15 June 2015

Karis Ann Ross: Bullying, A Sucide And A Cover-Up

Ever since Bruce Jenner "came out" as transgender in an interview with Diane Sawyer and introduced herself to the world as Caitlyn in Vanity Fair, many people have lauded her for "having the courage to be who she is".  Some commentators have been touting this time as a "new day" for trans people.  Indeed, they may be right.

However, I know from experience that once you've been praised for living as the person you are, there are people--sometimes the very same ones who praised you--who are looking to use your transition against you, or simply hold you to standards to which they would hold no one else.  And then there are those who are pure-and-simple bigots, or merely ignorant, and don't change.

Worst of all, the bullying doesn't end. Or, if you hadn't experienced it before, it will start.  A lot of people still associate bullying with kids in a schoolyard, but supposedly-educated adults can be just as vicious, perhaps even more so, to colleagues and neighbors.  Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an expiration date on hate:  I recall the time an African-American firefighter found a noose near his equipment in the Brooklyn firehouse where he was based.  And that was nearly a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation.  

Karis Ann Ross would have been 38 years old last Sunday.  She didn't reach that mark because she killed herself over the most recent Thanksgiving weekend.  Her mother has just gone public with the contents of a note Ms. Ross left, in which she named people--in particular, three aides who worked with her--who bullied the lead special education teacher in the Milwaukee German Immersion School.

All told, the bullying went on for more than a decade.  Ms. Ross and her mother, Jill Greinke, as well as other family members and friends, complained to Milwaukee Public Schools officials about the treatment she endured.  According to Ms. Greinke, those complaints were ignored, even when Ms. Ross and members of the medical community sent numerous e-mails to school officials, warning of a crisis.  The school prinicpal downplayed the situation rather than intervening in, or mediating, the conflict.

Worse, Milwaukee Public Schools made no attempt to contact her family for two weeks. The principal sent flowers and a card, but made no announcement to the school's faculty or staff. Instead, they learned of Ms. Ross's suicide from her uncle when he came to collect her belongings.

Ross's mother co-wrote an open letter to the schools superintendent with her friend, Madeleine Dietrich.  They expressed hope  the superintendent "will move forward with a renewed awareness of the grave responsibilities held by public schools in our society, not only in teaching our students, but in setting an example for our population through modeling tolerance for individual diversity and empathy for the plight of our neighbors".  

And Ms. Ross ended her suicide note with, "Love to everyone, even the rotten apples." 


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