By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
[UPDATED Feb. 3 at 4 p.m.]
A La Grande teen has passed away two weeks after an apparently bullying-related suicide attempt. According to a spokesperson for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, 15-year-old Jadin Bell died early in the afternoon on Feb. 3 after being off life support for a week.
Friend of the family Bud Hill tells KATU he believes anti-gay bullying drove 15-year-old Jadin Bell to hang himself from a Central Elementary School play structure on Jan. 19. A passerby tried to rescue the boy, who was then flown to Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital where he was put on life support.
“He was different, and they tend to pick on the different ones,” Hill said of the teen, who was active in cheerleading.
According to KATU, the La Grande School District was in the process of investigating the bullying when Bell tried to end his life:
The superintendent in La Grande says everyone there is heartbroken. He’s asked a mental health agency to look at how the school deals with these issues to see if there’s a better way to handle it.
Hill is vowing to start a new organization in Jadin’s honor to tackle these issues.
At a vigil held Wednesday, the La Grande Observer reports, those who know Bell described him as warm, loving, and full of passion:
“Jadin is one of the best people I have ever met. He makes everyone around him feel good all the time,” said LHS junior Frankie Benitez.
She said Bell is someone who never forgets his friends.
“Jadin always remembers people no matter what,” Benitez said. “If I felt bad, I would hang out with him and he would say something small like, ‘I love your sweater.’ He notices things you didn’t think anyone notices.”
Candy Blackman, an LHS parent who attended the vigil, offered offered a similar perspective.
“He always gives a compliment to everybody the first time he meets them,” Blackman said. “He always has a smile on his face.”
Bell is a member of the LHS cheerleading team, and, Blackman said, cheerleading fits his outgoing, colorful personality.
“Cheerleading is his passion,” Blackman said.Bell’s mother, Lola Lathrop, told KATU she hopes that the tragedy will make people thing twice about the way they treat people.
“The next time you are thinking of being unkind to someone, think to yourself, if that person was a member of your family, would you want them treated like that?” Don’t treat them like that,” Lathrop said. According to a hospital spokesperson, Bell’s family is not currently interested in speaking to the press.
Friends of Bell have set up a Facebook page — “Stay Strong, Jadin Bell” — to offer love and support during this difficult time.
Portland Pride President Debra Porta says in a statement that supporting youth like Bell is what Pride is all about:
For some, Pride is simply the big party or something to take for granted (bless that we have come that far) – this is especially so for we here in Portland. But for a great many more, particularly for our community outside of Portland – and ESPECIALLY our young people – it is the most (and often only) validating experience they get to have. I have to wonder if this young man has ever gotten the chance to experience Pride, and have clergy hug them, or community leaders smile and shake his hand, or see shop owners and community organizations EXCITED to see him? Or to simply be in a space where everyone around him is proud of him and of themselves? I have zero doubt that such an experience would have made a difference.
The act of celebrating who we are, of what we have accomplished, is a life-changing experience. Empowering ourselves to have such a celebration makes a statement, not only to those who would deny us that humanity, but to those in our own community who have not yet been able to experience that empowerment.
Unfortunately, there are few resources in Eastern Oregon (and really, most rural places) for LGBTQ youth. Umatilla Morrow Alternatives — the Hermiston-based social justice organization focused on LGBTQ folks and people of color — is the main LGBTQ group in the area. There is also a PFLAG chapter in Pendleton and one starting up in Hermiston.
“We’re doing everything we can,” says UMA organizer Darren Alston. “We’re the only organization of our kind in Eastern Oregon, certainly the only LGBTQ people of color organization.”
And while the organization has made headway in its 10 year history — particularly with regard to providing HIV testing and other medical resources — it is still struggling to make inroads into communities like La Grande.
Alston says UMA has worked with the GSA at Eastern Oregon University in the past to provide resources for La Grande youth, but that there are not any programs currently being offered. It is a difficult place to be an LGBTQ youth, he says, because there are few adult role models to look up to. Even if youth know of an LGBTQ adult, chances are good that adult isn’t out.
“They have nothing to look to. They may know older people who are gay, but they are hiding,” Alston says. And so, “the LGBTQ youth are all in hiding.”
Last year, La Grande Mayor Daniel Pokorney came under heavy criticism for anti-gay comments he posted on Facebook, including the following:
Washington State. The latest state to transition to Sodam and Gomorrah. The attack on marriage between a woman and a man continues.
A few days later, Mayor Pokorney apologized in remarks at EOU, according to the La Grande Observer.
“I sincerely apologize for my choice of words in the two Facebook posts last week. My choice of words was harmful and hurtful,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone. My intent was not to be hurtful, but to express myself on important issues. I understand there is a right way and a wrong way to address the issues.”
He closed with: “I would never do anything to intentionally bring a bad light to our city. I apologize for my choice of words and thank you for a great discussion.”
PQ Monthly is following up on this story and will provide updates as they become available. If you have information about this story, or would like to share a memory of Jadin Bell, send us an email. A memorial fund has been set up to help the family. Donations can be made at any Sterling Bank to the Jadin RJ Bell Memorial Fund.