Iowa gay teen suicide provoked by hatred—and stupidity

April 17, 2012

Maybe it’s the similarity in the delicate features, the paleness that suggests vulnerability, I don’t know, but when I looked at Kenneth James Weishuhn’s picture, I couldn’t help it: I immediately thought of Matthew Shepard, the young gay boy beaten and left to die almost 14 years ago in the Wyoming wilderness. 

Kenneth died instead by his own hand, and in the relative civility of a small town in Iowa, where same sex marriage -- not civil unions, not domestic partnership, not any of the second-hand versions of marrying same-sex lovers, but actual marriage -- is legal.

And Kenneth, perhaps unlike Matthew in his time, aspired to the simple right of having a future love recognized by family and community. His Pinterest page, “When I get Married," reveals a tasteful array of things Kenneth wanted to import into his future wedding.

Kenneth short-circuited that when he committed suicide. But have no doubt: Kenneth, like Matthew, was pummeled to death by a cold hatred and a wild indifference to life.

A video tribute went online on Sunday.

Kenneth’s friends, his sister has told the media, turned on him when he told he was gay. They were mostly boys in her class, who harassed him,  and even created a Facebook page to publicly -- internationally, even -- humiliate him.

I try to imagine Kenneth’s pain as I did Matthew Shepard’s, and the blind rage that leads to the death of such young men, that destroys the hearts of everyone around them. Bullying is a senseless crime, a crime of ignorance, and, yes, of an astonishing stupidity.

Kenneth was harassed to death, and threatened with death, by teenage boys too insecure to tolerate difference, too dumb to understand that Kenneth was one of millions.

Threatening to kill one of us does little to eliminate homosexuality and much to betray a mean and petty hatred.

Threatening to kill anyone for any reason is also a crime. The boys who harassed Kenneth, who got nothing but a slap on the wrist from Kenneth’s school, should be charged accordingly for their crime.

But so should the adults -- the administrators and teachers -- who tapped those angry young wrists and failed to protect Kenneth.