The recent suicide of a gay teen has galvanized anti-bullying efforts among fellow students and advocacy groups in Iowa.
On Thursday -- the day of 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn’s funeral -- the Iowa Pride Network posted plans for a candlelight vigil Friday. A Facebook page and YouTube videos memorialize the South O’Brien High School freshman who "always made somebody smile," Jade Vos, a freshman at Hartley Melvin Sanborn High School, told HLN affiliate KTIV. "He was always smiling no matter what, and he was just an awesome person," she was quoted as saying.
By all accounts, Kenneth was popular at school. About a month ago he told his closest friends something that would change his life forever and ultimately alter the small city of Paullina: He was gay.
"People that were originally his friends, they kind of turned on him," his sister Kayla Weishuhn told KTIV. The bullying, an all-too-frequent scourge that has plagued American adolescence, started almost immediately.
"A lot of people, they either joined in or they were too scared to say anything," she said, according to the TV station.
The O’Brien County Sheriff’s Office described Kenneth's death Sunday as a “self-inflicted injury” and is reportedly investigating his cell phone and Facebook account.
This week, students at his high school staged a walkout to raise awareness about his death.
The boy’s mother, Jeannie Chambers, continues to be nagged by the questions surrounding the death of her son. "I don't know if he was trying to prove something out of this, help maybe other people? To say maybe enough is enough?" she told Iowa station KCAU-TV.
In a call to One Iowa, an LBGT advocacy group, HLN was forwarded a joint statement from the organization along with Iowa Safe Schools.
“What Kenneth endured is something that no one should have to go through," One Iowa Interim Executive Director Calla Rongerude said in the statement. "Kenneth made the brave choice to live his life openly and fully, and he was targeted at school with taunts, hurtful online organizing against him and even death threats. No one, especially the most vulnerable members of our community, should face bullying and threats of violence simply for being who they are.”
Citing 2009 statistics from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network that show 90% of gay students reported being bullied, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools Nate Monson said “Simple name calling and degrading phrases like 'that's so gay' can lead to youth feeling isolated and rejected. It's critical that we work together as a community to put an end to bullying.”
"It's sad not knowing what he gets to do, cause we all get to grow up and live our dreams, and now he doesn't really get to do that," Danie Ginger, a freshman at Spalding Catholic was quoted as saying.