By ERIN ROOK
Last night, a La Grande, Ore. man was struck dead by a semi in broad daylight while walking along the side of an Eastern Colorado road. He had been traveling on foot since August, carrying a message of hope and love across the country, raising awareness about anti-gay bullying and youth suicide.
That man, Joe Bell, was walking for his son Jadin, who killed himself in January after suffering ongoing harassment due to his sexual orientation. It’s a heartbreaking story. Especially when Joe’s death is viewed as a consequence of the hate and abuse experienced by his son.
In a case like this, it’s hard to know who to blame. Though the direct cause of Joe’s death was likely a sleep-deprived truck driver, the father would not have been walking along the road were it not for the bullies who targeted his son. But those kids had to learn their hate somewhere. Maybe a parent or a peer indoctrinated them with this destructive fear of difference. Or perhaps they were defending their own fragile masculinity by trying to put distance between themselves and this boy whose authentic life hit a little too close to home.
But I am neither judge nor jury. I can wring my hands, or I can put them to work. The courage shown by both Jadin — by being true to himself in a rural Oregon high school, and his father — by sacrificing his comfort and ultimately his life to raise awareness about this deadly epidemic, is an important reminder. As the world gets (slowly) better for LGBTQ people, we sometimes take what we have for granted. We get comfortable and complacent in our increasing safety and equality.
We can’t all take to the streets, but we can each do something — give a word of encouragement to a struggling friend, share our own difficult experiences to help others feel less alone, boost the signal for those who are putting their lives and livelihoods on the line.
I have no doubt that Jadin and Joe’s lives, cut short though they were, will continue to have transformative ripple effects on the lives of LGBTQ youth for years to come. I am grateful for them and for the family that loved, and now mourns, them.