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Oklahoma gay teen commits suicide after ‘toxic’ city council debate

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Zach Harrington

NORMAN, OK — An Oklahoma teen, Zach Harrington, 19, has committed suicide, barely one week after attending a local City Council meeting where a debate over whether or not the city would recognize October as LGBT History Month got “toxic,” with many homophobic statements being thrown around in front of him.

Some of those who opposed the proclamation claimed that members of the GLBT community would use it to infiltrate the public school system, essentially allowing the “gay lifestyle” to become a part of the curriculum, reports the Norman Transcript.

Others claimed that council recognizing October as GLBT History Month was a waste of their time. Some members of the audience even suggested that any council members voting in favor of the proclamation may have trouble getting reelected.

Numerous residents also claimed the Bible was their guiding light, citing the ancient text as their primary reason for opposing the proclamation and the GLBT community in general.

Although the ordinance eventually passed, the bigoted and hateful comments took their toll.

Harrington’s family, who described Zach as a private young man who internalized his feelings and emotions, said it was this “toxic” environment at the Sept. 28 council meeting that may have pushed him over the edge.

Watch Norman, OK residents here:

Zach, who just graduated high school in 2009, had asked to leave his school 6 months early out of fear for his safety. His sister Nikki said that life in Norman North High School was unbearable for LGBT youth, despite several pleas to school officials.

“There was one gay guy in my high school at the time, and he was made fun of all the time,” she said. “It was a pretty much non-stop thing at school.”

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26 more reader comments:

  1. I have no words. My condolences to the young man's family/friends.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:53am
  2. This needs to stop.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 10:38am
  3. Oh my God! This has to stop. Nothing, not least sexual orientation, gives ANYONE an excuse to treat others like they're inferior.

    I have no idea how homophobia is still socially acceptable.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 10:41am
  4. The homophobes think its a way to have a sort of control, they find homosexuality as a disease, but in their minds, they're finding peace with their hate. which, in the end, leads them on a trip to hell and leaving familes to suffer because they've lost their loved ones. Let some asshole come and try to beat me because i'm a lesbian; I'll fuck them up right back. I don't take abuse lightly, and these kids shouldn't have to had suffered. Plus, it's on the cover of People magazine.

    Replied on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 12:34am
  5. And these, folks,are all the suicides you see reported by the news. There are so many, so many more committed every day by the same reasons, and luckily so many failures.

    I was one of those, at 12 years old, in the same environment as Zach here.

    It gets better, guys.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 12:47pm
  6. I know from experience, IT DOES GET BETTER!!!!

    Replied on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 12:42am
  7. I dont agree with this but that does not mean I would put them down and be hateful. It is not my place to judge their actions. I could care less their sexual preference. It is not mine but I am not throwing stones here as I am not perfect either. The hatred needs to stop. What one person does we do something that someone else does not like. It is an endless cycle.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 12:48pm
  8. I truly believe that religion plays the biggest part in bigotry towards gays. I'm not talking about faith; faith and religion are totally different. Organized religion is toxic and spews hatred and intolerance.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 2:34pm
  9. These beautiful human beings Zach Harrington, Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi and 3 other young people amongst many other gay children have commited suicide or have been murdered and the reason why can be explained here: Please read the following and it is a FACT. These people get me so upset all the time for doing this: I blame all religious right organizations like the Catholic Church, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council who spew lies and ignorance into society about gay people for this teen’s tragic death and all the others. All of you (above) are DIRECTLY responsible and you are absolutely WRONG if you don’t think so. And that includes those 60 Republican Senators and 2 Democrats voting against DADT!!! It is all related. It hurts gay people to have Religious bigots and others talk ignorance about them. These preachers know NOTHING about a TRUE LOVING GOD. For anybody to listen to them I say “you have let religious powers infect your minds with evil and this is morally WRONG.”

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 4:30pm
  10. Below is a copy of the letter sent to Mr Obama, in condemnation of, and encouraging action against, the repulsive behaviour of homophobic Australopicenes who would drag the dignity of the United States of America into the mire.

    In this, the Third Millennium of Western history, their despicable display of bigotry plays into the hands of America's detractors, destroying in a few hours the work of their forefathers who, for centuries have worked and campaigned to make it the world' leading Democracy and demoting it to last, sharing its ranking former Soviet Nations.

    The campaign is now on Facebook, Twtter and spreading, gathering momentum.


    Mr President,

    Re: Zach Harrington's suicide in Norman OK, USA.

    The international LGBTQI Community is appalled at yet another American gay teenager's desperate, final act, hounded by a community infected by a hatred comparable only to the most ferocious Islamic fundamentalism.

    Today LGBT people in the US face the same venom, the same violence and vehemence from their detractors that daily kills progressive, moderate and secularists in Afghanistan or Iran.

    Each Civic administration that, like Norman OK, allows its City to defile the American Constitution and Your Nation's claim to be 'The Land of the Free', where all Men are Equal, damages the Country's International standing and its credibility as a leader in Democracy.

    A global campaign is gathering momentum amongst the LGBTQI campaigners and communities, that may well grow into a blanket boycott of the US.

    I sincerely hope, Mr President, that there may be a way that Your Office can mandate all Administrations with the Duty to conduct a simple test of their public debates, their policies and practice: substitute the word 'Jewish', 'African American'and 'Latin American' to the word 'Gay' and 'Lesbian'', to check whether what they say, decide and do is discriminatory.

    Many thanks for your kind attention Mr President.

    Yours Faithfully.


    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 8:50pm
  11. I am not sure that it makes sense to blame this on the civic administration of the city of Norman. If you watch the whole debate, then it is clear what side they are on. They have to listen to the bigots (who were brought out by politically-motivated emails from state republicans), but they are clearly trying to do something good. Their comments are progressive and positive. So we should recognize that this was a really great effort when a city council defied a set of loud and nasty and threatening voices to do the right thing. And we should tailor our demands accordingly. Here is the video. Council comments start at 2:31 -

    Replied on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 8:09pm
  12. How many more gay people need to die before people wake up and try to stop this craziness. The ones that go about spewing hatred about homosexuality are afraid that they will be outed for their feelings towards a person of the same sex so they try and deflect as much as possible. All these young gay people committing suicide over the constant hate they encounter makes me sick. Obama get off your #*! and do something about this and speak out already.

    Posted on Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 11:19pm
  13. The responsibility lies with each and every one of us to do our part to end this. We all need to be allys for eachother, and stop hatred when we see it. Impact on a large scale starts small, and that means everyone has to do their part. I have pledged that I will do whatever I can to be an active bystander and SPEAK UP if I see someone being treated poorly, and I hope you all will do the same.

    Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 9:22am
  14. I’m gay, and I’m rather appalled by all of the people that are so weak that they feel like taking their own lives is the only response to the community’s hatred of the gay community. Try growing up gay in the 80′s? People are much more accepting now. And I’m even more offended by the circus that is the media coverage of this. Where’s the attention on the hundrreds of other kids and teens committing suicide? Apparently it only matters to the media if they’re gay, because than it’s the type of story that can further the agenda of not mere tolerance and equality, but acceptance and endorsement. This is the reason people are becoming more outspoken against gays: it’s not the religious, or the right… It’s because people are sick of having this stuff crammed down their throat.

    Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 11:18am
  15. This has become a war for our safety and the safety of our young brothers and sisters. Time for being these "weak little pansies" as "they" believe are OVER! If you know people in your local gay communities that are skilled in the martial arts, ask them to offer self defense training to these young ones. They need the encouragement and the confidence to stand up to these ignorant bastards. As far as a "town hall meet" …screw em'. Our celebration of equality does not need to be approved by a band of bigots!

    Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 11:22am
  16. It is sad anytime someone determines life isn't worth living. I wish he would have reached out for help. it is available.

    Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 12:31pm
  17. It's a shame. When I was in school, I didn't care what people thought about who I was with or my sexual orientation. I'm a lesbian, and I'm proud. Because of me and my girlfriend, and all of our gay friends, they had banned anyone who dated same sex couples into dances or trips or special events. We also live out by a military base, which makes it worse.

    No one should be afraid because honestly, we're all the same. All these homophobes and haters need to realize that we're like them too. I get tired of the judgements and the comments.

    My solution is peace, and the middle finger's their half in my opinion. I'm proud to defend anyone who deserves it. and, not to mention we deserve the same rights! I picked up a local paper the other day, and it had this statement that the White house was banning more gay rights.

    so, in my opinion, on my last note, we deserve to be free. If you notice, it's kinda like a black and white war here, except it's with all races and their genders.

    Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 5:28pm
  18. Enough is enough … I pray that this young man will attain rebirth in the Pure Land so that he need suffer no more.

    Om Mani Padme Hum

    Posted on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 6:52pm
  19. Telling young gay people it gets better may be fine in the long run, but how many will die before that
    time comes?
    I say kick the bullies out of school or publish their names. Also sue the hell out of their parents or the
    schools that tolerate bullying!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 12:12am
  20. I agree 100%!!!

    Replied on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 12:44am
  21. I am a lesbian and have grown up in hateful enviorments all of my life but I am still here to tell my story these kids are weak there was something else going on other then comments maybe a mental disorder gay and lesbians do not just take their lifes for pathetic peoples hate and comments hundreds of thousands of people have put up with comments for many many years and live full lives

    Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 9:05am
  22. I am certainly sad at the loss of this young man and believe that parents should never have to bury their children. However, I believe to place blame on the city council meeting is ridiculous. Obviously this young man had some other issues going on in his life that contributed as well.
    I believe there is plenty of fault on both sides of this argument. I was at the city council meeting and just sat at the back and watched the facial reactions from both sides. There was plenty of inappropriate behavior from both sides….including members of our city council….that is a sad day people! Below is a link to an article I was forwarded that shows the same "spewing" from the GLBT community that the "religious" community is accused of doing. This spewing in the comments following the article is degrading of Christians, racial slander, and just plain inappropriate language towards the other side of this argument.

    BOTH SIDES have plenty faults and I don't believe screaming and degrading the opposing sides of your argument is helping anyone!

    Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 9:30pm
  23. It is heartbreaking to read of anyone ending their life. I don't believe it is just gay and lesbians that are targeted. People of all walks, all races are suffering. I work at a school. We work constantly to teach kindness, compassion but parents hold a great deal more responsibility than we do. Your children learn so much from you in the first 5 years of life. We need to get back to the basics. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. Treat others as you would be treated. Most of all we need to teach our kids to be strong and stand up when we see a wrong. I know it isn't easy but we must start somewhere. One becomes two, two becomes four and so on.

    Posted on Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 12:40pm
  24. I heard someone put it very well once, " As humans we a tremendous capacity to turn humans into less than us, and once you do that, you can justify a hell of alot of awfulness"

    Posted on Friday, October 15, 2010 at 11:28am
  25. I don't understand this. How the hell could we allow this? I was a citizen of Norman, OK less than a month ago, and I held to myself for this very fear. How can we as a "modern" nation look the only way on this or worse be the ones hurting others? This argument has been used on the isles that was for slavery, against women rights, against civil rights, and now they are against the right for people to be happy (or miserable) with the one's they choose to be with. In my humble opinion, and as a an 20 year old Okie, FUCK YOU, NORMAN.

    And for all you who abuse your children, or strangers just know that God is your final judge, not me. If your comfortable with seeing him face to face and replaying all you said and did in front of the people of ages and you will see that you too where on the wrong side of history. When all you had to do was listen to that small still voice and your heart that you knew better.

    As for this guy, I saw him twice while I lived there, and I thought, "what a good looking guy, I bet he's out of my ledge to be my friend alone actually let him open up to me." I'm so sorry for not reaching out to him when I had the chance, but you bet my ass I'll be helping people in beautiful and tolerant Chicago, IL.

    Posted on Friday, October 15, 2010 at 1:21pm
  26. Um…what year is this?? Why is Norman stuck in 1950? I urge any GLBT person to please move away from OK! I please urge anyone to move away. The world needs you! I am reading the other harassment articles on this site and my heart is breaking. I moved from Norman years ago and I can't believe that there has been no progress since I left in the mentality. So happy that I left! There is no reason to end your life, there is a much bigger world than Norman, believe me! If Norman doesn't support you, that is OK! Don't let it get you down!! There is truckloads of support elsewhere and it's growing by the day! HUGS and cheers everyone! :) Stronger by the day! Keep the compassion everyone. These people are hurting inside, clearly. Look at their faces and listen to their words.

    Posted on Monday, October 18, 2010 at 8:28am