Our hearts go out to the family, friends, classmates and teachers of Jacob Rogers, a student at Cheatham County Central High School in Ashland City, TN who completed suicide on December 7, 2011. A news report alleges that Jacob Rogers complained of frequent bullying at school based on sexual orientation. A friend of Jacob reported that he dropped out of school before Thanksgiving after feeling ignored by school officials.
This terrible event serves as a reminder to all parents, teachers and school administrators that they share a responsibility for supporting the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Individuals, families, communities and the whole of society have a responsibility to promote a culture that welcomes, accepts and supports LGBT students for who they are.
During this difficult time, we encourage students, parents and teachers to take advantage of grief counseling offered by Cheatham County Central High School or other mental health resources in the community. Discussions that follow youth suicide deaths present an important opportunity to remind people — and families of LGBT youth in particular — of how important it is to love, embrace and accept their entire child for all of who they are.
Following this terrible event, Tennessee Equality Project calls upon the Cheatham County School Board to fully investigate this tragic incident and the school’s response to the bullying of Jacob Rogers. We also call upon the School Board to implement the following recommendations from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) for addressing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment:
1. Revise district policy to explicitly prohibit student discrimination, harassment, bullying, and intimidation based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The school district must establish an enumerated policy for unwelcomed conduct that focuses on sex, race, ethnicity, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. An enumerated policy is crucial to ensure that anti-bullying policies are effective for all students.
2. Require staff trainings to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment effectively and in a timely manner.
3. Support student efforts to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment on campus, such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in events such as the National Day of Silence and Ally Week. GSAs in schools have proven effective in reducing violence and harassment of LGBT students.
4. Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula to help students understand and respect difference within the school community and society as a whole.