11 October 2010

Zach Harriington: Another Victim of Hate

As I said the other day, tis the season.

Gotta do this shit again:  Report on another victim of homophobia.  Another one too young.

Zach Harrington, a 19-year-old gay man, killed himself in his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma.  Like many young gay men, he endured verbal and physical harassment while attending his local high school. 

 If it wasn't enough that he was a quiet, passive young man, he was also 6'4".  That literally made him even more of a target than he would otherwise have been.  I can tell you that for a fact because that's what happened to a classmate of mine in high school.  Louis was 6-foot-7, and completely without physical grace.  When a coach/gym teacher tried to help Louis develop his coordination and other skills in the hope of turning him into a basketball player--something he had no interest in becoming--it only opened him up to more ridicule and harassment when the experiment failed.  

Anyway, Zach Harrington killed himself after attending a local city council meeting, where as "Towleroad"'s blogger so eloquently said, "the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents."  That doesn't surprise me, and not because Norman is such a conservative place.  (That's what I've heard, anyway; I've never been there or anywhere else in Oklahoma.)  Rather, his experience reflects an aspect of my own:  People often assume that kids or the "uneducated" will be the most intolerant and cruelest; too often, the ones we expect to understand--especially those who potentially have any power to help us as allies--can be the most intolerant and even hateful.

Comments his sister and others made would have us believe that he went into that meeting with an unrealistic expectation.  That may have been the case.  But I suspect he may have gone in order to alert the authorities--who have the power to make policy governing the police and others entrusted with public safety--that the harassment we experience is not merely an inconvenience.  It is an infringement of the rights we have in common with everyone else--those oft-echoed Constitutional stipulations that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Why do so many of us have to face beatings and harassment--or even to put our lives at risk--simply to do with millions of other people do every day, namely, go to school and work?   That begs another question:  Why do some people seem to act as if we don't have the same right to protection other people receive from violence, and why aren't those crimes against us taken as seriously as the ones against other people?  After all, we (or, in the case of teenagers, their parents) pay the same taxes as everyone else.

Whenever a young person dies, people always wonder what might have been.  Could the young victim have become a doctor, artist, scientist or educator?, they wonder.  However, that misses the real point:  A young person lost an opportunity to which everyone has a right.  That is the right to live, to love and be loved.  And it deprives--as in Zach Harrington's case--parents, siblings and others of someone they loved.  

Did it occur to anyone at that city council meeting that Zach Harrington was one of their kids, and that one of their kids could have been Zach Harrington?