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In Memoriam

Remembering Justin Aaberg — in the year since his death, much has changed, much has not

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On this day one year ago — July 9, 2010 — just weeks after finishing his freshman year at Anoka High School in Minnesota, 15-year-old Justin Aaberg killed himself in his bedroom.

His mother Tammy and his two brothers, Andrew and Anthony, found him — he had hanged himself.

Justin, they would later learn, had been a victim of bullying due to his sexual orientation.

Justin Aaberg

In the year since Justin took his life, much has changed, and much has not…

Tammy Aaberg said she had known her son was gay for a year and often feared for his safety.

“For those of you who have never had a gay child, you need to know it is one of the scariest things to learn because you know that they will need to deal with a lot of criticism and harassment in their lives, and it makes me worry,” Tammy Aaberg said, addressing the Anoka-Hennepin School Board in August.

She blamed the school district for not intervening to stop the bullying, and accused district administrators of tying teachers’ hands with a policy that kept them from being able to “reach out and help these hurting students.”

For the past year, Tammy Aaberg has lobbied the school district to step up its efforts to combat bullying, and abandon its “neutrality policy,” which requires that staff remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation “in the course of their professional duties.”

It’s a policy she says limits the role that teachers and educators can play in curbing anti-gay bullying.

In fact, Justin was one of seven teenagers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District who committed suicide in a year’s time — some, but not all, of those students were gay and there were concerns that bullying at school contributed to many of the suicides.

And yet, in the months and year that followed, at least 14 more teens would take their own lives because of anti-gay bullying and sentiment, prompting a National Summit on Bullying, the launch of the “It Gets Better Project,” a national campaign to inspire and encourage LGBT youth, and the first ever White House conference on bullying prevention.

In addition, the Department of Education issued guidance to school officials reminding them that federal law requires them to take action against bullying — including gender-based and sexual harassment of LGBT students, and provided schools with examples of effective state anti-bullying laws as a reference for developing or revising their own policies.

This year, members of Congress introduced several pieces of anti-bullying legislation, including the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to implement anti-bullying programs; the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which establishes similar anti-bullying requirements for colleges and universities receiving federal student aid; and the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA), which states that elementary and secondary schools must not discriminate against students on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in any program or activity receiving federal funds, or risk losing those funds.

And while much has changed on the national scene to bring attention to the adversity and intolerance faced by LGBT youth, the steady stream of anti-gay rhetoric continues to undermine progress within the community.

Just weeks ago, Rich Swier, an activist with the Tea Party Nation, published an article in which he said that anti-gay bullying is not bullying at all, and called it “peer pressure and is healthy.”

In a stand-up routine in Nashville, comedian Tracy Morgan launched into an anti-gay tirade in which he suggested he would “pull out a knife and stab” his own son if told him he was gay.

And LGBT people continue to be bullied, attacked, and murdered because of their sexual orientation. For their stories, click here, and here, and here.

In fact, analysis of 14 years of hate crime data found that homosexuals, or those perceived to be gay, are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.

Which is why we can not forget Justin Aaberg, that he was an accomplished cellist and composer of songs, a brother, a son, and member of the LGBT community.

It is in Justin’s memory — and the memory of Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Tyler Clementi, Brandon Bitner, Raymond Chase, Cody J. Barker, Justin “Chloe” Lacey, Aiyisha Hassan, Nicholas Kelo Jr., Corey Jackson, Lance Lundsten, Kameron Jacobsen, and Zach Harrington — that we persevere in hope that one day, no young person would have to endure a life of relentless taunts and harassment, just because they’re gay.

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Filed under: LGBTQ Life

21 more reader comments:

  1. Such a cutie, such a loss.

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 12:37am
  2. So sad. :c

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 12:40am
  3. The Tea Party thinks Bullying is a healthy thing. Maybe if we keep posting the tragic deaths…

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 12:41am
  4. I just realized how much that couldve been me :’(

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 1:02am
  5. Sadly, it could have been a lot of us. R.I.P, Justin

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 1:11am
  6. This should not be happening. NO where – for any reason! We need to be more vigilant … for goodness sake let all our youth’s know we are there for them, ANYTIME they need not ‘fear’ us – if we are the adults in their lives … let them know they can talk to us 24-7 … 365 + ! and NOT be judging them … we are not their judges … Hugz to all and prayer’s for all families of those whom are left behind …

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 1:20am
  7. It is always so sad when we have to lose people who could otherwise grow up and make a difference in this world that we live in. whether b/c of sexual orientation, color of our skin, blk or wht or whatever.Why can’t we all be like “EBONY AND IVORY”, living together in perfect harmony?

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 3:28am
  8. This makes me so profoundly sad.

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 3:56am
  9. It’s overwhelmingly sad.

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 5:35am
  10. This could have been me as well. Growing up wasn’t very fun at times.

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 5:36am
  11. It isnt about politics; its about love. Who you chose to love shouldnt make your life so terrinle that you end it.

    It’s a terrible thing that these narrow minded politicians dont see the pain that they cause.

    Lets see how well THEY do in “heaven”

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 5:59am
  12. My thoughts are with all those left behind in these tragedies…please keep carrying the banner of No Hate to save the next and protect the uncaredfor…all my love

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 6:23am

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 9:41am
  14. Im sorry but if the Tea Party thinks that this is peer pressure and its healthy must be blind and stupid! I have many friends that are LGBT. I’m a straight person however if I found out if someone did anything to my LGBT friends they would wish they didnt! I believe that NO one should be bullied just because they are “different”. I’m a huge supporter for same sex marriage and I proudly stand up for it as well! I would also like to say if there are any LGBT people out there that need someone to chat with if they are having a difficult time or not and as well as not having any friends all because of them being LGBT, you can always have a friend right here to talk to no matter what age or race! Just look me up on facebook and send me a message! ;-)

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 10:55am
  15. “For those of you who have never had a gay child, you need to know it is one of the scariest things to learn because you know that they will need to deal with a lot of criticism and harassment in their lives, and it makes me worry,” Tammy Aaberg said, addressing the Anoka-Hennepin School Board in August.


    That statement alone tells you everything you need to know about this so-called ‘mother’. SHE was one of the primary causes of his implosion. She didn’t bother to educate herself. SHE didn’t bother to be an ally. She was living with loads of denial about their very own child.

    I would loathe to know Tammy Aaberg.

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 2:31pm
  16. RIP Justin et al……we had a moment of silence on our radio show today in remembrance of you and other gay youth whose lives have been tragically cut short, whether by their own hand or forced through bullying – tragic :(

    Posted on Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 6:45pm
  17. if it was by their own hand it would’ve been from bullying though, wouldn’t it?

    Posted on Sunday, July 10, 2011 at 12:44am
  18. Thank you for remembering Justin. It means a lot to his family and friends.
    The day before the anniversary of his death, Facebook deactivated his Facebook account with no warning or explanation to his mom, Tammy. She has kept his voice alive by keeping his page going and communicating with other kids who’s lives have been saved because of Justin’s tragic story.
    She feels like she’s lost him all over again. All of his pictures, messages, postings, etc. are gone.
    Please sign this petition and spread the word to get his Facebook page back. Keep his voice alive. Thank you.

    Posted on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:27pm
  19. This is so sad. I cant express how angry this makes me

    Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 12:18am
  20. I wish this was me instead of him. He is loved with family and friends while I am the only known gay abomination that has to be destroyed for the sake of Minnesota. I have tried suicide but so far it has not worked. Keep praying for me gays I must die to keep the straight community satisfied and avoid the awful hate.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 1:01pm
  21. So please join in our fight to end bigotry.

    Posted on Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 7:56pm