CommunityPam's House Blend

Oklahoma: 19-year-old commits suicide after week of 'toxic' comments

Yes, again. A young person in Norman, Oklahoma in despair over community’s toxic comments about approving a LGBT History month resolution – which it did pass with only one dissenting vote.

A week after attending a Norman City Council meeting where a heated debate played out in public, 19-year-old Zach Harrington took his own life at his family’s home in Norman.

…Harrington’s family, who described him as a private young man who internalized his feelings and emotions, said it was this “toxic” environment at the Sept. 28 council meeting that may have pushed their gay son and brother over the edge.

…Harrington’s father, Van, said he wasn’t sure why his son went to the meeting, especially after his experiences in Norman once he revealed that he was gay as a teenager. He said he feels his son may have glimpsed a hard reality at the Sept. 28 council meeting, a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.

One can only speculate that Zach was already suffering from depression — seeing adults in the setting of a a city council meeting only affirmed the hate out there. We have to get our youth to see there are other options than giving up — the hate and discrimination will not stop even if equality laws are passed. We can only punish after the fact. Changing the homophobic American culture means getting the message to these young people to seek help that is already out there, that it can get better, and that they can be a part of that cultural change if they stick together. Unfortunately Zach saw bias being piled on.

“I don’t think it was a place where he would hear something to make him feel more accepted by the community,” he said. “For somebody like Zach, it (the meeting) was probably very hard to sit through.”

…Despite being a talented musician “who could play any instrument he picked up,” Van Harrington said his son asked to leave school early during his senior year and finish his diploma in a separate program.

“He feared for his safety on many occasions at (Norman North), and other people like him,” Van said. “Even though he was 6-4, he was passive and I’m sure being gay in that environment didn’t help.”

This is where I find arguments about “toughening up’ get tossed around, as if the wide range of sensitivities and personalities of teenagers are all alike, and that all can bend without breaking, that there’s an expected and acceptable level of backbone required for the predictable bullying in life. What’s acceptable?  

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding