Sara Whitman

Sticks and Stones

Filed By Sara Whitman | November 03, 2007 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: gay youth, lgbt youth, suicide, transgender

This letter is from TransActive Education & Advocacy, a group supporting youth of all genders in Portland, Oregon.

As a parent of a son who struggles with gender roles and the constraints of society, I needed to share it.

The next time you hear someone called he-she or tranny or freak, remember words can hurt a lot more than sticks and stones.

They can kill you.

Dear Friends & Family,

Late Monday evening I received the news that I have dreaded since beginning my advocacy work on behalf of transgender children, youth and their families. I knew this day might, indeed would have to come, but I hoped with all my heart that somehow it would not happen.

Ian, a 16-year old transgender boy committed suicide yesterday.

As sad as the death of any child can be at any time, in any way, the loss of this child, in this way at this time is particularly painful for many of us.

It's painful because I knew Ian, his mother, father and younger brother personally. At one time, I considered myself part of their extended family.

Ian's death is particularly painful because he was one of the lucky ones. He was loved and cherished for who he was by his family. His mother and I, along with others, co-founded TransYouth Family Advocates in the hopes of providing help to Ian and so many other transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth. He had every good chance of overcoming the 50% suicidal ideation rate that is reported for transgender children and youth. And yet, with the most loving and supportive family imaginable, the sun rises today on a world missing another treasured child.

I liked Ian very, very much. He was a sensitive, thoughtful, incandescently intelligent young man. His mind was swift, taking in everything around him, though he rarely commented aloud about what he observed. When he did though, it was always worth hearing. Ian was painfully shy in many ways, and for that reason I took pleasure in making him squirm with the occasional non-sequitur, which he enjoyed and he would often toss one back at me with a sideways smile. I will always remember him with that sideways smile...

I loved making him laugh, and I loved his dry wit...it was an honor to know him and his life enriched mine.

As someone who once considered myself part of the extended family, I send them my deepest condolences. I send an embrace from the deepest part of my soul not only to the family, but to Kim Pearson, Shannon Garcia, "Just Evelyn" and their families as well.

From all of us at TransActive Education & Advocacy, I pledge our ongoing committment to work on behalf of the thousands of children and youth who, like Ian, struggle to fit into a world that far too often sees only their difference and ignores their gifts.

Please join us in sending your prayers, positive thoughts and support to Ian's family, extended family, friends and classmates. Join us and others who are working to create a more loving and nurturing world for transgender and gender non-conforming children, youth and their families. Hug your children and let them know that they are loved for exactly who they are...not in spite of who they are.

I wish Ian the peace he was unable to find in this life. And I believe that wherever his spirit, soul, energy force or consciousness is now, he is free of such insignificant limitations as gender and any other pain he may have experienced in his life. You were loved, Ian...and you still are.

Your friend,

Jenn Burleton

Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy
Co-founder & Past President
TransYouth Family Advocates
West Region Coordinator & Board Member
PFLAG-Transgender Network

Hayley Klug
Associate Advocate
TransActive Education & Advocacy

Kaig Lightner
Associate Advocate/Technology Coordinator
TransActive Education & Advocacy

Cathy Zellmer-Jackson
Associate Advocate

Brooke Haight Turpen
Youth Advocate

Tracie Stratton
Family Coodinator


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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 3, 2007 6:40 PM

I am very sorry to hear this. I know from close personal experience that death by suicide is very difficult to come to terms with. My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones.

bill perdue | November 4, 2007 3:33 PM

Sara is right about suicide and name calling.

According to the Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, 1989, published by the Department of Health and Human Services (ADM 89-1623): “A majority of suicide attempts by homosexuals occur during their youth, and gay youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people. They may comprise up to 30 percent of completed youth suicides annually.”

Rejected by family, taunted, abused, and forced out of home and school, many young men and women end up on the streets. There subsistence wages, poverty, forced prostitution, and abuse from police and social service agencies shove many of them down a desperate, hopeless path that ends in self destruction. A recent report of the Massachusetts Dept. of Education contains the abysmal, heartbreaking finding that 40.4 percent of GLBT youth attempt suicide vs. 7.2 percent of their peers.

It’s awful when the rejection and abuse comes form bigots or unthinking straights, but much worse when it comes from inside our community. And inexcusable. The use of vicious gay basher terms like "mad tranny disease", by supporters of the toothless Democrat version of ENDA is a case in point.

As Oscar Wilde said, “I have no doubt we shall win, but the road is long and red with monstrous martyrdoms”.

We don't want any more suicides - we have to stop the use of hate speech in our debates.