OGDEN, Utah — On Monday, April 23, 18-year-old Alex Smith spoke on a community panel at a screening of a film on bullying, telling the packed room about the bullying his boyfriend, Jack, experienced at school.
What no one in the room yet knew, including Alex, was that Jack had already taken his own life.
The death of Jack Reese, 17, of Mountain Green, on Sunday is the latest known suicide of a gay teen in Northern Utah.
According to one official, off the record: “It happens here about once a week,” but then quickly adds, “but officially, you know, it doesn’t happen here.”
Now, OUTreach, an Ogden-based LGBT resource center, is hosting a community panel and discussion, “A Community Stands up – Northern Utah Addresses LGBT Bullying and Suicide” on May 1 at the Ogden Amphitheater in Ogden.
The purpose of the event, according to Marian Edmonds, OUTreach Executive Director, “is for the community to stand in solidarity with queer youth, to speak out and express grief and outrage at yet another loss of life in Northern Utah, and to witness for the need for immediate change in schools, churches and society.”
“Until all youth are loved and accepted in their homes, able to attend school without fear of bullying, and know that their lives are worth living, this community will continue to demand change,” Edmonds said in a statement.
Several community leaders, educators, parents and youth are expected to speak at the event, including active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the request of Smith, a candlelight vigil in memory of Jack will be held at the conclusion of the event.
“The youth I work with all know either a victim of bullying, the loss of a friend to suicide, and most often, both. These youth are bright, creative and loving, yet too often face daily abuse from rejecting families, bullies at school and the loss of their church family.” said Edmonds.
“It is time for local schools to incorporate proven techniques for eliminating bullying and homophobia, for churches to preach love and acceptance, and for parents and families to love and accept their children. Each loss of life is a loss for all of us, and it must stop now,” she said.
Liz Owen, Director of Communications for PFLAG National, reacted to the news of Jack’s death:
“Earlier this week we learned of the death by suicide of yet another young LGBT person in Ogden, Utah. Today, along with the leaders of PFLAG Ogden and the entire community, PFLAG National mourns the loss of Jack Reese as well as the other young people in the Ogden community who have died in similar circumstances,” Owen said, in a statement.
“The local chapter of PFLAG along with a broader caring group of adults have been working together tirelessly to address issues of the importance of family acceptance to the youth in this community and similar communities all over the state; sadly, the death of Jack Reese is a reminder that there is still much work to be done. PFLAG National will continue to support the chapter–and the community at large–in their work to create safe home and school environments for all youth.”
Funeral services for Jack were held Friday morning in Ogden.