Bullying | Education | Iowa | News

Bullying Pushes Gay Iowa Teen Kenneth Weishuhn to Suicide: VIDEO


Kenneth Weishuhn, a freshman high school student in Paullina, Iowa took his life on Saturday a month after being rejected by friends after coming out of the closet at school, KTIV reports:

"People that were originally his friends, they kind of turned on him," said his sister Kayla Weishuhn. Teasing started in school, according Kayla, a sophomore.  She says it was the boys in her class, that bullied her brother over his sexuality. "A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything," she said.

She says they took their teases online, to websites like Facebook, creating a hate group against gays and adding Kenneth's friends as members.  However, it was only the beginning, family say he started receiving death threats from South O'Brien students on his phone.

"When I'd question him about the phone calls, like he just blew it off, so I just thought everything was ok," said his mother.

The Sioux City Journal adds:

"South O'Brien schools Superintendent Dan Moore would not elaborate about the case or talk about whether bullying played a role. "We have heard the allegations," he said. "We don't know for sure why Kenneth did this." Grief counselors were at the school Monday to help students,  Moore said. He said they're taking the incident seriously. "Any time a students does something like this, it's a tragic loss and our whole community hurts because of it," said Moore, who called Kenneth Weishuhn "a good kid."

Watch KTIV's report on Kenneth's death, and a memorial video, AFTER THE JUMP...

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A memorial made by friends and family:

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  1. Dare I wade into the fray?
    It's not enough to just offer an 'it gets better.' It doesn't. You have to make it better yourself. The world offers you nothing if you sit back passively; you have to actively make your life better.

    It's clear that the kids bullied because of their sexuality have the moral high ground--why not use that to their advantage? There's nothing more powerful than to make someone consider themselves broken on the inside. That is what should be conveyed to them, to fight, as others here have said. I'm not sure a screwdriver to the neck is the best way to go, but there are certainly other ways to retaliate.

    Posted by: Vincent | Apr 17, 2012 12:12:19 PM

  2. ""A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything," she said.

    And this mob mentality is the reality of what a lot of us who came out in our teens went through. You can be 'accepted', one on one - you may very well be liked one-on-one, but when more than one person is around, associations with "you" come at a price - namely, the price "others" feel they'll pay. Can't get too close to the gay kid, what will it say about you? it'll say you're gay, and gay is bad.
    This needs to change, and it's starting to in more and more places, but not nearly enough and not not early fast enough. People shouldn't worry about "gay by association" - they should be more increasingly worried about "bigot by association."

    To all the grown adults on here - consider Coming Out to more people. Co-workers, members of your faith/business/political communities. Why? Because those people you come out to may have children, and gay or straight, those children need to have some form of connection to an LGBT person, even if it's having PARENTS that can knowingly point to a few openly-LGBT people in their own lives. That's how we win. That's how a bullying culture starts to lessen. That's how parents start having dialogues about LGBT Issues from a more positive place; give a Face and Name to "what gay is" - you could very well safe the life of a young man or woman simply by coming out to your co-workers and people in your communities.

    Every opportunity to Come Out that an adult passes over, they shift that social responsibility and weight onto the shoulders of someone else, and in far too many cases it's a Young Person.
    We adults need to open the doors for the next generations.

    And if you're not yet ready to Come Out, no matter where you are or what are you are, at least have the decency and integrity to pose as a "straight person who openly supports the LGBT Community" - anything less is being part of the problem.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 17, 2012 12:12:38 PM

  3. One thing that stuck out to me is that when questioned about the phone calls, Kenneth shrugged them off so his parents assumed things were fine. To all parents out there, take note: teenagers will not go directly to you with their problems. They will shrug you off or ignore you when things are wrong. If you think your child is being bullied or is depressed, do not take their word for it when they say things are fine, especially if the teen is recently out of the closet. This is not the first time a gay teen has committed suicide and the parents afterwards said the teen acted like everything was alright.

    Posted by: KP | Apr 17, 2012 12:15:07 PM

  4. I was bullied at school for a couple of years, and I did consider suicide as an option. I didn't tell a teacher or other adult because I was ashamed that I would be seen as even weaker by even more people. Ultimately, the bullies went too far - busting open my head in class and making it bleed, which made it impossible for me to hide it any more. After that, the bullies were dealt with and my life improved. A couple of years later I left school and never had to see any of the bullies again.

    The key here is getting people who are bullied to not feel like they're weak or a failure. We need to re-brand the act of telling on the bullies as a courageous act. And we need to make sure that those in authority treat bullying seriously.

    Bullied people often feel so depressed that they lose their grip on reality and can't ever see things changing. So if you're reading this and you're being bullied - tell someone! Don't pretend it's not a big deal. You don't deserve this, and you're not weak if you're bullied.

    Posted by: Tom Stoppard | Apr 17, 2012 12:16:02 PM

  5. What Tom said. Kenneth may have been embarrassed, didn't want to appear to be a 'baby', whatever. Organizations that use institutionalized bullying even humiliation [think frats for example] count on this aspect of human nature, especially from boys. No boy, even gay boys, want to be thought of as 'weak' or a 'girl'.

    I'm sure Kenneth's girl 'friends' meant and mean well, but he needed something more than that in his life.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Apr 17, 2012 12:22:43 PM

  6. KP - exactly. I was making this point to my family a few years ago when we sat down to really talk about my childhood experiences with anti-gay bullying. They kept saying "you should have told us" and I kept saying to them "you're expecting too much from a 9-14 year old if you think the solution to the problem is them coming to you to tell you that they're being bullied and called a fa**ot every day"
    Parents need to open their eyes, not to just to see if their kid is being bullied, but if their kid is THE BULLY.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 17, 2012 12:27:44 PM

  7. TOM - i love that idea, actually.

    it's like "gang-snitches" - the honour is not in protecting the gangs, the honour is stopping them.
    kudos. run with that idea. i'll help.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 17, 2012 12:29:31 PM

  8. These stories make me cry! I'll admit it!....Real tears!

    I'm a straight senior citizen who's been gay friendly since I've known what "gay" was! I'm sorry, but I don't HAVE any answer for this. No, it's not just a "gay issue." Think of all the "skinny runts" the "fatsos" the "nerds" that poor kid in a wheelchair/on crutches. Yes, we ALL suffer. Yet, it seems the gay community gets the unproportionately large share of this.

    Please posters, allow me to address the SCHOOL BOARDS here. If I were a teen today I'd like to know why I'd be suspended for wearing a "Gay is OK" t-shirt, yet when I bully an innocent kid to commit suicide, nothing happens to me. "Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured." (Mark Twain) Any answers? Quit hiding in your offices! Step out here in front of the cameras/microphones and start answering our civilized questions! Are you afraid of being "bullied"? Are you afraid of looking stupid or "nerdy"? Come on school board members! Pull you heads out of the clouds, the sand (and that part in between!) Show us how "tough" and "right" you really are!

    I truly believe this action would prove more useful than, it's the "____'s" fault! Let's demand answers! No falling for that "We're investigating the situation," "We're reviewing this," or "We'll get back to you on this." They don't! They run and hide, hoping everything will "blow over." We have to keep after them....constantly!....For YEARS if necessary. Keep after them until they "show" and start answering questions!

    Posters: Put out the school's website! Let's fill their "In Box" with questions we want answered. Be polite. Ask civilized questions. Questions you KNOW they're afraid to answer!

    "First God created idiots....This was for practice....Then He created school boards." (Mark Twain)

    "If Jesus were to ever return to this earth, there is one thing he wouldn't be, a Christian." (Mark Twain)

    Posted by: Brian Engel | Apr 17, 2012 12:42:25 PM

  9. No problem, Robert.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Apr 17, 2012 1:16:56 PM

  10. Again, so sad. Again, so many thoughts.

    As I've said before and has been said above, parents must believe and not believe their teenagers. Teenagers can make it very difficult to pry, and easy to encourage independence. But being ready to be independent is a transition and a process with a long learning curve.

    Teenagers want to fit in, even when they rebel. No one wants to be unique all alone (example: Goths. Variations on a theme of black and extreme hair).

    Anyone remember being a freshman? In my school system, middle school was seventh and eighth grades. High School started with freshmen. One went from head of the school to the bottom of the heap, an extremely vulnerable time. Despite wanting to develop individually, one also didn't want to be rejected any more than was, well, necessary to the pecking order. For some, making transitions can be extremely stressful. And some are better able to cope, for whatever reasons, with that stress.

    So this poor kid came out as a freshman. Raw meat to bigger, older, established-in-the-pack kids. It would be hard to also become raw meat by coming to his defense, for reasons stated above. It would also be hard to survive under the best of circumstances. And survival is ultimately what matters. When I was a teenager, I actually never heard of kids committing suicide - not that it didn't happen, I just didn't know of anyone, or hear of it. It was not in my realm of readily accessible, at least in terms of awareness, options. While a kid today may not know of anyone personally, I would imagine that most are aware that it has gone from improbable to possible as far as awareness of options. And we all know how unaware of consequences teenagers can be.

    I personally think that until the we as a society become more enlightened and less tolerant of bullying and the lives it destroys, it is unwise for kids who don't have the best of support systems to come out. A 13 year-old, and even older kids, aren't ready for the responsibility for their choices. We don't allow 13 year-olds to drive, to vote, to marry. I'm tired of reading these stories. As adults, we have to do more. As teachers and school administrators, we must do more. Unless standing up rather than not rocking the boat is encouraged and rewarded; until being a hero is cooler than being cool, until we set the example that all people have value, we must reach out to gay youth and say it Gets Better, But Better Takes Time - and power, and survivals skills. No more sacrificial lambs. Stay safe, until you can bear the consequences of coming out, until we do a better job of protecting you.

    Posted by: TJ | Apr 17, 2012 1:24:56 PM

  11. There are no, as far as I know, anti-fat hate groups of any formal sense, but fat kids are the most likely ones to get picked on and/or bullied (their size does inhibit physical abuse I would imagine). While scarred for life, fat kids generally don't have higher rates of suicide. However, you don't become fat overnight, so there are some distinctions. So, it's not the hate groups and grown-ups that are responsible for the bullying, it's the immature kids, and it's not the bullying that causes suicide. Also, keep in mind that with 80 million kids in the US alone, and perhaps 4 million gay ones, even a few thousand suicides per year is not a large percentage. More gay teens die in auto accidents.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 17, 2012 1:34:48 PM

  12. Fat kids aren't necessarily rejected by their families. Fat kids aren't told that they are abominations in the eyes of god. Fat kids can lose weight. To say bullying is not correlated, contributing, or sometimes preeminently casual when it comes to individual decisions to commit suicide is silly.

    We have driver education because we think it's important to save lives. We have public service messages against texting and driving. We also warn kids about STD's, about substance use. We have concerns for the increase of diabetes rates in overweight kids. We don't just look at one area of concern - death in car accidents - and put all our energies there. We claim, at least, that all lives are important. We try, albeit ineffectively at times, to save as many lives as possible. Numbers are just statistics until someone you know is among those counted. Then it doesn't matter if it's just one.

    Posted by: TJ | Apr 17, 2012 2:12:37 PM

  13. I think there needs to be a stronger connection between adults and children.

    I suggest this as I have several nephews and nieces. A big part of my relationship with them is ensuring that we have an ongoing dialog about what it's like growing up--both my experience and theirs.

    It requires showing up, being present in their lives and continually checking-in on all things related to them. While not easy given competing obligations, it makes me feel good to think I may be helping bridge that very challenging period they MUST all go thru. I wish I had someone to look in on me like that when I was growing up. (1980's).

    Best part, as they've grown older they have become friends. Real friends.

    Posted by: Bill T. | Apr 17, 2012 2:22:52 PM

  14. The solution is obvious and right before everyone's eyes. You start a nationwide campaign to encourage peers to step forward and stop the bullying. Bullies are basically cowards and so when was the last time you saw a bully beat up a group of his peers? Males & females step forward and this stuff stops. And if the bully is in a 'group' then you form an even bigger group. Hold hands, make a circle around the victim. You do do this, or you can sit by/walk by, ignore and feel lousy about yourself later for not doing anything-your choice.

    Posted by: Kevin | Apr 17, 2012 3:09:41 PM

  15. congrats to NOM, focus on the family, religious bigots, and the vast majority of republicans across this country. your hateful rhetoric, which legitimizes this type of bullying, has contributed to another suicide.

    Posted by: Brian B. | Apr 17, 2012 3:09:51 PM

  16. My jaded NYC heart was unprepared for the beauty of his smile.

    And I fear that reading some of the usual digesting comments that get posted here will be even more offensive to his memory.

    So I won't.
    I wanted to take just a few moments of my life to reflect on his.

    Posted by: mcNnyc | Apr 17, 2012 3:15:31 PM

  17. If you can’t stand up in every religious institution and clearly state that all people are equal this will NEVER change and it will NEVBER get better. The supremacy campaign needs to confronted to be ended.

    Posted by: Jacques Rosas | Apr 17, 2012 3:30:05 PM

  18. A lot of times the bullies ARE the teachers/staff/parents, that's why it's hard to get a lot of adults on board. Children are thrown into an anarchy every day run by adults who are essentially just big kids.

    Posted by: Jim | Apr 17, 2012 3:59:05 PM

  19. Gay kids have got to toughen up. Kids who are racial minorities seem to be tougher on a whole, because their living situations/surroundings tend to be more hostile. So, how do we make these gay kids have thicker skins, while also changing the school system and laws? It can't all be left in the IT GETS BETTER project's hands.

    Parents, if you have a kid who you know can't defend himself, is weak, and is gay, sign his or her ass up for kick boxing or some form of martial arts. It will at the very least help boost their confidence and they will be able to defend themselves against these bullies.

    Posted by: Hollywood, CA | Apr 17, 2012 4:03:22 PM

  20. Please If U Need Help Call Me I Will Be There For U And Make A Safe Place For U Call (540)915-3376 In The USA.Thanks Bill.

    Posted by: Bill | Apr 17, 2012 4:12:58 PM

  21. You know what? Everyone in that grade needs to be held back a year. Maybe that's what it takes.

    Posted by: Randy | Apr 17, 2012 4:13:41 PM

  22. Hollywood, what about the kids whose parents don't want a gay kid?

    Or the kids who raise their kids to be anti-gay bullies?

    It's not just about teaching kids to have thicker skins, it's about attacking the root - that being gay is seen as something worth of derision. And at this point in history, schools and governments need to step in. Truly. Children are being raised to hate.

    The solution cannot be a culture where everyone behaves like a neanderthal and resorts to lowly fist fights. That's the mark of an unintelligent mind. By all means, defend yourself - but that's a band-aid.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Apr 17, 2012 4:17:25 PM

  23. If U Need Help Call Me (549)915-3376 Thanks, Bill

    Posted by: Bill | Apr 17, 2012 4:33:11 PM

  24. Alright, Bill, while you likely mean well, that's just creepy as hell.

    Posted by: Jack | Apr 17, 2012 4:53:13 PM

  25. Sigh.
    How many more children must die before the christians end this war?

    Posted by: enough already | Apr 17, 2012 5:52:21 PM

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