On Wednesday, December 3, 2014 Ronin Shimizu took his last breathe. He did this of his own choosing. What he did not choose was the pain that steered him to that point. The taunting from peers led to his parents taking him out of school and home-schooling Ronin to avoid the abuse he encountered. Ronin was the only male cheerleader on his squad and this made him a target. His maleness was on trial. And his classmates would serve as both judge and jury. Ronin took the way out that he thought would relieve him of the pain but the ripple of pain will forever be felt by his family and friends. The ripple that started with what some may classify as an innocuous taunting: gay.
Unfortunately, Ronin's "bullying" is not uncommon. The word bullying is in quotes because this was not simple bullying, which can be understood as teasing or unpleasant interactions with someone trying to limit or control another child. This type of behavior is violence. It is gender violence that impacts a child's ability to be their authentic self. Softening up our language to believe that this type of behavior is not violence does not honor the life of Ronin and many other young people who have died and have been traumatized by gender violence. It's time we examine closely how we respond and more importantly prevent tragedies such as this one.
In our society we are obsessed with regulating the gender expression of everyone within it. We explicitly teach children that certain toys, colors, clothes, etc. are relegated to be used solely by certain people. We limit their imagination by telling them early on that their life will be mapped by the sex assigned at birth. We track them and communicate our subtle disapproval if they diverge in any way, shape or form. We also teach them to do this to each other. Our approval and disapproval communicates what is sanctioned for their "gender" and what is not. Young people deserve a childhood that is free from limitations, that is free from regulation of expression. Youth deserve to explore their world and in turn, express themselves freely through their play and through their interests. Children deserve a world where they can just be; where gender "diversion" or gender "non-conformity" is encouraged in order to move toward a more authentic expression of oneself. Youth should be liberated from the constraints of gender in order to define who they are for themselves.
At Hetrick-Martin we are committed to creating that space for all young people and partnering with other organizations, school districts and government systems to build their capacity to do the same. Each year we provide services for over 2000 LGBTQ youth in New York City and Newark NJ, in an environment that is celebratory and encouraging of self-expression. We deeply mourn the death of Ronin Shimizu because we know that the tools and knowledge exist, which -- had they been used in Ronin's case -- could have saved this precious life. As we continue our life-saving work, we at HMI will always elevate Ronin's name to help continually guide us in our mission.
If you or any LGBTQ young people you know are in need of support, please call the Hetrick-Martin Institute at 212-674-2400. If you are in need of a confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth, call the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.