Throughout my bullying series, I cover key issues and profile young people who have committed suicide due to bullying (commonly called bullycide). Click here to read my series from the beginning.
Justin Aaberg took his life on July 9, 2010 at his home in Anoka, Minnesota. His mother and two brothers found his lifeless body hanging in his bedroom. He was 15.
Justin is one of five suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District (AHSD) in the last year. One teacher believes that 3 of the 5 suicides involved struggles around sexual identity. In Justin’s case, students report that he had been bullied due to his sexuality over a long period.
AHSD faculty report that teachers were confused by the anti-bullying training they received. Notably, the training stressed that the school does NOT handle sexual orientation issues. AHSD spokesperson Mary Olson said, “It’s very difficult. We have a community that has widely varying opinions, and so to respect all families, as the policy says, we ask teachers to remain neutral.”
Teachers were expected to remain neutral (silent) about sexual identity. Tragically, many teachers interpreted this to mean that they should not intervene when kids are bullied over sexual identity. Neutrality and silence yielded an atmosphere where Justin became convinced that life was no longer worth living.
Tammy Aaberg found out about Justin’s homosexuality soon after he attempted suicide at age 13. It was only after his death that she learned how much bullying he was absorbing at school during this time. Otherwise, Justin was a happy kid who always had a smile on his face. Tammy says, “I thought out of anybody I knew that he had the perfect life. But I guess he didn’t think so.”
She says Justin “…was a very sweet boy who seemed to always have a smile on his face; he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was always a shoulder his friends could cry on and would help them with their problems. He was also an extremely good Cello player who even composed his own songs.”
Recently, Tammy spoke at a school board meeting. She pleaded, “I am not asking you to accept this as a lifestyle for you. I am ONLY asking that you please make the school safe for LGBT+ students. (They) deserve to be treated like the rest of us. Suicide should not feel like the only way to take away the pain and shame.”
Tammy reports that many former and current students from AHDS have opened up to her about their own experiences being bullied due to their sexuality. They feel harassed and unsafe at school. “These kids, they just hate themselves,” she says. “They literally feel like they want to die.”
May the hands and feet of Jesus Christ reach out to these vulnerable youth: to hear them, to comfort them, to protect them, and to love them. May we care for them and offer a tangible reason for them to see that life is worth living. Amen.
(1) Like the Justin Aaberg Facebook Memorial Page.
(2) Join 7 Gay Teen Suicides Memorial Day.
(3) Read article featuring Justin’s mother.
(4) Review SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education).
(5) Watch Justin Aaberg’s brother (Andrew) on YouTube.
Are you suicidal or depressed or being bullied? If so, it is critical that you reach out for help TODAY. If you need further guidance, I invite you to contact me. You are worth it!
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