Darnell "Dynasty" Young, a 17-year-old gay teen, is the latest victim of bullying. Until last week, Dynasty was a student at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis. He attempted to speak to Tech principal Larry Yarrell, but was told by Yarrell that he should just "tone down."
Dynasty had been taunted with homophobic slurs and had rocks thrown at him as he walked home from the school bus. When Dynasty's mother, Chelisa Grimes, appealed to school officials, she was told that Dynasty was too flamboyant.
Last week, Ms. Grimes gave Dynasty a stun gun to take to school for protection. He was surrounded by a group of boys who threatened to beat him up, so he shot the gun into the air. No one was hurt, but the police arrived, and Dynasty was expelled from school.
Weapons are not allowed in any school, but I can only imagine how frustrated and angry Dynasty and his mother were. School officials once again refused to protect a student who was put in a dangerous situation.
Right after this incident occurred, a pro-LGBT rally was being held in Danville, Indiana by the Unitarian-Universalist Church. Rick Sutton from Indiana Equality and I drove Dynasty and his family to the rally giving me an opportunity to meet and spend time with them.
Chelisa Grimes has 5 children. Dynasty and his identical twin brother Darrell are delightful, and they have an older brother and two younger sisters. At one point in the rally Dynasty, Darrell and one of their sisters performed a dance routine - they are all quite talented.
When the rally was over, we went out for pizza. Before we ate, Chelisa asked us all to hold hands and the family said grace. They are a very close, warm family and totally support Dynasty.
Word of this incident spread not only throughout Indianapolis, but all around the country. National PFLAG called me to offer Dynasty help through the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Early on GLAAD offered assistance, and many attorneys offered their legal expertise. Dynasty appeared in TV interviews and in newspaper articles. It seemed that his story touched many hearts and everyone wanted to meet him.
Dynasty's story also resonated with the young LGBT kids here in Indianapolis, and they arranged to hold a Anti-Bullying Rally yesterday in support. Following the rally, they planned to march to a meeting of the IPS Board of Education. They wanted the school board and IPS School Superintendent Eugene White to know that the schools must adopt a no-bullying policy, and that they are responsible for their students' safety.
In the meantime, Dynasty endured another violent incident. A few days before the Anti-Bullying Rally, he was attacked at Circle Centre Mall by a 34-year-old man. The man recognized Dynasty from news articles and shouted homophobic slurs at him and then hit him in the face. He was arrested, but the damage was done.
Last evening approximately 300 people gathered at Veterans Memorial Plaza. I got there early because I had been asked to give a speech. TV cameras were already set up, and as people gathered, we all waited for Dynasty and his family to arrive.
There were many teenagers there, including LGBT teens from Indiana Youth Group. Other Indianapolis PFLAG members were in attendance, as well as parents with small children. It was wonderful to see so much support for Dynasty.
Finally Dynasty and his family arrived. The TV reporters swarmed all over them, asking questions and wanting to interview them on camera. Then, at around 6:00, one of the teenage girls came up to the microphone and explained why they decided to hold the rally, and then she introduced the speakers.
Mary Byrne from Indiana Youth Group spoke first. She explained that "many young gay kids in high school don't have supportive parents that they can go home to and talk about getting bullied at school because they're gay." She said that if they don't have support at home and at school, they're caught between a rock and a hard place. They feel isolated and take their own life because there is no alternative.
I was the next speaker and gave a parent's perspective. I explained, "As a state, Indiana is not very LGBT friendly. We're facing an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Twenty state legislators voted to ban specialty license plates that would help LGBT youth. This week, 17 year old Dynasty was beat up in a mall by an adult just because of who he is. What a pathetic message adults are sending to our LGBT teens. No wonder so many of these kids are depressed and anxious; no wonder so many are afraid to go to school. How can you learn when you're constantly looking over your shoulder?"
I went on to tell the crowd that they must talk not only to school administrators but to our state legislators and demand that they enact better anti-bullying laws. I also said, "Parents should teach their children to respect and accept kids who are different from them. We need to teach children to embrace diversity, not recoil from it."
The next speaker was a young girl from IYG who shared that she was sexually assaulted for being a lesbian. The man who did this to her could not accept that she was gay and wanted to make her straight.
Dynasty spoke next, his family standing with him. He said that this situation has changed his life and that this is not just about him, but also about all the other people who have died from bullying - those who felt they were so alone that the only thing they felt they could do was kill themselves. "It hurts my heart because I was there at one point."
At this point he stopped speaking and broke into tears. His mother, Chelisa Grimes, stepped in. She thanked everyone who was there, as well as the people that couldn't be there. She said that we were all not there just for Dynasty, but for all the other kids who have been victims of bullying and cannot speak out. She said she is speaking out because someone has to take responsibility, and she is willing to do that.
She also spoke about her decision to give Dynasty the stun gun to take to school for protection. "And the school can put the emphasis on the self-protective device. But to me, what would have happened if my son didn't have that? It was six young men trying to physically hurt my baby. So, I mean, it's worldwide. It's all over the world."
Marion County City-Councilor Zach Adamson, the council's first openly gay member, said that there are numerous members of the city-council that are standing with the Young family, and that this isn't a gay or straight issue - it's an issue of right and wrong, and that young people need to feel protected and safe. He then said that Indianapolis is an amazing place and they need to "take this last step and get over this hurdle."
Jack Rooney and other members of Occupy Indianapolis led some sort of chant in support of Dynasty and the gay community. This was followed by statements by two young men who are members of a new organization, Try Modern.
Timothy Cox said, "we don't believe in bullying, period." He want on to say that they want to spread awareness of the LGBT suicides occurring in Indiana because the media will not report them and that most Americans aren't aware of these LGBT suicides because of the lack of coverage. "We hear about maybe one LGBT teen suicide in the U.S. per week. There are at least 14 teens who die from suicide every single day in the U.S. And most of that is caused by bullying."
Kyle Casteel, also from Try Modern, closed by saying that even though he doesn't go to an IPS school, he does go to high school. He said that he's tired of hearing that it will get better after high school - he wants it to get better now.
Following the speeches, most of the crowd marched to the IPS School Board Meeting. I didn't go because I had gotten up at 3:30 in the morning to be interviewed at 5 a.m. by Walter Allen from WISH-TV Channel 8. They learned that I was going to be one of the speakers and they wanted to know my views on the bullying incident and what we all hoped to accomplish by holding the rally.
As I drove up Delaware Street, I passed the marchers and honked. There was a fairly big crowd, and I later learned that they were chanting, calling out for IPS School Superintendent Eugene White's resignation. They also told the school board members who are up for reelection that they will lose their seats if they don't begin to take bullying seriously.
This has been a long week for Dynasty, his family, and everyone else who feels that Dynasty and others like him have been failed by the IPS administration. Principals, school board members, guidance counselors and teachers must learn that when LGBT kids are being bullied, they need protection. They should never have to end up in the position of feeling they have to take weapons to school in order to protect themselves because school officials will not.
They must not be told that they need to change - they have every right to be who they are and should not have to apologize for that. School officials need to wake up - not before it's too late - but now, because we have no more time left. They have failed and they need to make things right before we lose more children.