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This week I wrote about a gay D.C. foster kid, Kenneth Jones, who had been bullied at school, relentlessly teased by relatives, and eventually threatened by his foster father. I have been following Kenneth for two-and-a-half years. Much of that bullying or its aftermath I’d witnessed. But in the course of my reporting, I interviewed others about the issues of homophobia in the home, school, and child-welfare setting.
I talked to District lawyers, judges, advocates, mentors. They all had their own horror stories. So for a series of blog posts, I’m going to share those stories with you. The problem of homophobic bullying isn’t just a national issue. It’s happening right here in D.C.
Many months ago, I interviewed then-acting Lt. Brett Parson. At the time, he was in charge of the various Metropolitan Police Department’s liaison units. This included the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit which Parson had been responsible for basically turning into a vital community program. Through the past decade, Parson says he has worked with several gay teens who had been bullied.
After the jump, Parson tells his stories.
The Club Kid
Parson (photographed above): “The youngest call was a drug case, he was 13 years old, caught him with drugs at a club….He was out at the club because it was the only place he could be around other gay people. He had Ecstasy on him. He was living with his grandmother. This was eight years ago. [The Child and Family Services Agency] made a recommendation that he go back to his grandmother, and that she supervise him better. I remember thinking that he needed a more structured environment and he needed something more LGBTQ.”
Parson recalls that the grandmother was not OK with her grandson’s sexuality. “That was a major issue for me to try and explain that to the attorneys,” he says. “They really didn’t care. It was frustrating. I knew why he was engaging in this activity. I remember especially at the actual arrest scene, took quite a bit of time to talk to him to try and find out what the hell he was doing at this club. It was more of an older gay club. He was hanging out with people that were old enough to be his parents or older. And listening to him talk about how he can’t tell anybody in school, his grandmother had threatened to kick him out—-this is the only way he could make friends.”
Parson: “I had a case of a kid who was assaulted by his mother and aunt because he came out to them. They threatened him with a knife. He was punched, his hair was pulled. I remember on that scene we were very frustrated because the initial officers considered not making an arrest. They had [the officers] convinced that they were just disciplining him. The kid was 14. This was three years ago.”
Parson goes on to say: “In that particular case I had the GLU officer contact CFSA to open up an abuse case… [The family] considered it completely justified. …That was a real eye opener for me to realize just how bad life can be for some of these kids.”
The Plastic Fork
Parson: “We had a case in Columbia Heights—-a group home. One of the youths there had been stabbed with a plastic fork. It didn’t cause too much injury. It all stemmed from the fact that he was gay, and he mouthed off to them. This guy stabbed him with the plastic fork. The folks at the group home had no way to deal with it. They’re helpless. I remember saying to them—-this is probably five years ago—-‘Have you thought about having folks come in and having some classes?’ It just totally went over their heads. It didn’t seem it was an option they were willing to explore.”
Parson continues: “The dude that stabbed him was the least of his worries. He had kids threatening to kill him. It was a nightmare for her. He preferred to be identified as a female. She wasn’t passing as female. She was a very effeminate male. That was an issue in the house—-they would not let her dress in female clothing. She was constantly in fear of violence. She feared for her life. She did not trust that the staff was going to protect her. In her opinion, the staff was part of the problem.”
“She talked about just [being] pushed and punched and slapped and hair pulled. Spat upon. This is a kid who is ripe for suicide. This is a kid that is eventually going to give up.”
Parson: “We had a transgendered kid at one of the junior high schools. We were called in by the school resource officer because the kids kept getting into fights. The Vice Principal refused to call her by her preferred gender and kept calling her by her male name. Just disrespect. [The Vice Principal said] ‘If he would just dress normally, this wouldn’t happen.'”
Parson goes on: “I remember just sitting there thinking: You expect this child to get an education. I remember we took the kid home, and mom had like three other kids. This was her oldest kid, and she had just given up trying to help this kid.”
file photo by Darrow Montgomery.
photo of now-Sgt. Brett Parson by Darrow Montgomery.