City Desk

The District’s Homophobic Bullies

Shooting, Columbia Heights

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.

Brett Parson

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."

The Knife

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."

School Torture

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.

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  • Rick Mangus

    Bullies are bullies are bullies, there are bullies against fat kids, thin kids, smart kids, dumb kids, kids wearing glasses, red head kids in plain words what is the difference because your gay, NOTHING! The media has jumped on this and will hump it for all it's worth, it's a shame that some have committed suicide, but they did it because each one of them had other issues as well! So if you want to climb on this bandwagon like the President and other politicians and entertainers go right a head!

  • Ryan Little

    No one is denying that bullying is wrong regardless of the reason. However, when a slew of kids off themselves because they were all singled out for the *same* reason, it's only rational to examine that reason.

    The Report to the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide notes, "Gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youths, and 30 percent of all completed youth suicides are related to the issue of sexual identity." Yes, both queer kids and straight kids get bullied. Such is life. However, the difference is that LGBTQ youth are at a much higher risk of getting bullied, and they face a significantly higher risk of suicide than most other youths. Covering this story and giving queer voices a chance to speak up so that some lonesome kid in the Midwest can find out he's not the only boy who likes boys, well, that might actually help the situation.

    If you're bummed out by the thought of offering perpetually victimized children a chance to feel less alone, you might want to stop and reconsider your motives.

  • Zoe Brain

    Studies in the US and overseas - UK, Canada, Australia - are pretty consistant.

    50% of Trans kids will self-harm before age 20.

    That figure drops dramatically for kids who have parental support, and where effective anti-violence programs are in place.

    Gay kids suffer similar issues - as a rule of thumb, the problem is about half as severe for them, and they're les likely to end up in an ER from assault.

  • Anacostia Gent

    I agree with Rick Mangus.All of the curren firestorm,surronding this issue,is political correctness,at it's purest.These misguided youth,need God in their lives.

  • Rick Mangus

    'Ryan Little', gay kids committee sucicide because it starts in the home, closed minded parents don't help the situation, but as a gay man I take great offense to the term,"QUEER"!

  • Jason Cherkis

    I'm always amazed how not so tolerant D.C. can be. I guess I shouldn't be. Not sure how you could read this blog post and not feel anything but sympathy for those kids and this police officer who tried to do right.

    Instead, Rick offers his typical garbage. Not sure how you can be so incredibly heartless. And thank you, Anacostia Gent for proving that yes, D.C.'s church-going population is filled with ignorance and intolerance.

  • Truth Hurts

    People who bully, tease, and gossip generally do it because they feel insecure about themselves and think their own self-worth will improve by putting down others.

    It's helpful Cherkis is shedding light on the plight of youthful gays, but I urge him not to paint "D.C.'s church going population" as ignorant and intolerant.

    Some, no doubt, are behind the times re gays, but there are many progressive, tolerant people (including me) who go to church. Anacostia Gent doesn't speak for us. Still, IMO, anyone struggling with life ought to look for spiritual help. It works.

  • Rick Mangus

    'Jason Cherkis', answer this do you have a degree in journalism? I and everyone who reads your slop want to know and how is my comments here "Heartless", answer that! I'm stating objective facts here, something you don't do with your lame attempt at writing. Your asinine rants tell me two things, one you still have potty training issues from when you were a child and two this paper will hire any hack off the street!

  • Pingback: The District’s Homophobic Bullies | Blogging Made Easy

  • Rick Mangus

    Jason, we are all still waiting for the answer!

  • VoiceOfReason

    It is no secret, and certainly nothing new, that in the African American community, the church has been the primary instigator of a type of homophobia that has inspired hatred and intolerance within the black family. The victims of this ironically populate the pews and pulpit while self righteous ministers run them over the coals of bigotry.

    This is particularly troubling because of the blind faith that many African American families, particularly females, place on the guidance of propagandist church leadership. Even if it is at the expense of their own children. Non-African American gay teens, have it hard, but African Americans have it particularly hard as they must hide it from a nuclear family that openly denigrate gays who attend churches that reinforce this behavior.

    It is in these types of environment where suicide takes hold of young people and overwhelms them.

  • SEis4ME

    Rick Mangus, your logic would have us say "we all know that men die at the hands of insane women, so I don't get why we pay all this extra attention to women who die at the hands of a man. I mean, it happens."

    Is that basic statement true? Sure it is.

    Is it really a fact borne out of an objective analsysis? Not hardly.

    So yes it would be completely heartless and ridiculous for me to share your sentiment and interject a "men are victims to" into a discussion about domestic violence.

  • SEis4ME

    @VOR, well, uhm, ok. But for the many who don't attend church and have no inbedded spiritual framework from which to speak, they too are influenced by the black church?

    Let's not use the black church or your feelings against the church as a scapegoat here.

  • Jason Cherkis


    I think if you conducted a simple google search and looked up the studies that were done from the mid '90s to the present by folks like Lambda Legal, the Child Welfare League of America, and the American Bar Association, or looked up the work done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan in California or Dr. Gerald Mallon at Hunter College in New York, you'd find that LGBTQ kids are the most vulnerable population within the child-welfare system.

    You'd also find that a disproportionate number of homeless kids are LGBTQ as well.

    You don't seem very interested in this subject. You just seem more interested in making snide comments. So I doubt you will bother to look up the reams of research, data, and listening forums on LGBTQ kids available to you.

  • Rick Rosendall

    Jason, thanks for this. I look forward to the others in the series.

    Rick Mangus, please take Jason's advice and look up the work of those people and organizations. There is a great deal of evidence that you are wrong. Dismissing it all does not show you to be tough or clever, only proud of your ignorance. I am glad that your attitude is not the prevailing one here in Washington.

  • Rick Mangus

    First off Jason you still have not answered the question at hand! As far as snide comments you started to throw the mud and I threw back!

    I will do better than a google search, I know Caitlin and I will talk to her directly!

    Oh and by the way 'Rick Rosendall', stop being a drama queen about this issue and stop trying to further GLAA agendaand here, worry about the problems inside GLAA!

  • SEis4ME

    Whether or not Jason has a degree in journalism is about as relevant as us asking whether you have a degree in chemistry.

    You entered into this discussion bearing the logic of a "birther". That is, no logic. Just throw it against the wall in hopes of making some sort of twisted point. Well you did and your point was made.

    Yet despite all of your huff, you have failed to disprove anything said here.

  • Rick Mangus

    'SEis4ME', sorry no data on the bulling of fat kids, thin kids, smart kids, dumb kids, kids wearing glasses, red head kids the only way this is becoming a problem is the media and every politician has jumped on this issue, it's called a hump story.

    It is important to know who is writing articles disgused as news, cloaked with bias and personal opinions. In ANY journalism course one of the first things taught is report facts and keep your personal feeling out of the story, something Jason fails to do over and over again!

    So again I ask Jason, do you have a journalism degree?

  • wreckfish

    Ignore Rick. I think any sensible human being will admit that gay kids are the bottom of the pecking order and are teased mercilessly and generally treated as non-human freak-o's. Nobody should be surprised about that. Unfortunately it's not surprising that DC's overworked social service infrastructure doesn't pay much attention to the issue. This is good journalism btw. Just becuase you don't like gay people, or gay children, doesn't mean that their oppression doesn't mean anything.

  • Ben

    Rick Mangus, what the fuck? Are you seriously grilling Cherkis about whether he has a "journalism degree"? Many good journalists don't - it's totally irrelevant. Bob Woodward doesn't even have a f'n journalism degree. This was great work by Cherkis, so STFU.

  • Rick Mangus

    'Ben', you need to "STFU", it's call objective reporting, go back and drink the 'Kool Aid'!


  • SEdcDude

    Hey Ricky "MANSPUNK" MANGUSBEEFEATER, you are on your own, I could careless if Cherkis has a degree in journalism!

    Actually I could careless as to how much "MAN LOVIN'" you partake in, but what does concern me is IDIOTS, MORONS and DELUSIONAL DWEEBS given a platform to OPINION me to death with stupidity, ie YOUR TYPICAL BULLSHIT!

    Why don't you accept the challenge posed to you and RESEARCH as opposed to pulling crap out your ass and offering it up as facts, FOOL!

  • Nikki

    Looking forward to more of these blog posts in the future. Nice work, Jason.

  • Rick Mangus


  • Grumpy

    What can be done to help these kids?

    I'm sitting here imagining my own child going thru this and not having a support system...what is a kid to do when faced with this?