools is not new, it’s just newly alerting.
When is tragic news going to hit your hometown? When are you going to be faced with a loss that could have been prevented?
Every day—every hour—that is wasted not teaching young people about sexual orientation and gender identity, about their bodies and their identities, and about how to respect each other is another missed opportunity to prevent this kind of loss.
And why do we delay? It’s because of the lies spread by the ex-gay movement, those same groups I was resisting this weekend. It’s because of the scare tactics of the religious right. It’s because we’re too fucking cowardly to stand up and say, “This is not okay and our kids deserve better,” because we don’t want to “offend” some parents.
Guess what, parents? Some of your kids are going to be gay or bi. Some of them are going to be trans. And guess what? It’s not amoral, it’s not abnormal, and it’s not unhealthy. If you disagree, that’s not okay. You’re wrong. The only thing unhealthy is the messages you send with your poorly informed point of view.
So wake up America. Your blind ignorance is killing your youth. Your repugnant sense of moral superiority is forcing young people to live in absolute misery. And your obnoxiously loud preaching against the LGBT community is the very model these young bullies learn from.
It’s time for people to start apologizing. It’s time that people create change.
Enough of this “It Gets Better” bullshit. The false optimism is giving way too many people the impression that they’re making a difference when they’re only treating the symptoms and not the cause. Until we get in there and actually teach—actually raise awareness—it won’t get better. And not only do we have to teach our young people, we have to teach their parents, their teachers, and their administrators.
The other kids get it. Read all their comments on the article. They totally get it. They just don’t have any support to do anything about it.
It’s all you adults out there who are the real problem. No, I do not respect your beliefs. Your beliefs can shove it. Your beliefs are the problem. Your beliefs are not just a different perspective; they’re a wrong perspective.
To every single individual out there who has ever equivocated about teaching kids about sexual orientation and gender identity as a means to prevent this kind of bullying, the blood is on your hands.
[Note: I penned an additional reflection about my experience at Brandon's funeral. Please click here to read it.]