Editor’s note: On September 28, 2010, Zach Harrington, 19 and a graduate of Norman North High School, attended a Norman City Council meeting during which several people voiced their opposition to homosexuality. A week later, Harrington, a homosexual, took his own life. His online memorial is here.
My name is Stephen Brower. I’m a seventeen year old, openly gay high school student in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I can’t tell you the pain it brings me to hear of your situation and many other unfortunate cases across the United States. I understand the fear and rage anti-gay slurs and homophobic ideas bring on and I’m sorry that we share similar troubling memories. What I can’t grasp is the environment of that council meeting on September 28th; “toxic, ” as an article put it. Toxic enough for you to take your own life? I can’t even imagine what was going through your mind.
All my life I’ve been pinned as the “fag.” It’s a label I’ve worked hard to overcome. How dare someone judge me before they even know me? How dare someone accuse me of being something that I’ve not yet come to terms with? When questions spread like wildfire across a sea of gossiping 5th graders, it seemed like I instantly lost a circle of friends I thought was close to me. I know it sounds dramatic, but it got so hard that changing schools was the only option. Once I switched, things started to look up. I was now in a less “toxic” environment, but could only stay there a year before it was time for high school. Coming into freshman year, I was forced to face some of the horrifying bullies I worked so hard to avoid. Luckily, I had a group of true friends who loved me and acted as a crutch whenever I needed them. I was now surviving.
In the spring of my sophomore year, I decided that I was indeed gay and surviving wasn’t tolerable any longer. I wanted to avoid attaching shame to my sexuality—yes, a part of who I am, but certainly not my only quality. I was incredibly fortunate to have such an understanding family and group of friends (especially for living in the Bible Belt), and it sounds like for the most part that you had support. In the weeks that followed my coming-out, I not only came to terms with how I was born, I started to embrace it. Everyday I realize more and more how much I love being gay. Actually, I guess I just love being myself, openly.
Do you love yourself? I know it’s a blunt question, but it’s one everyone should spend a minute considering. I’ve always believed that if you don’t like something, you can change it. You may never be able to actually change “it,” but the way you perceive “it” is completely in your control. For instance, I wish you could have recognized the ignorant, close-mindedness of the speakers of that council meeting. I wish you could see that there are beautiful places in this world that support LGBT rights. Those people in the meeting have their own views and obviously didn’t mind having them heard. I wish you could have changed “it” or maybe excused yourself from the environment. The world is a beautiful place full of just as many lovers as haters; I pray everyone finds that. I wish I could console you, assure you that it gets better. I wish I could help you brush off some of those people who cause you pain—they don’t matter. I wish I could do something, but it’s obviously too late to help you in particular.
Of course, I encourage everyone to stand up for their beliefs and especially beliefs concerning civil rights. I hope to see some change in the local governments of the mid-west, but this extends so much further than politics. We need people to start thinking about the repercussions of their actions. I’m sure every anti-LGBT supporter at the meeting strongly believes in his or her ignorant claims. I’m positive they’ve accommodated their needs by concluding that what they’ve said has nothing to do with your death. Regardless of whether or not there’s a correlation, the point is that you’re now the Late Zach Harrington. Nothing can be done. What happened to “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”
Zach, I know you’re looking down from the heavens on a disappointing world, but now you know that it does get better. I’ll keep your family in the prayers I send to the all-loving God. Please keep reminding us of the progress that is made, of the good that goes on in this world. Your suicide will forever strike a nerve in me, and I hope that others take the time to see the tragedy caused by brutish ideas and insensitive conduct.
Enjoy heaven and let your music ring out, we will see you there.
Stephen Brower is a high school student in Tulsa, Oklahoma.