So sad. News has been circulating the past couple days of the suicide of eighth grader Phillip Parker from Gordonsville, Tennessee:
A Gordonsville boy’s parents say bullying caused their son to take his own life. Phillip Parker, 14, died this week. His parents said he was constantly bullied for being gay.
More than 100 people gathered in Gordonsville on Saturday night, grieving the loss of Phillip.
“He was fun, he was energetic, he was happy,” said Gena Parker, Phillip’s mother.
To his many friends, Phillip was known as the boy who told everyone they’re beautiful.
“He kept telling me he had a rock on his chest,” said Ruby Harris, Phillip’s grandmother. “He just wanted to take the rock off where he could breathe.”
Phillip’s family said they reported their concerns over their son’s bullying to Gordonsville High School on multiple occasions, but the bullying by a group of students just got worse.
Like many kids who are bullied, it seems that Phillip did his best to shoulder the burden alone, so his family didn’t really know the extent of what he was going through. This past weekend, representatives from the Tennessee Equality Project met some current and former teachers at Phillip’s school, and what they found was sadly unexpected. The bullying in school was systemic, and on top of that, Phillip heard religious bullying from pastors, and presumably from fellow churchgoers:
While attending Saturday’s conference, H.G. Stovall and I met a former teacher who knew Phillip while he attended Gordonsville Elementary School. Tears flowed as she told us that Philip had endured years of anti-gay bullying at the school and that bullying in general at Gordonsville Elementary School often goes unaddressed by faculty and staff. She knew of several students who had to transfer to other schools to escape the harassment. This educator also knew Phillip had endured anti-gay preaching from the pulpit of his church.
We were able to speak to one of Phillip’s teachers. Sadly, she confirmed the same stories we had heard the day before about Philip’s experience at school and at church. She recalled learning that his pastor had recently told him to “pray the devil out him, so he could be straight.” His teacher also remembered that beneath his inner turmoil Philip was always smiling and would often tell his peers how beautiful they were.
For a while now, I’ve been making the point, probably at least once a week, that the message of the Religious Right to LGBT people IS bullying, and it’s not just the icing on the cake. Without the messages coming from the pulpit and from other adults who unfortunately command respect, kids in the schoolyard wouldn’t automatically equate “gay” with “bad,” and wouldn’t feel such a license to make another child’s life a living hell over their sexuality. Sure, kids will always be kids, and no anti-bullying program will eliminate all schoolyard taunts. But the sooner we make the solid connection, as a society, that the kind of bullying that causes gay and questioning kids to feel such despair that they end their young lives, comes directly from adult bullies like the pastor who urged Phillip to “pray away the gay” [to think that people think we’re being hyperbolic when we use that phrase…], the sooner we’ll reach a time when I won’t have to write articles about kids killing themselves every damned week.