News (USA)

Wis. queer youth commits suicide; family, friends say bullying was a factor

RACINE, Wis. — A 14-year-old Wisconsin youth who identified as gender queer committed suicide on Sunday, and now friends and family are coming forward to say that bullying is to blame.

A vigil was held Monday for Alexis “Lexi” Lopez-Brandies, a freshman at Horlick Senior High School in Racine, Wis.

Lexi Lopez-Brandies
Lexi Lopez-Brandies

Nearly 200 mourners gathered in the cold outside Lexi’s home, holding candles in honor of their friend and classmate, who was described “as a nonconformist with a big heart.”

The vigil was organized by two student groups: the Gay-Straight Alliance and the Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES!), a group for Latino students and friends.

“She was such a beautiful person and I wish everybody could have met (her) because she really did turn everybody’s life around in a positive manner,” said friend Michael Dollaka-Posch.

Family and friends believe Lexi was the victim of bullying at school and through social media.

“It really needs to stop because I’m afraid we are going to lose more and more people like this. She was a beautiful girl and I don’t see how somebody could do that,” said Sierra Braun, who said she was Lopez’s best friend.

Stacy Tapp, a spokesperson for the Racine School District, told LGBTQ Nation on Wednesday that school officials are working with the two student groups to come up with an effective program to address bullying, and to address issues confronting students who identify as LGBTQ.

She said school administrators were not aware that Lexi had been bullied, and that the suicide caught them by surprise as there had been no incident reports filed.

At Monday’s vigil, Lexi’s grandfather spoke briefly, telling the crowd: “We all know what happened. But there is more to it. There was mental health issues, and there was bullying. Both need to change, and they need to be addressed in our society and our community.”

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“As parents, and grandparents, we can advise and we can direct, but the ones that need to change it are you,” he said. “Silence is complicit. So when you see each other struggling, and you see somebody suffering, reach out.”

Jolie McKenna, Executive Director of the LGBT Center of Southeast Wisconsin, told LGBTQ Nation that she would be meeting with school officials and students Thursday to help address concerns.

“I am bringing the Kenosha County Suicide Coalition director and myself are going to go speak to kind of debrief with the kids about what this means and answer some of their questions. I’m sure there’s a lot of issues and questions that kids have,” she said.

A memorial service is planned for Thursday.

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