A 19-year-old gay man from Oklahoma has taken his own life, and his parents say a hate-filled recent City Council meeting he attended may have driven him over the edge.
Zach Harrington was a talented musician who’d endured years of struggles due to his sexual orientation in high school in conservative Norman, Okla.
On Sept. 28, Harrington attended a three-hour public hearing on a proposal to declare October gay history month in the city. Although the council ultimately approved the proposal, Harrington’s parents described the meeting as potentially “toxic” for their son, a private person who internalized his feelings.
Zach Harrington committed suicide at his family’s home in Norman seven days after the meeting, yet another apparent victim of anti-gay hate. His parents say they hope the story of his death will make people think twice before they say certain things about their friends and neighbors in public. We’re hoping it will also prompt them to reflect upon the hatred in their hearts.
Nikki Harrington, Zach’s older sister, said her brother likely took all of the negative things said about members of the GLBT community straight to heart.
“When he was sitting there, I’m sure he was internalizing everything and analyzing everything … that’s the kind of person he was,” she said. “I’m sure he took it personally. Everything that was said.”
Harrington’s father, Van, said he wasn’t sure why his son went to the meeting, especially after his experiences in Norman once he revealed that he was gay as a teenager. He said he feels his son may have glimpsed a hard reality at the Sept. 28 council meeting, a place where the same sentiments that quietly tormented him in high school were being shouted out and applauded by adults the same age as his own parents.
“I don’t think it was a place where he would hear something to make him feel more accepted by the community,” he said. “For somebody like Zach, it (the meeting) was probably very hard to sit through.”
To learn what you can do to combat bullying in your community, visit www.pflag.org/claimyourrights.