Dear Channing Smith,
I rolled out of bed around 8 a.m. this morning. The sun had just risen to greet the day and the street outside was bustling with locals on their way to meet friends for breakfast and business people stopping to get a muffin before work. I made a cup of coffee, toasted two pieces of bread, and scrolled through social media. The news articles about you popped up instantaneously, almost magnetic fields for my iron eyes. I read headline after headline of "Tennessee Teen Dies By Suicide..." and "Teenager Killed Himself After Being Outed..." and I was at a loss for words.
Somewhere on the other side of the world, you were at your most vulnerable and took your own life because the hurt and pain were too much to deal with. This was an act of several peers who deliberately set out to destroy your character and outed you before you were ready over social media. I am so heartbroken about your decision and baffled that cyberbullying continues to rampage the lives of so many teens today. I am sorry that you were outed when you were not ready and I am sorry that your peers decided to attack you when you were most defenseless.
Channing, you were and always will be 16 years old. You had so much life to live. You were just beginning your junior year in high school and maybe considering the next step after graduation and beyond. You probably just started to drive by yourself at this point and could feel freedom at your fingertips. You will never experience your prom night where you would make memories that last forever. You will never know the feeling you get in your chest when you walk across the stage to grab your diploma. You will never know how much your family misses you. You will never again see your mom's smile every time you enter the room. You will never know how much your community mourns your death and you will never know how much your LGBT+ community misses you.
The LGBT+ family loves you, Channing. We wish that you would have walked a different route, but what's done cannot be changed. A loss in your family is a loss in our family and we will cherish the joy that you brought into this world the small amount of time that you were here with us. We'll see you soon.
All of us.
I remember my journey of coming to terms with my sexual orientation and I know how hard it was for me to finally shout it out. In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to "come out" or say the dreaded phrase, "I have something to tell you." The line from point A to point B should be smooth and supported on the base of love, understanding, and support. But sometimes that line is bent and jagged which causes some serious issues, especially when all you wanted to say was that the person you like is named Steven, not Samantha.
Unfortunately, the process of "coming out" is not just a one time task. No, we don't just come out once but every single day we talk to someone new. We come out when we meet a new classmate. We come out when we strike up a conversation with one of our coworkers. We come out at family functions, at weddings, at funerals, at the grocery store, at restaurants, at sporting events, at concerts, and any place that calls for some type of interpersonal communication. The worst part is not knowing the reaction of the other individual. Will they accept me? Will they talk about me behind my back? Am I safe being around them? Should I use 'partner' instead of 'boyfriend'? Should I use 'significant other' instead of 'girlfriend'? All this runs through your head like Wile E Coyote chasing Roadrunner down a desert road when all you were asked was, "Are you seeing anyone?"
A person's sexual orientation is not up for debate. Let me say that one more time. A person's sexual orientation is not up for debate. To invalidate and to make a monster of someone simply because of who they love is disgusting. If there is a disagreement with the life lived by the other, simply turn the other away and let the other live their life. If it does not affect you, why should the hateful lyrics you sing be heard by the ears of those who do not enjoy your music? Stop making other people listen to your music and put some headphones on.
In Michigan, religious-based adoption agencies can now turn away same-sex parents looking to adopt. In fact, "...it will allow agencies to turn away same-sex foster parents who are able to provide supportive and loving homes for these children." It can be so difficult expressing your identity in a society that makes it harder to be who you are. Why make it more difficult for children who are in the foster care system to finally get adopted? There is so much hatred and lack of knowledge in our government that it makes me wonder if there will be any green grass left when this storm is finally over.
Organizations, agencies, and individuals are quick to voice their condolences and often refer a number to call if you or someone you know are considering or about to attempt suicide. These are perfect and helpful resources, but I want to see a change before an individual gets to this point of no return. I want to see a change in public policy to help combat increasing cyberbullying attacks. I want to see a change in our top leaders to help decrease the youth/teen suicide rates. The percentages speak volumes when it comes to this issue, and every day that something is not done is another morning a crying mother tightly hugs a photo of her son who she wishes would not have picked the route he did.