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April 19, 2012

Another Gay Teen Tragedy - 14 Year Old Iowan Ends His Life

Family Attributes Kenneth Weishuhn’s Death To Bullying

Primghar, Iowa is a small Midwestern town of 900 people. The town website says that “Primghar was built on cobblestones and heritage. Our unique blend of heritage combined with the friendliness and the caring spirit of our people makes Primghar a great place to call home.”


It was a great place to call home for some of the people living in Primghar, while it was a living hell for a young resident of the town. Kenneth Weishuhn, was 14 years old, and a freshman at South O'Brien High School, who just recently came out to his family and friends. His family members claim that the bullying and harassment that he experienced over the next month, caused Kenneth to end his young life.

According to various press accounts, students at South O’Brien High School in Paullina, Iowa started calling him names. Someone set up a Facebook page directed at him, that said “I Hate Gays,” and he was taunted with gay slurs and harassing messages online. He received phone calls with death threats, and said to his mother, “Mom, you don't know how it feels to be hated.”

On Sunday April 15th, 2012 Kenneth tragically took his own life.

According to the local NBC news affiliate KTIV:

“People that were originally his friends, they kind of turned on him," said his sister Kayla Weishuhn.

Teasing started in school, according Kayla, a sophomore.  She says it was the boys in her class, that bullied her brother over his sexuality.

"A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything," she said.

She says they took their teases online, to websites like Facebook, creating a hate group against gays and adding Kenneth's friends as members.  However, it was only the beginning, family say he started receiving death threats from South O'Brien students on his phone.”

Iowa is one of the few states that allow same-sex marriages, due to a court mandate. Iowa is also home to a large number of right-wing extremists, and evangelical voters, who helped propel Rick ‘Sicko” Santorum to his first caucus win in 2012.

I know that right-wing extremists didn’t cause Kenneth to take his own life. I’m sure that the taunts and bullying weren’t solely responsible for this teenager’s death either. Kenneth was obviously severely depressed and lonely, and didn’t have the tools to combat what he was experiencing. When you take all of these factors into consideration, Kenneth must have been overwhelmed, and couldn’t imagine a scenario where he could envision a better world and a better place. There was no way out.

The Kenneth’s, and so many other kids just like him, are living among us in our towns and communities - and yet the people who spend the most time with these young kids, completely fail them. The teachers at South O’Brien High School knew that Kenneth was being bullied. What did they do to stop it? Where were the caring people of Primghar?

These teen tragedy stories are extremely difficult to write. They make me feel tremendously sad. I also think it’s imperative that we document these tragedies, in order to effect change at every school, in every city, and every town. It’s not just a moral imperative anymore, as there is a crisis in our country, and a culture of suicide developing. We have to demand that local education authorities do something about it. Now.

The Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) website cites the following statistics:

  • Many who attempt suicide never seek professional care.
  • Over half of all suicides are completed with a firearm.
  • 80% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully.
  • 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 commit suicide each year.
  • Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. (homicide is 15th). (CDC)
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old Americans. (CDC)
  • It is estimated that there are at least 4.5 million survivors in this country. (AAS)
  • An average of one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes. (CDC, AAS)
  • Research has shown medications and therapy to be effective suicide prevention.
  • Suicide can be prevented through education and public awareness.
  • In 2004 it is estimated there were 811,000 suicide attempts in the US. (AAS)

I saw the film “Bully” which was largely set in Iowa. It’s a must see film, though I can’t bear to write about it right now. It’s too bad Kenneth didn’t get to see the movie. He would have had to travel 198 miles to the closest movie theater where “Bully” is playing. Hopefully the film will see a wide release, so that everyone will get a chance to see this important film.

My thoughts and prayers are with Kenneth’s family. RIP Kenneth Weishuhn.


straight talk in a queer world.




 


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