Tag Archives: cody barker

‘Bullied’ documentary draws crowd

In the wake of the September suicide of Cody Barker, 17, of Shiocton, a showing of the documentary film “Bullied” drew a large crowd to Appleton Public Library on Nov. 9.

About 137 people, including several youth who knew Barker from a Tuesday night LGBT youth support group at Harmony Café, packed a meeting room at the library.

Produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center and narrated by “Glee” star Jane Lynch, “Bullied” tells the harrowing story of Jamie Nabozny. As a high school student in Ashland, Wis., Nabozny was tormented and brutalized by classmates because of his sexual orientation. School administrators refused to intervene despite his pleas and those of his mother.

After winning an unprecedented court case filed on his behalf by Lambda Legal, Nabozny received a $900,000 settlement from the school district.

Following the showing of “Bullied,” four LGBT youth took the stage to answer questions from the audience and provide insight into their lives as openly gay and lesbian students.

Mitch Adams, 16, remembered how kids routinely called him “fag” and “gay” in the locker rooms and hallways of his middle school. But he also talked about how much better things have gotten for him in high school and how the experience of being bullied “made me much more open-minded and confident.”

Maria Peeples, 18, a friend of Barker, said a few years ago she would have given anything not to be gay. But now she’s grateful.

“You gain a lot of insight, empathy and strength,” she said, adding, “and I like my girlfriend.”

Among those in the audience were Barker’s mother Darla Barker, who helped to introduce the film, and Appleton School District Superintendent Lee Allinger, who said some parents complained when he invited Nabozny to speak at Wilson Middle School.

“Schools are reflections of our communities,” Allinger said. “My hope is that we’re being supportive and responsive.”

Allinger said he planned to initiate a weeklong anti-bullying program at the beginning of each school year to let students know that tormenting and harassing others are not acceptable behaviors.

In addition to offering a glimpse into their lives, student panelists also gave some advice to their supporters.

“The biggest thing we want to say to our allies is you have to be loud,” Peeples said. “Because the hatred is loud.”

Officials deny Cody Barker was bullied

Officials with the Schiocton school district refute charges that the suicide of Cody J. Barker, 17, was related to anti-gay bullying.

Barker was the third gay teen to commit suicide in Outagamie County since May 2009, and his death came amid a spate of national stories about gay youth taking their lives after being harassed.

”Right now everybody’s looking for someone to be the poster child for this issue,” school Superintendent Chris VanderHeyden told the Post-Crescent. “As soon as it was announced that this young man was gay and that he killed himself, everyone immediately started connecting dots that weren’t there.”

However, Barker’s mother Darla said she suspects that bullying did play a role in her son’s death. She told the Post-Crescent that she was “dumbfounded” at how quickly the school district acted to quash the allegation.

“(Teens) are smart about when they do it,” Barker was quoted as saying. “They don’t do it in front of a teacher. I know there was name-calling and dirty looks in the hallway. I know that went on.”

Darla Barker said she even witnessed teens taunting Cody at their home. She asked students to look out for each other.

“(When) you see somebody in the hall and they look like they’re having a bad day, ask them how they’re doing,” she said. “If you see somebody getting picked on, stick up for them. Just help each other.”

From WiG and AP reports.

School officials deny Cody Barker was bullied

Officials with the Schiocton school district refute charges that the suicide of Cody J. Barker, 17, was related to anti-gay bullying.

Barker was the third gay teen to commit suicide in Outagamie County since May 2009, and his death came amid a spate of national stories about gay youth taking their lives after being harrassed and bullied due to their sexual orientation.

“Right now everybody’s looking for someone to be the poster child for this issue,” Supt. Chris VanderHeyden told the Post-Crescent. “As soon as it was announced that this young man was gay and that he killed himself, everyone immediately started connecting dots that weren’t there.”
However, Barker’s mother Darla said she suspects that bullying did play a role in her son’s death. She told the Post-Crescent that she was “dumbfounded” at how quickly the school district acted to quash the allegation.

“(Teens) are smart about when they do it,” Barker was quoted as saying. “They don’t do it in front of a teacher. I know there was name-calling and dirty looks in the hallway. I know that went on.”

Darla Barker said she even witnessed teens taunting Cody at their home. She asked students to look out for each other.

“(When) you see somebody in the hall and they look like they’re having a bad day, ask them how they’re doing,” she said. “If you see somebody getting picked on, stick up for them. Just help each other.”

Suicides prompt activism

As newly reported incidents of teen suicides brought on by homophobic bullying continue to dominate the national news for a second month, advocates for youth in Wisconsin hope to transform the ongoing tragedy into positive action.

There have been recent town meetings in Appleton and Madison, candlelight vigils at the University of Wisconsin campuses in Green Bay and Madison and social networking campaigns by older LGBT community members, who are reaching out to their younger peers.

While more than a dozen suicides have been reported nationally this fall, the one that’s uppermost on the minds of people in Wisconsin is that of Cody Barker, 17, of Shiocton. Since May 2009, at least three openly gay youth in northeastern Wisconsin’s Outagamie County had committed suicide before Barker took his life on Sept. 13.

Friends who knew him say that Barker had big plans after attending an August leadership training institute sponsored by the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools. He hoped to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Shiocton High School, a courageous goal for a town with only 954 people.

“It’s not completely clear why Cody Barker committed suicide,” said Cindy Crane, executive director of the Madison-based statewide organization GSA for Safe Schools.  But Barker had left a strong impression on many of his peers, youth leaders of Gay Straight Alliances statewide, she said. A flurry of text messages he sent in August remarked with pride on the fact that “Cody was just ‘so gay,’” positively reflecting the confidence he exuded in August in his identity as an out gay youth.

And yet, in less supportive contexts, Crane added, the oft-repeated phrase “so gay,” can have devastating effects on many young people.

“It creates all of these internalized negative feelings,” she said. “Who knows how many negative messages youth are bombarded with, and what it does to their psyche, whether they’re out of the closet or not.”

Text messages since then from GSA members statewide have reflected both their devastation and determination, Crane said.

Crane said that it’s difficult to deconstruct the reality that’s being reflected in the often-distorted mirror of the popular media. It’s possible there’s an emotionally resonant effect that is motivating more youth to take their lives, but it’s equally possible that this is an ongoing problem that was previously unreported and that is only now receiving adequate coverage.

Well-meaning but often oversimplified and sensationalized media reports can have mixed results, Crane said “There are two myths: one, that all LGBTQ youth are on the verge of committing suicide or taking drugs, which isn’t the case, or the other that we’ve come so far in creating a better environment for LGBT youth that everything is OK now,” she explained. “The reality is that teen suicides affect LGBT youth disproportionately, and we can’t remain silent. And yes, things are better, but it’s still hard to be a sexual minority young person in a high school or college setting.”

In Madison, GSA for Safe Schools is collaborating with Madison Metropolitan School District’s LGBTQ resource specialist teacher Liz Lusk in inviting the public to a special event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m on Wed., Oct. 20, at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 South Park St. The gathering is targeted at adults working with youth and others who support young people.

Middle and high school youth concerned about this issue are encouraged to register for a youth leadership conference planned for Nov. 13 in Madison. Call 608-661-4141 or go to www.gsaforsafeschools.org for details of future actions.

UWM Dean of Students Lori Berquam said her campus is responding to the crisis with a Wed., Oct. 20, “Glow Vigil,” beginning at 8 p.m. on the UW’s Library Mall.  This will be followed by a UW and community-wide meeting from 5:45-6:45 p.m. on Tues., Oct. 26, in Room 165 Bascom Hall.

“Everybody’s voice is important,” Berquam said. “Our students need to have mentors and connections throughout their lives, including those connections that exist beyond our campus.”

In Appleton on Oct. 9, dozens of concerned citizens grieving the loss of Cody Barker packed a city hall conference room hoping to find ways to avert similar tragedies.

“As you can tell by the emotion here, we’re scared that we’re going to lose more youth,” said Appleton’s diversity coordinator Kathy Flores, who organized the event.

Jesse Heffernan, who runs a gay teen support group at Harmony Cafe in Appleton, warned that increased media attention has not made the problem disappear.

“Since Cody’s death, what I hear from the youth is that things haven’t changed,” Heffernan said. “Just this last Tuesday, youth were telling me how they’re still getting harassed and bullied in their schools. It’s a serious problem.”

In a column invoking the memory of an Indiana teen who took his life on Sept. 9, UWM alumnus Dan Savage implored older LGBT adults to reach out to younger peers.”

“Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property,” Savage wrote in a recent column. “He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates – classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body. … I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”

“But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay – or from ever coming out – by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”

Savage and his partner Terry launched the You-Tube based “It Gets Better,” campaign, which has received over 1.6 million hits.

Other adults have followed Savage’s lead in reaching out to troubled youth through new media. LGBT members of the traveling company of “Wicked” recorded a powerfully resonant message for Facebook backstage at Madison’s Overture Center in late September. From-the-heart viral video messages from Ellen DeGeneres, Neal Patrick Harris and openly gay Fort Worth City councilman Joel Burns have received the attention of millions.

What you can do?

“Speak out,” Crane says. “Your voice is needed now more than ever before.”

She suggests contacting an LGBT group in your campus or community to find out how to help locally.

Fox Valley safe schools activist takes his own life

Seventeen-year-old Cody Barker campaigned to make high school safer for students, because he didn’t always feel safe or welcome at his high school in Shiocton, a small town in the Fox Valley.

On Sept. 13, Barker committed suicide.

Barker was involved in GLBT Partnership, a support group for teens at Harmony Cafe, 223 E. College Ave., Appleton, a community center sponsored by Good Will Industries.

Barker also was working to start a gay-straight alliance at Shiocton High School, where he was active in the choir.

Maria Peeples, Barker’s peer mentor through GSA for Safe Schools, says the teen was a passionate activist for students, especially those, “targeted or ostracized for their sexual orientation or their gender identity and expression. … He really cared about making schools a safe place for students. That wasn’t always his own experience with school.”

Teens are subject to social pressure and risks, such as alcohol and drug abuse, unprotected or unsafe sex and depression. Those risks escalate – five to 20 times – for LGBT youth, says Jesse Heffernan of Appleton, who is involved in the Harmony Cafe GLBT Partnership.

When LGBT teens participate in programs such as the partnership and a GSA, the risk factors can fall to more average levels. But, cautions, Heffernan, finding a support group isn’t always enough.

Barker’s death, Peeples says, is “a reminder that there’s still so much work we still need to do.”

Five other young gays committed suicide last month, the rash of deaths prompting a series of warnings across the country from school administrators, educators and activists, who, in the past decade, have stepped up efforts to combat anti-LGBT harassment in U.S. schools.

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in its 2009 National School Climate Survey, reports nine out of 10 LGB students say they are bullied, and almost all transgender students report being verbally harassed and threatened.

There’s a connection between harassment and suicide, says Kathy Flores, Appleton’s diversity coordinator. “Even the perception of being gay increases (a teen’s) risk for being bullied and therefore the risk of suicide,” she says.

The Harmony Cafe, which serves the youth of four counties – Brown, Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebago — that are home to more than 262,000 people – is working with local schools and youth-based organizations to combat bullying.

Harmony Cafe provides sensitivity training in the schools, as well as for organizations such as Harbor House, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley, Reach Counseling, Christine Ann Center and Youth Go.

A goal is to expand the number of GSAs in the four-county area. Of the 39 public and private schools in those four counties, 16 have GSAs, says Tim Michael at GSA for Safe Schools in Madison.

Also, Harmony Café has partnered with those agencies to form the Free 2 B U campaign. Groups and community members who are willing to be safe spaces for LGBT youth will publicly display stickers for easy identification by teens, Heffernan said.

Campus crisis | School year begins with rash of teen suicides

“Suicide isn’t painless.” That message – in bold rainbow script on Day Glo orange poster board – stood out over the crowd of Rutgers University students grieving the death of Tyler Clementi, an outed gay college freshman who on Sept. 22 jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Miles away, on other campuses, in other communities, students, parents, educators and administrators grieved for other young September casualties of suicide. Just weeks into the 2010-11 school year, the U.S. education system faces what some are calling an epidemic – a rash of suicides among students bullied and ridiculed for real or perceived homosexuality. It’s a campus crisis for which there is no quick vaccination or easy inoculation, nor is there a simple explanation.

“Suicide is a complicated problem and it is too easy to casually blame it on a single factor in a young person’s life, but it is clear that mistreatment by others has a tremendously negative effect on a young person’s sense of self worth and colors how he or she sees the world around them,” said Judy Shepard of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Bullied to death

Back-to-school month began with the death of a gay teen in Indiana – one death too many, said LGBT activists. But by the end of the month, there had been at least six gay related suicides.

Fifteen-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind., was called “fag” over and over and over again by other kids. He hung himself in early September. On a memorial page, where friends posted sympathies and remembrances, one student wrote, “Everyone made fun of him.”

Seventeen-year-old Cody Barker of Shiocton, Wis., took his life Sept. 13. A young activist for safer schools, he confided to others that he didn’t feel safe or welcome in his own high school.

Thirteen-year-old Asher Brown, a straight-A student, fatally shot himself Sept. 23 at his home in Cypress, Texas, a suburb of Houston. On Oct. 2, hundreds of people attended a memorial, where classmates said the eighth-grader endured relentless bullying at school and city council member Jolanda Jones pleaded, “It has to stop. These schools are not protecting these children.”

Asher Brown’s parents have said their son was bullied to death.

After months of harassment, 13-year-old Seth Walsh hanged himself from a tree in the backyard of his Tehachapi, Calif., home. He died Sept. 28, after nine days on life-support. Family members said they would call for tolerance at the child’s memorial service.

Nineteen-year-old Raymond Chase, a sophomore at Johnson and Whales University in Providence, R.I., profiled himself on his Facebook page: “I like to laugh, I like to have fun, and I’m gay.” He was found hanging in his dorm room Sept. 29.

In the most widely publicized death, Clementi, 18, jumped from the George Washington Bridge Sept. 22 after college students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei secretly recorded Clementi and another male student kissing in a dorm room and then shared the digital video via the Internet.

Ravi sent a message through Google announcing, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Two days later, Ravi tweeted, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

Both Ravi and Wei were arrested for invasion of privacy and, if convicted, face five years in prison. They also may be charged with committing a bias-motivated crime, which could bring another five years in prison.

“There are no words sufficient to express our range of feelings today,” read a statement from Garden State Equality, New Jersey’s largest statewide LGBT civil rights group. “We are outraged at the perpetrators. We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented and kind. And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport.”

“Our nation has failed to address the pervasive problem of bullying and harassment in schools for far too long,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Longtime trends

Since its inception in 1990, GLSEN has documented the risks and threats LGBT students face on campus. GLSEN’s most recent report on campus climate found that nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment in the past year – a rate three times higher than students in general.

Another new study, from the LGBT group Campus Pride, showed that 23 percent of LGBT staff and students experience harassment on campus, 33 percent considered leaving a school due to intolerance, 43 percent remained closeted to avoid intimidation, 43 percent feared for their safety.

“This isn’t a new problem,” Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said. “It’s been happening for decades. Too often, administrators fail to act, even after parents complain about the bullying at school.”

Government research indicated that LGBT adolescents are twice as likely to be depressed and think about or attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.

He added, “Our schools and our nation cannot sit back and wait for the next tragedy.”

Official action

In the days after Clementi’s death, numerous LGBT groups at national, state and local levels demanded more attention to the issue of bullying in classrooms:

  • HRC promoted Welcoming Schools, a program equipping elementary school teachers with tools to combat name-calling, stereotyping and bulling.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center made available – at no charge – the documentary “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History” and a teaching kit to every school in the country.
  • The Matthew Shepard Foundation urged “parents, educators and peers … to be vigilant to the warning signs of suicide and other self-destructive behaviors in the young people in their lives and help them find resources to be healthy and productive.”

Shepard, whose gay son Matthew was murdered in 1998, said, “Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.”

LGBT activists also urged the Obama administration to act and called on Congress to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would implement a comprehensive federal anti-bullying policy and require states to include data on bullying and harassment incidents in assessment reports.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan responded Oct. 1, stating, in a news release, “This is a moment where every one of us – parents, teachers, students, elected officials, and all people of conscience – needs to stand up and speak out against intolerance in all its forms. Whether it’s students harassing other students because of ethnicity, disability or religion; or an adult, public official harassing the president of the University of Michigan student body because he is gay, it is time we as a country said enough. No more. This must stop.”

Gayer times

Meanwhile, there were direct appeals to LGBT youth with a simple message – life gets better.

“Many of us know firsthand what it’s like to grow up with discrimination or prejudice for LGBT people,” said Anthony D. Romero, the openly gay executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We know what it feels like to be sad or alone, to feel isolated in your own families and communities, and from our own lives we can tell you it definitely gets better.”

Romero taped a video for gay columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign on YouTube.com.

Celebrities – gay and straight – also spoke out in online videos and on television.

Actor Neal Patrick Harris, in a video posted on MTV.com, said, “Let me assure you, if you’re getting bullied and feeling like you’re on the outskirts, it gets better. Because when you get older, you find that people are actually drawn to individuals with different points of view who are proud of who they are and who make interesting and different and unique choices.”

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, on her TV program, said, “I want anyone out there who feels different and alone to know that I know how you feel. There is help out there. You can find support in your community.”

Singer Lance Bass, in another taped message, admitted to bullying gay kids. “I had the secret this whole time. And so if people can look at me and see that I was one of those bullies that, like, always made fun of gay people and I had this huge secret, there is always more to the story than you see.”

A celebrity of sorts among LGBT activists, Jamie Nabozny, also delivered a message of hope.

Nabozny, with the support of Lambda Legal and his parents, won a high-profile lawsuit against the Ashland, Wis., school district, where he was subject to relentless verbal and physical harassment by other boys in his middle school. Students urinated on Nabozny, pretended to rape him during a class and, when they found Nabozny alone one day, they kicked him until they ruptured his spleen.

Nabozny and his parents complained of the abuse to teachers and administrators, who replied that boys will be boys and said gay students should expect to be teased and tortured.

Nabozny attempted suicide three times, dropped out of school and ran away. But he also took a stand, and, in 1996, he won a $1-million landmark federal ruling that school officials can be held accountable for not stopping the harassment and abuse of LGBT students.

Nabozny, now 34, is working with SPLC to spread the message that students should never be afraid for their safety at school. Educators, he said, must “live up to their responsibility to stop the bullying that is shattering lives.”

The Associated Press and WIG editor Lucky Tomaszek contributed to this report.

Find help

Resources providing assistance for youth, parents and educators.

  • The Trevor Project, a 24-hour national helpline, 866-4U-TREVOR.
  • Angels and Doves, a nationwide anti-bullying nonprofit organization.
  • The National Center for Bullying Prevention, a teaching initiative.
  • The Matthew Shepard Foundation, an online resource center for LGBTQ youth.
  • Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an organization for educators and students.