Ryan Eichenauer posted a video last year, telling friends and family he’s attracted to both boys and girls. It’s an extraordinarily powerful and brave video. In it, Ryan says he’s not coming out, he’s letting the world in. Unfortunately, Ryan has learned that part of the world he let in is ugly, cruel, and extremely hateful.
Ryan attends school in Circle Pines, Minnesota, a suburb of Anoka. Circle Pines is a quaint town, with a small population. From the city’s official website:
Circle Pines is a residential community with fields of oaks and elms scattered throughout the two square miles of the city.
Circle Pines also sits in Minnesota’s 6th district, and is represented by Republican congresswoman, Michele Bachmann. This is notable, given what happened in the Anoka school system a few years ago, and given how Michele Bachmann feels not just about the LGBT community, but about bullying.
First, take a look at one of the letters Ryan received in response to his video. Ryan shared this letter on social media, and with local television news, because he wanted people to see it. This is a kid in high school, who had the courage to “let the world in,” and someone in that world decided Ryan, and people like him, don’t deserve to live. Below are portions of that second letter.
I see there are many others who also want you dead. Good.
Fucking faggots like you don’t deserve to live in this world.
No one likes the fact that you are alive.
I know you have been suicidal before, and I hope you try it again…
I can’t wait for the day that I get to walk over your grave.
Fucking kill yourself already, because we all know with you gone the world will be a better place.
We all fucking hate you.
Minnesota’s 6th district is the most conservative in the state according to TwinCities.com. And one of the most conservative and outspoken groups in Anoka is the Minnesota Family Council. MFC was behind the now-defunct “No Homo Promo” policy that prevented teachers from addressing or even acknowledging LGBT issues in school. On their website, MFC has an article about one of the nine teenagers who committed suicide between 2009 and 2011 in the Anoka school district, Justin Aaberg. In the article, MFC claims LGBT teens do not end their own lives because of bullying. From the article:
I would agree that youth who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk, because they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle. These alternative sexual identifications or lifestyles deny the reality that we are created male and female.
That piece is written by Tom Prichard. Mr. Prichard is the president of the Minnesota Family Council, lobbied against marriage equality in Minnesota, has equated the current marriage debate to slavery, and compares being LGBT to smoking. That comparison was used by Richard Swier in 2011. Swier, an activist with the Tea Party Network, penned this little blog for TPN, in which he wrote:
This is not bullying. It is peer pressure, and it is healthy. There are many bad behaviors such as smoking, under age drinking and drug abuse that are behaviors that cannot be condoned. Homosexuality falls into that category. Homosexuality is simply bad behavior that youth see as such and rightly pressure their peers to stop it.
Swier ends his hate-filled screed with this:
I agree with Gulf Coast Gives that “LGBT youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts.” Homosexuality, like drugs, harms young people if they experement [sic] with it. That is the greatest tragedy.
To people like Michele Bachmann, Tom Prichard, and Richard Swier, this is all a choice. Ryan Eichenhauer is choosing to expose himself to the kind of hate he read in that letter. He’s choosing his sexuality rather than having been born this way, much like a person chooses to smoke or try beer at a party. It makes perfect sense to the fundamentalist Christian demographic – after all, they all chose to be heterosexual, right?
Tammy Aaberg, Justin Aaberg’s mother, went through every kind of hell you can imagine when she discovered her son’s body. I adore Tammy, and I think about her, and her family, almost every day. Ryan Eichenauer did not choose to be bisexual anymore than Justin chose to be gay, anymore than Ellen Degeneres chose to be a lesbian, anymore than I chose to be straight. Frankly, if it was a choice, watching what the LGBT community goes through just to be themselves, who would choose it? Who would choose a path that almost guarantees you will be hated, threatened, discriminated against, compared to pedophiles, told you cannot marry the person you love, and that you are destroying our country?
For the Prichards, the Swiers, and the Bachmanns, tell me: Would you choose to be LGBT, with people like you in the world? I cheer Ryan, and all the other LGBT teens in America who refuse to stay in the closet. I mourn the LGBT teens who were driven into darkness by hate, and I embrace everyone who is dragging hatemongers like the person who wrote that letter to a high school student, out into the light.
Update: The New Civil Rights Movement is reporting another student from Circle Pines, who attends the same school as Ryan Eichenauer, has been targeted by hate as well. Eighth grader Noah Ratgen, after coming out via social media late last year, awoke to find “God hates fags” scrawled on his driveway.