OGDEN — Jackson Carter recalled being bullied through elementary school, to the point that he wanted to kill himself.
It started because of his race as a white child on an American Indian reservation near Roosevelt. Then it was because of the weight he put on as he ate to comfort himself after his family moved to Layton. It returned in high school, when he was bullied for his sexual orientation before he had figured it out for himself.
And just last week, second-language teacher Bonnie Flint in Davis County said her district received an email from a gay student who said he was being bullied and called names in the locker room.
“I don’t think this should happen to anyone’s kids,” said Flint, a mother herself. “There are a lot of us who care, and we would do anything to help you.”
Carter and Flint spoke out to end bullying at a vigil Tuesday evening in the Ogden Amphitheater. Almost 200 people attended the event, hosted by Ogden OUTReach and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Bullying is nothing new, but the speakers urged people to put an end to it, with a particular focus on the bullying of gay youths.
Gay young people are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In response to the feelings of loneliness, shame, confusion and suicidal thoughts that victims of bullying go through, the Utah Pride Center announced a new bullying hotline at the end of the vigil.
The hotline is open to everyone, “especially LGBTQ youth,” to report or talk about bullying and what resources and support are available, according to the flier handed out about it.
The number for the hotline is 801-580-7680.
Jim Rollins, a straight father and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took to the stage to let everyone at the vigil, regardless of who they were, know that they are loved.
“Two or three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought to come to an event like this,” he said.
But Rollins now has friends who are gay and said he appreciates them as people. And as the proud father of three boys, he only wants his sons to succeed, without knowing anger or hatred.
Rollins said that he, too, had used derogatory terms in high school. Now he would not think of ever doing so.
Not just bullying, but also rejection, can prove dangerous.
In a study from the Family Acceptance Project, young adults who are gay and reported a high level of family rejection were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide.
When Harrison Spendlove, a gay activist at Weber State University, came out to his family, they accepted him even though they did not all agree with him.
Everyone deserves that kind of love, he said.
But his story isn’t everyone’s.
One attendee said her nephew came out 10 years ago and was rejected by his immediate family.
Over time, his siblings have come around to accepting him, she said, and his brother even took a stand, challenging their mother to accept him, too.
She said it was difficult and, at times, he wished he were dead, but he was strong and managed to get through it.
“We have work to do here,” said Marian Edmonds, director of Ogden OUTReach. “The time has come to stand up and speak out.”
The vigil concluded with the lighting of candles and prayers from clergy of different faiths. They prayed for support, love, acceptance and change, saying every life is sacred and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.