When we sat down with Jadee to talk about the story he wanted to share with his community, we wanted to make sure he understood the kind of bigoted backlash he might face when the story was published.
After all, we’d seen such a response when we had the audacity to publish a photograph and wedding announcement of a same-sex couple in these pages late last summer.
We were pretty certain similar sentiments would be shared by some members of our community Tuesday morning, when “Jadee’s journey,” a story about a Bear River High School transgender student, hit the front page of the newspaper.
And we were right.
“This article might belong in a Hollywood left-wing exposé article, which is fine, but certainly not on the front page of a newspaper,” the anonymous caller said. “Absolutely ridiculous, very, very bad choice on your part, trying to jam left-wing gay, lesbian, transvestite philosophy down the throats of the American people.”
Of course, our caller didn’t leave his name or number, which isn’t surprising because he did the same thing the last time he phoned back in August, when he complained about the same-sex marriage photo. (Though he’d rather remain anonymous, caller ID confirmed it was our same caller). The last time we spoke, our caller declined an invitation to discuss his “concern” in person, so I guess we’ll have the conversation right here.
First, this article was more appropriate for the front page of The Union than a “Hollywood” publication in that JD Dennis is a member of our community, and he has an extremely compelling story to share. His story, in fact, very likely touched others like him in a positive way. That was his whole point in sharing the story, despite knowing the sort of reaction there would be to his own personal path toward happiness.
But truth be told, JD had already done the difficult part.
As the story related, as the school year started, he made it known to his peers who he was and not who he was perceived to be. As anyone who lived through high school knows full well, teenage years are all too often about simply trying to fit in among all the rest.
JD wasn’t trying to fit in, but simply to be himself.
Consider the courage that announcement took — a great deal more courage than leaving an anonymous complaint over the phone that this was somehow an issue that ought to be relegated to “Hollywood,” when in fact there are people right here in this community trying to find a way to work through it.
Would those who “disagree” with what they (inaccurately) consider a “choice” in lifestyle rather he hide who he is and continue to deal with the depression that such a secretive existence offers?
According to bullying statistics from the gay, lesbian and transgender community, gay and lesbian teens are two to three times more likely to commit teen suicide than other youths.
“About 30 percent of all completed suicides have been related to sexual identity crisis,” according to the website BullyingStatistics.org.
“Students who also fall into the gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered identity groups report being five times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation. About 28 percent out of those groups feel forced to drop out of school altogether.
“Although more and more schools are working to crack down on problems with bullying, teens are still continuing to bully each other due to sexual orientation and other factors.”
Kids are killing themselves because they don’t feel free to be who they are. I cannot imagine a more sad statement on our society.
JD reached out in hopes of helping someone like him, someone who also doesn’t feel free be himself or herself for fear of the reaction of others, whether family, friends or even anonymous people they’ve never met.
He told The Union’s Cory Fisher that he doesn’t get angry with people who make negative comments because that won’t help them understand. Many of those people believe that he somehow made a choice, when actually there was no choice to be made — other than being honest with himself and those who love him.
After all, who would choose to face such ridicule from those who simply don’t understand?
“I know some kids whose families would kick them out if they knew they were gay or trans,” he told Fisher. “I hope they reach out to GSA or PFLAG support groups or anti-bullying clubs.
“I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with depression. But when I look at my friends who are hard on themselves, I just want to tell them, ‘Stop being so hard on yourself — you’re perfect. Look at me, I’m just a 17-year-old dork who loves Broadway musical theater, just another person. But I can’t tell you how happy I feel right now.”
Across the country, real efforts are underway to help raise awareness of the impacts of bullying. Students are being empowered with the knowledge that as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
For JD, that meant taking the power back into his own hands.
Quite remarkably, his announcement has been so accepted by his friends and fellow Bruins, that he learned that he had all the support he needed, right alongside him, all along.
And although such an experience won’t always be the same for others who take such a step, we should all hope that one day we all will feel the freedom to be who we are as human beings, whether right here at home in western Nevada County or some far off land known as “Hollywood.”
Brian Hamilton is editor at The Union. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 530-477-4249.