“My name is Brandon Joseph Elizares and I couldn’t make it. I love you guys with all of my heart,” read the note he left behind before he committed suicide on June 2nd in Texas.
Brandon was 16. He will always be 16.
We are, it seems to me, supposed to be better than this. We shake our heads in sadness, or disgust, or because that’s what we’re conditioned to do. Brandon’s school, his mom has said, apparently did all it could to stop the bullying he suffered. Where were the peers who could have stepped in? Where were the leaders and champions? Where were the allies? Where were the friends?
I am pleased to have reconnected with a good friend from high school over the past few years. We grew closest in our senior year at Onondaga Central and the summer after. He did not come out as gay until years later, and as we lost touch as tends to happen when life moves on, I didn’t become aware of this fact until shortly before getting back in touch with him.
We had lunch while I was on a business trip in 2009. In addition to the general catching up were some more serious topics. I said to my old friend that I wished he would have been able to live as “himself” back at school. To have been able to not fight a constant internal war against who he is and who he was “supposed to be.”
My friend sort of shrugged and said, “I just couldn’t stand the thought of any of you guys calling me a faggot.”
Unfortunately, the best answer to that I could muster was “I would hope that we wouldn’t have done that.”
Now, more than ever, we need more than “hope.” We need people of character, people with moral courage, to stand up and say that enough is enough.
One of the things I believe most strongly is the old chestnut that “you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem.” All great movements require allies not directly affected by a new order of things. Civil Wars did not erupt over the Women’s Suffrage Movement, or the Civil Rights Movement, in some part because of the participation of allies who were not women or people of color.
I have it made. I am a middle-aged, heterosexual, white man in America. I understand that with that comes great opportunity…and great responsibility.
One of the central guiding figures in my life is Robert F. Kennedy, who said, “(f)ew are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
These young lives ending barely as they’ve begun are our national disgrace. So, too, they are our national responsibility. “The Nation” won’t stop them, though. Because this is a human problem and it requires a human solution. It requires you, and it requires me. It requires the strength of character and the courage of will to simply do what is right.
To stand up.
To speak up.
To allow each of us the chance to live our lives as we are, not as who others want us to be.
So that one day soon, tragedies like Brandon’s will not happen again.