I Wish I Could Have Saved Him
I wish I could have saved him. I wish I could have talked to him, and maybe he would still be here today. Unfortunately, he isn’t. The sad truth is, in the brief time period I knew him, I cared more about him than most. Jeremy was hated so much by the people around him for being himself, that he paid the ultimate price.
The hardest part about being an LGBT youth is the fear that someone cannot accept me for who I am. LGBT youth have to face acceptance not only from the people around them, but also from a harder, more judgmental source: themselves.
In November 2011, I joined the social networking site “The Trevor Project,” a group dedicated to supporting LGBT youth. There, I met other teens that were in similar predicaments as my own, some were happily accepted in their communities, and others lived in conservative communities and struggled against not just the fear, but the knowledge of rejection.
In March 2012, I received an email from Jeremy, a 15 year old from the Midwest. It was around 2 AM, I was barely awake, and was browsing the site at this point. The message had been sent to all 130 of Jeremy’s friends on the site. The message explained that due to his homosexuality and resulting rejection from his friends, community, and family, he came to the horrible conclusion to take his own life. Barely conscious, I sent a brief message asking him to postpone his fatal decision, explaining that although the skies may appear gloomy now, the clouds do part. I waited until the message was sent, and then finally fell asleep.
The next day when I logged onto the site, the first thing I noticed was a message from Jeremy. I thought, “Good, he changed his mind,” and clicked on the message. But it wasn’t Jeremy, it was his sister. She explained that sometime in the last 24 hours, her brother took his life. Next to his body was a note, asking that a message be sent to anyone that had replied to his initial message, thanking them for their support.
It wasn’t for a few weeks that I was able to truly comprehend Jeremy’s death. Someone had taken his own life because he was hated so much for being himself. A group of people who hated Jeremy simply because he was gay ended up killing him, not with guns or knives but with words.
How did these events change my life? In one word: awareness. The words we speak can be more deadly and hurtful than any physical torture we can conceptualize. The sad thing is, Jeremy’s story is not original. While suicide is an extreme consequence, it is not unheard of, especially for LGBT youth, who are four times more likely to attempt it. Jeremy’s death was the incentive for me to try to prevent this from happening again. On my swim team, I am the person to call someone out for using derogatory language. I do the same with my friends, and cautiously monitor my own language to set an example.
I truly wish I could have done more to save Jeremy. But with his death comes my own awakening to the world around me. Day by day, society is becoming more tolerant. However, we should not be satisfied with tolerance; we should be striving for acceptance. While my ability to help the cause is limited by my environment, I fully intend to actively join the movement toward acceptance while in college. As a prospective social science student, it is a dream of mine to pioneer laws to protect the rights of all citizens, heterosexual and homosexual, such as those pertaining to hate crimes and bullying. It is often said that a legacy is more important that the actual life of an individual. I am Jeremy’s legacy.
Christopher (Chris) Klein is the first bisexual Queer Foundation Scholar. His essay, “I Wish I Could Have Saved Him,” was the co-winner of the 2014 Queer Foundation essay contest and is reprinted by permission of the author and the Queer Foundation Effective Writing and Scholarships Program. Chris attended North Rockland High School in Thiells, New York. He will attend Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, majoring in government and possibly music. He also hopes to earn a law degree and, eventually, to pursue a career in politics. Chris is described by his academic advisor, his English teacher, and friends as a young man dedicated to challenging stereotypes of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. As an editor of the high school’s newspaper, he often wrote op-ed pieces that forced his peers out of their comfort zone. In his spare time Chris enjoys listening to classical music, playing the clarinet, swimming, and golf.