Zach Harrington, a 19-year-old in Norman, Oklahoma, attended a City Council meeting Sept. 28 where council members were asked to simply recognize October at LGBT History Month in the city. In a 7-1 vote, the council approved the resolution — but not before three hours of incensed debate back and forth between members of the public during an open comment period. It was this “toxic” exchange among neighbors, railing against the recognition of queers’ contributions to society, that led Zach to take his own life a week later, his family says.
Like Tyler Clementi, Zach was an aspiring musician who graduated from Norman North High School, where he was in band, orchestra, and became the first male captain of the color guard. It’s also where this 6-foot-4 gay teen found himself taunted by classmates because of his sexuality. His father Van says halfway into senior year, Zach asked to leave Norman North and get his diploma through a separate program. He would go on to University of Central Oklahoma, where he completed a semester.
Nikki Harrington, who is eight years older than her brother and also attended Norman North, said she recalls the way members of the GLBT community were treated during her time there. “There was one gay guy in my high school at the time, and he was made fun of all the time,” she said. “It was a pretty much non-stop thing at school.” Harrington received a $1,000 scholarship from the Norman chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays when he graduated high school and briefly studied music at the University of Central Oklahoma. He had been living in Arkansas for about a month prior to his death.
So just what happened during that awful town hall meeting that would lead Zach to take his own life in his family’s home? It was a war of words.
[You can watch the entire city council meeting here, reader Charles let us know. The debate begins around the 30-minute mark. We clipped a couple speakers below, but holy crap, there are dozens and dozens more talking about “the choice people make,” how “the majority” doesn’t support LGBT History Month, how we need a “Straight Reproduction Month,” how Facebook is full of pedophiles because of the gays, how history lessons “promote” homosexuality. There are also a few people supporting to the resolution, including LGBT citizens.]
[flv:http://media.queerty.net/normancitycouncil0.mp4 http://queerty-prodweb.s3.amazonaws.com/wp/docs/2010/10/normancitycouncil.jpg 650 400]
Support for and opposition to the proclamation were fairly even and the public comment portion of the agenda item lasted for three hours — the entire time allotted. The entire process was an exercise in representative government, with both sides — and those in between — given their chance to speak their minds.
One man said he moved to Norman because he thought it was the kind of place that would never accept the GLBT community with open arms. A woman, who described herself as “bi-racial,” said she was tired of the GLBT plight being compared to Civil Rights [Ed: See above video]. Some of those who opposed the proclamation claimed that members of the GLBT community would use it to infiltrate the public school system, essentially allowing the “gay lifestyle” to become a part of the curriculum. Others claimed that council recognizing October as GLBT History Month was a waste of their time. Some members of the audience even suggested that any council members voting in favor of the proclamation may have trouble getting reelected. Numerous residents also claimed the Bible was their guiding light, citing the ancient text as their primary reason for opposing the proclamation and the GLBT community in general.
And for those in attendance, it was hard to ignore the intolerant grumblings, the exasperated sighs and cold, hard stares that followed comments from supporters of the GLBT proclamation. Even most council members admitted that a majority of the e-mails and phone calls they fielded regarding the proclamation were against it.
Can we pin Zach’s suicide on a single city council meeting? Likely not. A young man must already be facing some serious internal demons to contemplate suicide. But certainly hearing from members of your own small community that they think you are disgusting for the way you were born didn’t help. We tell our kids to be tolerant of others, to embrace their classmates’ differences, to be open minded. And then as a community these same parents and neighbors refuse to do the same thing simply because they are scared of what’s different.
And you know what happens when everyone bands together to ostracize a group of people? Who are told the are a waste of time? And violate Biblical teachings? Are are less than?
They fucking kill themselves.
UPDATE: Zach’s online memorial is here.