When 10-year-old Ashlynn Conner began cheerleading for the youth football team in her small Illinois town, the fifth grader got a bob haircut and the other children at Ridge Farm Elementary School began calling her “a boy,” “fat,” “ugly” and “slut.” Over time, the teasing got so bad that Ashlynn asked her mother if she could be home schooled, and her mother promised to talk with her school principal about the teasing.
Then on Friday night, Conner’s mother overheard her daughter talking on the phone to a friend about being teased. Barely 30 minutes later, Conner’s 14-year-old sister discovered her hanging in the closet. Conner’s grandmother untied Ashlynn and tried administering CPR to save her granddaughter’s life, but it was too late—Conner was already dead.
County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn has promised to investigate claims of bullying but says, “We don’t have any firm evidence to support bullying.” Nevertheless, Conner’s tragic death illustrates the role gender norms and identity play in LGBT related bullying.
While there’s nothing suggesting that Conner was LGBT, the expectation that she look and act “like a normal girl” may have played a role in her death. Anti-queer bullying doesn’t require the victim to be LGBT; it only requires that the bullies torment someone for acting different than they expect a young man or woman to act.
We’ll post more as this story continues to develop.