The BBC reports this morning that 20-year-old Jordan Sheard has been sentenced to three and a half years in jail for the death of Steven Simpson after pleading guilty to manslaughter charges. Simpson, 18, died one day after sustaining "significant burns" in June 2012, according to the report. The dead boy – who had epilepsy and Asperger’s - had been humiliated at a party, endured anti-gay rants, was set on fire and killed.
The words “three and a half years” echo through my mind. How can this be? I read this on the Huffington Post this morning and it stunned me – as I am riding on the heels of attending and presenting at the True Colors conference at the University of Connecticut last week. True Colors is a support center for LGBTQI sexual minority youth and this was their 20th year of hosting a state-of-the-art conference at which over 2000 teens attend yearly. Educators, social workers, counselors, clergy and lay people come from all over the country to attend and facilitate workshops at the three day conference that sports overs 35 sessions spanning an array of topics.
On the morning of the conference we assembled for the keynote speech in the University theater and the crowd chanted: I belong! You belong! We all belong! The whole event was infused with excitement and the kids were comfortable to be themselves with support of a nurturing community. I was thrilled with the result of our workshop and the whole day was amazing. Seeing so many kids excited with life and accepting who they are was energizing.
While basking in this atmosphere it is tempting to forget all about homophobia and heterosexist leanings. Yet, here it is smacking in us all in the face just two days after the conclusion of the conference and it’s not just anti-gay slurs or an anti-gay marriage rant on Facebook – it is murder. Chilling? It should be, but don’t shake off that chill just yet.
This case, the result and how sexual minority youth are being bullied and killed in our society needs to be addressed. The larger issue of accepting LGBTQI individuals in our society is at the core of this issue and needs to be talked about – a lot! This is the next (recent!) hurdle to clear in regard to civil rights in America.
So, chat it up. Share your feelings, ask others what they believe. Talk to your kids, talk to your parents Listen to what they have to say even if it is difficult – especially when it is difficult – and create a dialogue. If it is uncomfortable, do it anyway. If you are uncertain of what you believe, do it anyway. The idea is to get people talking and thinking. I know, for me, it helps me feel more hopeful if I am an agent of change.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling. www.evolutionlifecoachingstudio.com