Tessa Crawford is a youth who has been personally touched by both violence and suicide. Two of her friends, who she wishes to identify only as Jay and Catherine, found themselves the target of anti-LGBT harassment and by its end, both were dead. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise in italics.
TW: suicide, violence, murder, bullying, slurs.
I suppose the best place to start is why this is something you wanted to be a part of. What made you want to take part when I told you about the project?
Most people don’t realize that when this happens to someone, especially when it comes to anti-LGBT violence or suicide, it doesn’t just affect the close family. It affects the whole community of friends and people they know, people they were close to. Usually when people commit anti-LGBT hate crimes, they think they’re just getting rid of one person, but they cause a ripple effect where they harm everyone – it’s the same if someone kills themselves. All kinds of negative things are set off and it hurts everyone, not just the person that it’s intended to.
Who are the people you want to share a story about? Can you tell me a little about the kinds of things they experienced?
My friend Jay was murdered and my friend Catherine killed herself. Jay, I knew personally. He was a friend in Michigan; I met him over the summer and he lived close to where I was staying. He went to a fairly safe private school – he mostly met problems outside of school. He was openly gay and he met bullies and thugs who would constantly harass him, follow him, throw things at him. One day, when he was coming home from school, apparently they got drunk, and I guess they were thinking, “Let’s kidnap the gay kid and see how much harm we can do”. So they beat him to death – but they didn’t just beat him. Jay’s sister was the one who told me about it.
I never met Catherine personally. She lived in New York, but we’d been internet friends for four or five years. We were part of an anonymous chat site that was kind of like a support group – it was supposed to be a safe place to meet friends and find support for whatever it was you were going through, but it was how Catherine met bullies. I always talked to her when I got online and we helped support each other. Her main problem was this one guy who kept getting on the site and harassing her. She had enough problems as it was – her school is severely anti-LGBT, and her family and real-life friends were against it, so she couldn’t come out to anyone except her friends on the internet. She kind of found safety on the internet, but it’s where a lot of the harassment came from, too. This one guy kept telling her that by being bi, she was hurting everyone she knew, because she was abnormal and inhuman. She already had depression and anxiety problems. One night, she just messaged me…and her message wasn’t clear; I thought she was just going to disappear off the internet for a while. Then a friend of ours who lived in the area said she’d heard of her suicide.
This was the same person who told us the wrong date for the Day of Silence this year and then made fun of us for falling for it. I think that was really Catherine’s tipping point. I was extremely upset when I heard and I messaged him asking him why he would do that. I found out that after he told her it was a joke, he also told her she was so stupid for falling for something like that, and she wasn’t as dedicated, and she probably wasn’t even bi; she was probably just faking it for attention. After some people protested on the site, he got kicked off, but I don’t think anything else happened.
What do you remember the most about Catherine and Jay? What were they like as people?
Jay was a happy kid. He was in 4H, he rode horses, he did shows and won medals. He was smart. I remember him mostly because he loved working with horses. He talked to them all the time – in fact, I think his first best friend was his horse he called Sugar. It was a pure white horse and he got it when he was a toddler. With Jay, the memory that probably stands out to me the most was when he won his first blue ribbon in the horse show two summers ago, when I first went up to Michigan. He’d won second places and third places and fourth places, but that was his first time winning a blue ribbon on Sugar. Another memory I have is the second summer I was with him, when Sugar had her second foal. He was so happy; he was there the whole time and helped her give birth. It was gross, but he was ecstatic. I think he’d have gone into farming if he’d survived, or something where he could work with horses.
Catherine was an amazing poet. She loved to write; she always sent me things to look over and read and edit to the best of my ability. We worked on poems together. That’s what I remember her by. She liked creative writing, but her thing was poetry. I think if she would have lived, she would have become an amazing poet. She liked to write about nature and she liked writing about flowers the most; the petunia was her favorite. She also wrote about old, ancient woods that haven’t been disturbed by mankind, and the magic that was in the woods. She lived in the city and the only time she’d seen an actual forest was when her family took her on a trip to Nebraska. Before she died, she’d planned to go on a trip to see well-known forests after graduation.
It’s interesting to me that the love of nature seems to be a common theme across several stories and several people.
I like to think that people who are more in touch with nature are also more sensitive and in tune to their feelings – but it also can work against them in that they’re more easily hurt.
What do you want people to take away from your story or their stories?
I want people to realize that rights for LGBT people doesn’t mean just marriage equality. It also means dealing with the hate people have against us. Bullying shouldn’t be normal at all. I want people to realize that lashing out at LGBT people is much more serious than just getting a few laughs because you picked on the gay kid. You might think you’re not doing that much, or it’s only a joke, but even that gives the okay for someone to take it a lot farther, like what happened with Jay.
The issues are bigger than most people think. I hear some people, when someone starts talking about LGBT issues, say things like, “Well, gay people can just get a civil union; marriage isn’t a big deal.” It’s not just marriage equality we’re fighting for. Even a little harm can cause something so much bigger – that ripple effect again. You’re never just hurting one person – you’re hurting their family, their friends, and their future, depending on how much they’ve dealt with, and how far you take it.