having grown up in South Carolina, almost all of my high school
friends live in Brooklyn and Queens. It’s great when I go to New
York—there are so many people I care about there, all packed into
one—albeit humongous—city. I find out what they’re up to and
we gossip about people we know but weren’t really friends with.
Normally people say things like, “So and So’s getting
married,” and “No one’s heard from her since she up and moved
But this time was different. This time I found out that a guy a
went to high school recently hung himself in his family home in
Beaufort, SC. Henry was sweet and good-natured, a little
overbearing at times, always full of life and energy, with big
smiles and a positive outlook on the future. My most vivid memory
of him—he was your “typical” prom king/scholar-athlete—was
that he had a free period when I had English class, which was right
by the exercise room of the gym. The class was an hour and a half
long and Henry ran on the treadmill the entire time, so hard and so
fast that his feet pounded away, keeping time with a constant thud,
Then there was the time Henry got into Harvard and went running
around the school, busting into classrooms, shouting “I got in! I
got in! I got into Harvard!” We were happy for him, though we all
knew it wasn’t the biggest personal victory. Sure, Henry was a
bright guy, but almost all of the male members of his family, going
back to his great grandfather, had gone to Harvard. He came from a
family of great expectations. And, given the opportunity to meet
them, he always did his best.
Henry left Harvard after his first year. The immediate rumor was
drugs. But months later we found out what really happened. Henry
had come out of the closet. Now as someone who came out sophomore
year of high school I’d always thought I had a finely tuned
gaydar, but never had I suspected Henry. The details of how
difficult it was for his family and for him I don’t know. We were
never that close. But I do know there was some fall out. Months
later I heard he was back in school and that all had worked out.
The assumption was that he and his family got passed the pains of
leaving the closet. I guess we underestimated the ability some
people have to trade one closet for another—the closet of false
Henry graduated from Harvard in May, presumably on the part of
those who gather and gossip, to continue on an upward path and
start a great life. A month ago, as his parents went away for the
weekend and his brother left on his honeymoon, he was home alone
for the weekend. When his family returned they found him there,
with a note. He had not been able to manage the stress and
disappointment. His seemingly bright outlook on the future was in
fact bleak. He saw no other choice.
There’s no way to say what exactly could have been done to save
Henry’s life. But I do firmly believe that we as a community have
a responsibility to care for one another. Too many LGBTQ people,
especially young people, commit suicide. Too many of us run away
from home and end up on the streets.
LGBTQ parents have a special ability to do this work, to make sure
that not only are their children well cared for, but that young
LGBTQ people are cared for and supported, as well. Young LGBTQ
people are astounded by their older counterparts who become
parents. I know I was when I first met gay parents. Seeing you and
your families shows us what’s possible in our lives.
Supporting, starting and working with gay-straight alliances is a
good place to start. The GSA Network is an organization that helps
develop and foster GSAs nationwide. If you’d like to explore
their work and see if you can pitch in and help, to serve as a role
model for younger LGBTQ people, visit their website: www.gsanetwork.org.
You never know, just being there, maybe you could save a life.