Norman, Oklahoma Finds Its Moral Soul After Zach Harrington’s Suicide

Last night during a lengthy City Council meeting, residents and officials of Norman, Oklahoma came together following the death of 19-year-old Zach Harrington, who took his own life after watching his neighbors attack LGBTs while commenting on a LGBT History Month proclamation. Reader Timothy, who first tipped us off about the meeting that went horribly, writes in telling us the “council was so disgusted by the hate exhibited at the meeting that they want to put forth city ordinances that outlaw discrimination. This is the beginning of change, and you [Queerty and its readers] are responsible for it.” We clipped a few speakers at last night’s meeting, which you’ll notice has a much different climate than the one where residents took to the microphone to preach hatred.

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Meanwhile, over at the Fort Worth City Council last night, gay Councilman Joel Burns delivered this moving speech about bullying:

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  • Mark

    I wish, oh how I wish, that this city was changing. But I notice that there are more empty seats in this meeting than filled ones. No one wanted to show their faces in support of gay rights, but didn’t feel right to show up denying them in face of cross-country examination of their previous hatred.

  • AdonisOfFire

    That’s because that until we the LGBT community become militant, proud and aggressive on demanding respect we will keep being treated as second class citizens.

  • Pygar

    Tom Kovach is also openly gay. He’s also a friend of mine. He, too, had some important words. Thanks.

  • Mark

    @AdonisOfFire: I understand your comment, but it struck a bad feeling in me. It felt too much like blaming the victims for the crime. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but that’s the way it sounded. People choose to ignore the current level of information and gay pride in order to hold on to their ‘comfortable’ hatred. Don’t give them the out of “Well, if people were more in my face then I might change”.

  • Charles

    The entire council was incredibly supportive during the first meeting and during this follow-up meeting (even the one member who voted against the proclamation). I think the council members have continued to receive hateful emails and last night expressed their disappointment. The topic comes up at the meeting last night at the 2:27 mark. I have included a link below.

  • AdonisOfFire

    Sadly in this world people become victims because they allow themselves to be victimized. Gay community in general is full of individuals who are weak and submissive and prefer to just curl up into a ball and take the beating instead of fighting back and demanding respect, it is the sad truth. If we were more radical, say like the black panthers, and even aggressive…and violent, yes, we would have equal rights long time ago.

  • Charles

    Just published in the Oklahoman newspaper and put online is an article about the council meeting in Norman last night. The comments following the article kind of sum up just how enlightened the folks are around here, and the kind of intolerance and ignorance that is so acceptable to so many. Here is a link to the article (PLEASE, if you are going to leave a comment try and rise above the locals).

  • soakman

    Adonis, it doesn’t quite work that way. I agree that we need to be more vigilant and more willing to enact self-defense, but pursuing violence won’t get us anywhere.

    The civil rights movement took both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King JR working together to enable change. Both are equally important, but we don’t want to be feared. Fear eventually turns to hate. Only it’s the kind of hate that is rational and justifiable.

  • Kev C

    Some of the people in Norman are good people who thought that their town was a town full of good, decent people. I think they were surprised to discover that many of their citizens were walking around filled with hatred towards gays. This is face of ugliness that gays see ALL THE TIME because it’s directed toward them.

  • David

    Councilman Joel Burns’ speech was so moving. I cried through the whole thing. I wish there were more folks like him around.

  • ~R~

    @David: Right there with you! Wow!!!!

  • AdonisOfFire

    They already fear us and hate us, LOL
    The weak ones will find any excuse to not fight
    Well, I refuse to live in shame and be humiliated, I will return every slap with a closed fist punch.

  • soakman


    More power to you. Meanwhile, I’ll be advocating for legal rights and providing living proof to heteros that there’s nothing to hate. I’m an incredibly kind and generous person by nature. Follow your nature with passion and you’re bound to impact some of those around you.

    Pretty much the only thing you can do to worsen our position is closet yourself or remain wishy-washy and silent. Most of all, we need to be present.

  • ~R~

    @AdonisOfFire: I hope this is not an intended jab at those kids that took thier lives though it certainly seems that way…

  • ~R~

    @soakman: I personally don’t get how advocating violence is a “good” approach. Rights may be secured faster (there is an ‘if’ there) but in the process, we’d become hated. That’s not the legacy I want to be remembered for so I’ll distance myself from any violent plotting.

  • McMike

    I know this is so far off in the shallow end, but the guys who have been killing themselves have been beautiful.

  • Kalbo

    Norman is home to my alma mater, which, having grown up elsewhere in the state, is an oasis of liberalism in an ultraconservative state. Loud-mouth fundies come out screeching everywhere, but I don’t think it’s fair to portray Norman as a ‘small redneck town’ (I’ve read that description many times since it happened) — 1) it’s in the OKC metro, which isn’t exactly ‘small’ 2) it’s fairly liberal, as exhibited by the overwhelming council vote in support of the measure.

    I now live in Hawaii, which is known to be a liberal state — and it is overall. But even here, those loud-mouthed fundies swarmed the capitol over the civil unions bill, and the Republican governor ultimately vetoed it. We will have Neil Abercrombie as our next governor, who is one of the most progressive politicians in the country (he won out by a large margin over the ‘moderate’ Dem). Most all of the lawmakers who supported civil unions also easily won their primaries, and I suspect will win re-election in November.

    Point is, there are pockets of liberals and neocon xian crazies everywhere, and I’d put Norman in the liberal category; it’s very unlike most of the rest of the state.

  • Kirk in Atlanta

    Joel Burns – your speech inspires and uplifts me. I am 61 and have felt every feeling you described so eloquently.

    Thank you – you truly are making it better yourself. You will have reached some kids with your story. No better legacy for you than the day (when you and JD are years older) when you will meet a man or a woman who will tell you the story of the day that THEY almost took an irretrevable step – and it is your words that reached them on that day.

    Tears came to me as I thought about that boy or girl right now. I would do anything to help them. The difference between me and you? You DID help them.

    Thank you,
    Kirk in Atlanta

  • Kieran

    If and when the gay community, as a people, finally gets to the Promised Land, where sexual orientation is no longer seen as any big deal, it will be thanks to the courage of INDIVIDUALS like Joel Burns who were unafraid to confront society’s homophobia.

  • Ly

    That ovation seemed rather grudging on some people’s part. I was practically standing up watching it through a computer, let alone being in the room.

  • tommyb

    i cried through most of Joel Burns’ video…

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