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Mother sues over gay son's suicide.
November 5, 2001 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Mother sues over gay son's suicide. This is a really awful story - teen boy commits suicide after police harass him and threaten to "out" him to his family. I so hope the mother wins this lawsuit.
posted by dnash (44 comments total)

 
I hope the judge makes the same quick decision as you did. One will find that the documents and testimony delivered in court are radically different then those at such news sources as... salon.com

I could be wrong about this case, but that would be the exception, not the rule.
posted by geoff. at 1:48 PM on November 5, 2001


This is horrible. If only more closeted gays could understand that by coming out themselves (and not to say everyone can do that easily, especially those still in high school) they take away any power others might have over them (in terms of "out"ing). Of course this is horrible because of the cops' atrocious behavior. But, I think, on a deeper level this is horrible because of the awful, terrorizing burden gays have to carry around with them in a world where things like this happen.
posted by adrober at 1:53 PM on November 5, 2001


geoff.- Salon wasn't the news source. They pick up the AP and Reuters wire stories. So it was an Associated Press story by Marieclaire Dale (not a Salon employee) from the source that most of the news that is reported everyday comes from. No Salon influence there, bub.
posted by raintea at 1:55 PM on November 5, 2001


From a Legalbrief article about the appeals court ruling last year:

"In a friend-of-the-court brief, attorney Catherine Hanssens, of Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, urged the court to uphold [U.S. Magistrate Judge Arnold C.] Rapoport's decision that the case must go to trial. ‘Lambda participates in this case because of the need to protect lesbians' and gay men's right of informational privacy and their ability to control the disclosure of their sexual orientation to others without coercion or sanction from the state,’ Hanssens wrote. ‘As the plaintiff's evidence in this case shows, enormous harms can arise, particularly among lesbian and gay youth, when police or other government authority is inappropriately used to force disclosure and advance a personal moral agenda. Given well-established legal principles, the officers involved here should have known that invading Marcus Wayman's privacy and acting to punish or condemn homosexuality constituted an illegitimate use of their authority as police officers.’ "
posted by Carol Anne at 2:10 PM on November 5, 2001


I did a little searching, and it looks like there is more detail -- albeit partisan -- at the ACLU (PA) site.

As for the issue at hand... it appears that the police mishandled this case from the git-go, but that said, I'm a little concerned about police being forbidden from sharing certain data with parents/guardians of minors.

Children are not treated -- nor should they be -- as adults vis a vis civic rights and responsibilities... and separating a child -- whether physically or, in this instance, psychologically -- from parents is really not acceptible.

I could go into the whole sexual orientation thang here. But won't... maybe some other time.
posted by silusGROK at 2:14 PM on November 5, 2001


I'm a little concerned about police being forbidden from sharing certain data with parents/guardians of minors

I guess I am too, in a way, but more concerned about information that police need to share with parents. It's not like we're talking about a kid who might harm family members or friends. We're talking about sexuality, and it wasn't really the police's business, and shouldn't have been used as a bargaining piece.

What about a family environment that would cause a kid to take his own life, rather than tell his family he's gay? That's the issue that perplexes me.
posted by 7sharp11 at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2001




"I'm a little concerned about police being forbidden from sharing certain data withparents/guardians of minors"

 
That sounds good when you believe that parents are always kind and accepting. I see a vast world of difference between informing parents
about issues that they might be ultimately responsible for, and using an
issue like sexual orientation as a tool for coercion.


posted by Sqwerty at 2:41 PM on November 5, 2001


Vis10n, what are you talking about? What place is it of a policeman to tell a parent the sexual orientation of their child? That's ridiculous.
And what is, "I could go into the whole sexual orientation thang here" supposed to imply?
posted by Doug at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2001


If my child was caught having sex by the cops, I'd better hear about it... it's no different should they be caught drinking.

Minors are legally unable to make certain decisions on their own, which allows parents (and society to a larger extent) the power to raise their children as they see fit.

None of this, however, excuses the police officers from a gross misuse of power.

No one's talked about the ACLU (PA) peice that mentions that the police officer was the boy's former football coach (who had a grudge, apparently)... there's a lot more to this story than what was in the Salon/AP article.
posted by silusGROK at 2:55 PM on November 5, 2001


They weren't caught having sex, and they were 18 and 17 years old, so it probably wouldn't have been illegal HAD they been having sex.
posted by Doug at 3:05 PM on November 5, 2001


Yes, do tell, Vis10n. This sounds exciting!

As for much of the other arguments about sharing information with parents, the football player was 18 so there is no in loco parentis action going on.

On a personal note, I was out of the closet at school but not to my family, in a town much larger than the one described (and a few years earlier). If I'd been picked up by the cops with my boyfriend, taken downtown, lectured about the Bible and been threatened with family exposure, well, I would have thought that was grounds enough for a lawsuit right there.

I hope she sues the crap out of them, more importantly for the legal precedent, than for whatever peace of mind the cash might or might not bring.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:11 PM on November 5, 2001


You're missing the point, Doug.

But that's mostly because I'm not making it very well.

So here goes again: children (and the 17 year old was definitely a minor... and as such, any sexual activity -- accomplished or planned -- would probably fall under any number of statutory rape laws) do not enjoy -- nor should they -- the same level of privacy that adults do.

If this case ends-up refusing parents such crucial information as this about their children, I think that society will have lost a great deal.

I realize that the boys weren't caught having sex. They were caught trespassing. But during the course of questioning, the boys apparently admitted to being on the property to have sex... and I think such an important detail should be shared with the parents.

Of course, this isn't what happened... in a gross misuse of their power, officers apparently tried to use this peice of information to get the boys to do something that was outside of the officer's power to otherwise do: out them.

If the officers had the children's interests at heart, they would have taken the children home immediately, telling their parents whatever had been witnessed and/or said to that point.
posted by silusGROK at 3:33 PM on November 5, 2001


Ok, it was a public official who talked to this kid. But did the policeman really put the first thought of suicide into the kid's head? Likewise, did the game "Doom" make the Columbine kids into killers?

I feel sorry for the family of the self-killing teen, but do they really believe that if someone causes another person stress, that they are responsible for the other's actions? Actions being stupid, morbid, funny or otherwise?

...just don't be the straw that breaks the camel's back, yikes.
posted by tomplus2 at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2001


I would hope that some sort of suit would have come out of this situation whether the boy had committed suicide or not.

Of course, the added dimension here is that the boy said that he was going to kill himself, but whether that was just to his pal, or to the officer isn't clear. Either way, it would seem that something should have been said/done.

You can't just dismiss a threat to kill oneself.
posted by silusGROK at 3:45 PM on November 5, 2001


Vis10n, the first line of the article states:

"an 18-year-old high school football player"

So he's an adult. He has a right to his privacy, and I think the family might have a case given that we're not talking about rights for minors here.
posted by mathowie at 4:02 PM on November 5, 2001


Vis10n, i thank God you're not my father/mother.
posted by jessie at 4:06 PM on November 5, 2001


He has a right to his privacy, and I think the family might have a case given that we're not talking about rights for minors here.

Though I agree with you in principle, classifying it as a full-blown "right" seems to open up some dangerous possibilities. For example, would sharing information about underage drinking with the 18-year-old's parents violate his or her privacy? Would the police officers then be exposed to a lawsuit? How would that work?
posted by gd779 at 4:10 PM on November 5, 2001


I have already said that I think there's a case here.

Pretty much the only concern I have about the case is the possible reprocutions it may have vis a vis the parents' right to know... which I believe is sacrosanct.

Matt: Thanks for pointing that out. Somehow I thought the boy who had commited suicide was a minor... my bad.

Jessie: I'm likewise thankful that you're not my child. I would hope that my children would judge me in a more holistic fashion. FWIW, Jessie, I think that my opinions on parenting are fairly enlightened.
posted by silusGROK at 4:16 PM on November 5, 2001


Fortunately, i'm in a position of having known parents presumably like you, although thankfully not my own. If you want total control in your life, exercise it upon yourself, not those you simply squirted out.
posted by jessie at 4:21 PM on November 5, 2001


Sixteen is the legal age of consent in Pennsylvania, for both homosexual and heterosexual activity.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:25 PM on November 5, 2001


adrober said: If only more closeted gays could understand that by coming out themselves (and not to say everyone can do that easily, especially those still in high school) they take away any power others might have over them (in terms of "out"ing).

Yeah, but that assumes it's legitimate to buy into convenient labels we commonly ascribe to people as being rigidly straight or gay or bi. I don't. Sexuality's way too fluid to so easily classify. And saying you're gay (or anything else) puts you in a box, as far as the way people see you (and, surely, how you see yourself) for the rest of your life. I just don't think it's as easily solved as you do, because I reject the labels and the mindset behind them.

7sharp11 said: What about a family environment that would cause a kid to take his own life, rather than tell his family he's gay? That's the issue that perplexes me.

Given the explosive nature of the disclosure at question, I wouldn't be so quick to go there. I mean, how many teenagers, even those with great relationships with their parents, actually talk with their parents in a genuine, forthright, transparent manner about their sexuality? In the face of being hours away from being publicly "outed", I can see how a kid with even a very strong relationship with his parents could all too easily abandon reason to make such a fateful decision.

There are a lot of lessons to take away from this cautionary tale; one of the most important for me is to take it very, very seriously when someone tells you they're going to kill themselves, as the one friend said to the other, in this case. (Sadly, I imagine the friend who was told this was probably so traumatized himself that that warning didn't really register with him.)

And, Vis10n, although I'm not a parent -- and I'm sure my perspective would change a hell of a lot if I were -- I also have to say that I wouldn't want the police telling me that my kid was having sex if that had nothing to do with a charge that was being brought against him/her.
posted by verdezza at 4:25 PM on November 5, 2001


Jessie... never have I said that I want total control over my children. I just said that I have the right to make informed decisions about my children... and that I should not be refused information that would allow me that opportunity.

As for the "just squirted out" thought. Well... here's to you not having children at all, then. Children are more than just an orgasmic bi-product... and whether you believe in a higher power or not, the stewardship that a parent has over their children is sacred.

Carol Anne... Thanks for that.

Verdezza... I wouldn't want the police spying on my children, but I also wouldn't want them deciding what I should and shouldn't know.
posted by silusGROK at 4:34 PM on November 5, 2001


How that information is obtained is sometimes of greater importance than the information itself -- particularly in this case i think.

From what you've said Vis10n, i simply smell a level of control from your direction that makes me uncomfortable. Hopefully for your kids sake (if you have any), i am wrong.

And i wasn't proposing that having kids is simply a squirt-a-thon. At least it's not for me.
posted by jessie at 4:44 PM on November 5, 2001


Jessie... Parents must exercise some control -- a great deal early on, and then diminishing with age -- to protect children from their own limited perspective, and to endow them (hopefully) with the tools needed to successfully navigate life on their own.

The best parents I've seen exercise little control over their teenagers... acting more as counselors and guides, than brooding disciplinarians.
posted by silusGROK at 4:54 PM on November 5, 2001


Marcus Wayman, the football player, told his friend he was going to kill himself. A few hours later, he did just that.

"The most brutal sports, including football, have the tightest locks on their closet doors... The vulnerability implied by men loving men is not part of the game plan."
posted by Carol Anne at 4:57 PM on November 5, 2001


"Willinsky offers that, as a small town police officer, his role has parental overtones, thus, reducing the citizen's expectation of privacy .... We mention this only to note our disagreement with the concept that the breadth of one's constitutional rights can somehow be diminished by demographics," Circuit Judge Carol Los Mansmann wrote in the opinion.

With parental overtones like this who needs enemies!
posted by sillygit at 5:14 PM on November 5, 2001


I wouldn't want the police spying on my children, but I also wouldn't want them deciding what I should and shouldn't know.

Yes, I agree, Vis10n. If I were a parent, that is what I would want as well. Thanks for helping me to see that.
posted by verdezza at 5:27 PM on November 5, 2001


Much as one could take an opinion based on sound reasoning, reality poses an obstacle to justice, as it ever does when law enforcement is in the defendant's seat. If no one in the Amadou Diallo case got more than a slap on the wrist (and a pretty weak one at that) how can one delude him/herself enough to think that this case may lead to anything more serious?

This tendency for judge to actively come up for excuses for police brutality is not exclusive to the US. In my native province of Quebec (in Canada) a man was literally beaten into a coma, and subsequently died of massive brain injuries suffered while in police detention, and the "punishment" in that case was as weak as could have been imagined.
posted by clevershark at 5:34 PM on November 5, 2001


To use potentially damaging or even life-altering personal information as a bargaining tool in investigations -- threatening a suspect that his infidelities will be revealed to his wife so that she might stop protecting him, therefore inducing him to cooperate so as to not have his cover blown -- has been permitted by the courts. Similarly, police have the right to lie to suspects.

But in this case, the young men had fully cooperated with the police, there was no investigation, no thought that they were involved in any illegal activities beyond what they were discovered doing - trespassing and drinking underage. They had no reason to reveal that they were intending to have sex, that information was irrelevant to the charges and was seemingly badgered out of them after the police officers engaged in a heavy-handed anti-homosexuality lecture. The police officers clearly presumed that the young men were gay, and took advantage of having them in custody to barrage and berate them for that, despite the fact that it had nothing to do with the case.

If these were civilians and there had been money involved with the ultimatum of outing, it would have been blackmail. But these were police officers acting in their official capacity, which meant that the threat carrried as much, if not more weight, than financial pressure ever could.

I cannot wait to see what happens with this case, and I don't dare hazard a prediction, but if there is any justice, Mr. My Religion (Coupled with the Nepotism Which Got Me My Job) Gives Me The Right will be on the hook for a nice payoff to the grieving mother. It's the very least he's due, the very least.
posted by Dreama at 7:46 PM on November 5, 2001


>But during the course of questioning, the boys apparently admitted to being on the property to have sex... and I think such an important detail should be shared with the parents.

Had they been a boy and a girl, same ages, the cop would most likely have given a little wink to the guy and not told anyone about it.
posted by dnash at 7:58 PM on November 5, 2001


Verdezza---I would agree that sexuality is a very gray area and that no one is completely gay or straight. However, I'm a firm believer in preference---and since the large majority of adults are aware of their sexual preference they can use that preference to establish their sexual identity. Obviously it's not as much an issue for straights since that's the "norm." But for gays, establishing a sexual identity can give them a forum and a context and a supportive community and a chance for family and friends to know them better. Without that, many gays---and I went through this myself---will consider their thoughts "deviant" and will feel a deep, often smothering self-hatred. It often takes coming out to see that homosexuality is no more "deviant" than heterosexuality, and that the stereotypes you find on TV are just that---stereotypes---and that there are tons of positive gay role models in this world. Coming out can turn that self-hatred into self-love. What these officers did was exploit this poor kid's self-hatred, pushing him backward down that dark, bitter path towards the antithesis of self-love: self-destruction.
posted by adrober at 8:03 PM on November 5, 2001


Well said, adrober.

I guess my initial criticism of your opinion was pretty tangential, having more to do with my frustration over our society's (understandable, if disagreeable) tendency to classify and compartmentalize everything and everyone.

You're right -- for a lot of folks, possibly the majority, coming out solves more problems than it creates. In what I was saying, I was speaking for myself more than for where a lot of young gay/bi/questioning people find themselves.
posted by verdezza at 9:13 PM on November 5, 2001


(On the other hand, of course, maybe I'm just self-deceived; time will tell! ;)
posted by verdezza at 9:15 PM on November 5, 2001


I'm a little concerned about police being forbidden from sharing certain data with parents/guardians of minors.

If the information reveals itself in the course of reporting something of substance to the parents, then so be it. But there's no need to disclose sexual behavior with a report of underage drinking. Would it be reported if the couple were het? I don't know, but something tells me there's much less of a chance of it, and an even smaller chance of it being used against the couple as a threat.

I came out when I was ready, and as far as I'm concerned my parents had no need nor right to know until I was ready to tell them. Turns out they already knew, but that's beside the point :P
posted by holycola at 9:48 PM on November 5, 2001


Verdezza---I would agree that sexuality is a very gray area and that no one is completely gay or straight. [posted by adrober]

Speak for yourselves only, fellow MeFiers. Some of us are completely gay or straight. The Kinsey Institute's sexuality scale recognizes that fact:

"As described by Kinsey, it was used to determine what proportion of a person's sexual interest or sexual activity involved same-sex or opposite-sex partners. Kinsey zero would mean that that individual was only interested or only had sexual activity with the opposite sex. A Kinsey six would only be with the same sex. A Kinsey three would be balanced bisexual, equal interest in both—and then the varying degrees in between those three points."
posted by Carol Anne at 5:22 AM on November 6, 2001


Some of us are completely gay or straight. The Kinsey Institute's sexuality scale recognizes that fact

The Kinsey scale doesn't "recognize a fact," it takes a position. It's an empirical claim, not a capital-F Fact, and Kinsey's method is certainly not above criticism. Lots of people who are interested in the same sex don't have sexual activity with the same sex, and don't self-report their interest, or--some would argue--have repressed their interest and are not even aware of it. You could take the positivist tack and say sexual identity is defined as how people self-report, but that reduces the question to something uninteresting--it's like saying (and I've heard people say this) that depression is defined by whether a patient responds to antidepressants; if the antidepressants don't work, it must not be depression.

My personal take is that the whole "gay"/"straight" category system is a blunt instrument to use on a finely textured problem, and the Kinsey scale is just not all that useful once you're past the gross-generalization level.
posted by rodii at 5:36 AM on November 6, 2001


Carol Anne: Some of us are completely gay or straight. The Kinsey Institute's sexuality scale recognizes that fact.

Rodii: The Kinsey scale doesn't "recognize a fact," it takes a position.

The fact I referred to above is that "some of us are completely gay or straight." I am 100% lesbian and get tired of explaining that fact to those who insist that "no one is completely gay or straight." The Kinsey Scale is a way of looking at sexuality; it is useful for some of us and not for others. I like to cite the Kinsey Scale because it recognizes my sexual identity.
posted by Carol Anne at 7:34 AM on November 6, 2001


I'm a little concerned about police being forbidden from sharing certain data with parents/guardians of minors.

Holycola... homo- or hetero-, I don't care. Either way, I'd want to know.

Some of us are completely gay or straight. The Kinsey Institute's sexuality scale recognizes that fact.

Carol Anne... the Kinsey scale is helpful, but it's hardly foolproof. I'd rather see something a little more organic than a 5 (or is it 7... can't ever remember) point scale.

And I must concur with Rodii... at least in part: just because Kinsey says it's so, doesn't make it.
posted by silusGROK at 8:35 AM on November 6, 2001


Yes, yes. We are ALL victims now. I can't wait for my chance to sue someone. Kinda like waiting for the lottery.
posted by eas98 at 11:22 AM on November 6, 2001


Had they been a boy and a girl, same ages, the cop would most likely have given a little wink to the guy and not told anyone about it.

dnash makes a good point...don't you think?

now, to treat someone differently because of color, creed, or sexual preference--by someone in a position of power--that is discrimination. Right? regardless of whatever philosophy you follow, and whether or not you think god hates fags or figs or doesn't care or Whatever...we as a society have agreed that discrimination isn't something we want, and we have established legal consequences.

since when are police supposed to be moral/religious teachers? This could be a lawsuit even if the poor guy was Alive. all together now, 'seperation of church and state'. nice ring to it eh?
posted by th3ph17 at 12:36 PM on November 6, 2001


"My son's a homosexual, and I love him! I love my dead gay son!"
posted by thirteen at 12:44 PM on November 6, 2001


Carol Anne, I never said a person couldn't be "completely gay or straight." And I wholeheartedly support, and would not even begin to challenge, your assertion that you are, indeed, "100% lesbian."

What I was saying, although perhaps I didn't make myself clear, is that I reject such labels as straight or gay or bi for myself. And, more to the point regarding this thread, I reject others' (usually good) intentions to categorize me, or anyone other than themselves, as such.

What people want to call themselves, that's great, so be it. But don't anyone try to define me, or anyone else, by the same definition you apply to yourself -- that's my feeling.

And, by the way, I'd use the Kinsey Scale to argue for the fluidity of sexual identity, not for its rigidity. I guess it's just another example of how people from different sides of an issue can use the same data to support their claims. :-)
posted by verdezza at 7:36 PM on November 6, 2001


Damn! Dead link. Sorry 'bout that. Here, this one should work (for the Kinsey Scale, that is).
posted by verdezza at 7:45 PM on November 6, 2001


verdezza: glad you returned to clarify your position. I, too, "...reject others' (usually good) intentions to categorize me, or anyone other than themselves..." You commented: "And saying you're gay (or anything else) puts you in a box, as far as the way people see you (and, surely, how you see yourself) for the rest of your life." Claiming the Kinsey Six "box" as my home on the sexual range is liberating, not limiting. People are different.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:12 AM on November 7, 2001


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