Blake, Ash, and Skylar


Skylar. Photo by Callen Harty.

Note: Someone reposted an article from a year ago and I didn’t notice that it said 2015 instead of 2016, which caused me to write this blog post. I have revised the post a bit due to that.

Today I read that yet another transgender youth committed suicide. Blake Brockington was the second Charlotte, North Carolina area transgender teen to die of suicide in a month. Sixteen-year old Ash Haffner also walked into traffic and was killed. I am still reeling from the death of transgender student and activist Skylar Lee here in Madison last fall. I don’t think I can take another one of our beautiful, proud transgender youth making that choice.

And yet in some way I understand.

When every day you are called names like “tranny”, told that you are sick or abnormal or doomed to hell, see other people like yourself beaten or killed simply for being true to who they are, watch as legislators around the country try to pass bills that limit your self-expression or your ability to feel like you belong, then it becomes a little more understandable. For Blake, Skylar, and many others life is made even more difficult when they identify as another minority and also have to face the pressures that come along with that.

Is it a coincidence that two Charlotte-area teens ended their lives so close to each other? The city of Charlotte was debating an LGBT anti-discrimination bill around the time of these deaths. As an adult I have a hard time imagining how the debate could go on for something as simple as ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law. These are rights that should be granted under the Constitution of the United States without question. Imagine being a teen bravely and proudly identifying as transgender (or lesbian, gay, or bisexual) while other citizens argue publicly about your worth as a human being. Imagine being 16 or 18 years old and seeing hateful comments day after day in letters to the editor or online. Imagine hearing those awful words and sentiments hurled at you from bigots who know who you are because you have stood strong for the rights of your fellow transgender students and even adults.

I have a hard time imagining that the debate over that bill did not have an impact on him or any other queer-identified young person in that state. Wisconsin also debated a similar “bathroom bill” around the time that Skylar died. Maybe it played into Blake’s and Skylar’s deaths, maybe it didn’t, but it certainly could not have helped. In the reports I have read it seems that although Blake, like Skylar, was perceived as a strong and respected activist he had been unhappy for a while and had shown signs of possibly wanting to hurt himself. One can only take so much of people telling you that you are worthless before you might start to believe it.

I feel hopeless right now. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to protect transgender and other queer youth from the hatred. But I know they don’t deserve it. They are simply being the people that God or the universe created them to be. They simply want to be happy and live their lives. They were created equal and just want to be treated equally. Is that too much to ask?

Somehow we need to change the dynamic. Somehow we need to change the conversation. We not only need to protect the rights of our transgender youth we need to support them in every way. We need to let them know that they are unique and beautiful and that we love them. We need to let them know how proud we are of them for being truly themselves, something many people in our culture never learn how to do. We need to shower them with more love than the bigots have hate so that they know they are valued and wanted and can grow from beautiful transgender youth into beautiful transgender adults.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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