On Thursday, November 29, David Phan was suspended from Bennion Junior High in Taylorsville, Utah. But, when his mother, Phuong Tran arrived at the school to pick up her son, she was not given a reason for his suspension.
Rather, the principal said, they would “discuss it Tuesday.”
From what Tran understood, another student had made a complaint against her son and, when David’s backpack was searched, a condom was found.
She took him home and, after being reassured he was all right, went back to work.
But around 3pm the same day, 14-year-old David Phan shot himself in front of shocked peers on a pedestrian bridge leading to Bennion’s campus.
David’s mother would later find a note in David’s room: “I had a great life but I must leave.”
An avid outdoorsman who worked at local gun shows, practiced at the firing range and wanted to serve in the Army, David came out to his older brother and other family members a year ago. Then, about three months ago, he came out to his mother and, finally, his father, Nhuan Phan, who hugged David and assured him he loved him and wanted him to be safe.
The day before he took his own life, David received a singing telegram from another student. Though he laughed along with his classmates, his cousin reveals that he was indeed mortified.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, David’s parents and relatives described him as being a boy who was “well-loved with a strong family support system, but who could not deal with the bullying and the burden of being a gay Asian student in a school they believe did not support him.”
Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley released a statement shortly after the suicide describing David as having “significant personal challenges on multiple fronts” and that counselors had been in regular contact with him regarding “other issues in his personal life.”
Horsley added that David had never reported any incidents of bullying.
The teen’s parents, however, didn’t know that David was being counseled: “We have a right to know as parents,” said Nhuan Phan. “Nobody told us anything.”
Horsley clarified to the Salt Lake Tribune that David had been seeing a guidance counselor, not a mental-health specialist, and in those instances the school notifies the family “when needed.”
John Mejia, the legal director for ACLU Utah, wrote a letter on behalf of the Phan family to superintendent Martin Bates, calling Horsley’s statements “extremely inappropriate” and urging the district to cease from releasing any further information about the Phan family.
In an effort to learn more, David’s family has enlisted the help of Steven Ha, an Asian community activist with ties to both the Vietnamese and LGBT communities. Ha said he will introduce the Phan family to local gay activists and assemble a group to address several issues, primarily suicide prevention for gay ethnic youth.
“We’re not interested in suing but working with credible sources,” Ha said. “That’s how we want David to be remembered.”
Those interested in helping can email him at [email protected].