Post submitted by Beth Sherouse, former ACLS Public Fellow, HRC Senior Content Manager
William Kizer was writing his son’s obituary when we first spoke. He was trying to keep his head above the flood of grief long enough to distill his son’s life into a few paragraphs. Such is the aftermath of a loved one’s death for those left behind, forced to push back the tears long enough to make final arrangements, when falling apart seems a much more reasonable reaction. And for William, an important part of these arrangements was reaching out to share his story and let people know how amazing his son was.
“It’s a father’s worst nightmare,” William said, his voice trembling slightly. “I sit in my backyard every day, right next to his chair, where we had coffee in the mornings. The mornings and at night…it’s hard, because we’d always be there together when I got off work until bedtime. Sometimes we stayed a little longer.”
Adam Kizer had long hair and loved heavy metal. He loved playing guitar and making bracelets and giving them to people to cheer them up. He had a tight-knit group of friends, was close to his father and stepmother and volunteered with a local anti-bullying group.
Recently, Adam told his father that he was bisexual. “I said, ‘cool,’” William recalled. “He asked me, ‘Are you okay with that?’ and I said, ‘Are you happy? Then I’m good.’”
It is clear from just our short conversation that the world was truly a better place when Adam was still in it.
“He was amazing,” William said of his son. “He would always put other people first. If someone he knew needed help, he would be there for them. He was always the first one to be there when someone needed support. Numerous people have told me that he literally save their lives by reaching out to them. He was an organ donor too. Even after his passing, he still managed to help people. He saved three lives.”
But Adam’s big heart and kind soul were also plagued by mental illness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal ideation and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“He was just a very giving kid, but he was a very ill kid,” William recalled. His mental illness was compounded by a lifetime of severe bullying, abuse and harassment by his peers. Since the fourth grade, he had been bullied mercilessly.
It started when he and his family lived in Wyoming, and 9-year-old Adam was tied to a tree and doused with gasoline by another youth. Luckily his assailants didn’t have a lighter and Adam got away. According to Adam’s father, the local police department said that because they didn’t light Adam on fire, they wouldn’t do anything about it.
“But my son was traumatized for life,” William explained. “We went through years of counseling with him and he still couldn’t get past it. We just talked about it a week before he passed.”
Adam was bullied “from day one” in middle school, William recalled, and despite his pleas for the school to help protect his son, school officials said they didn’t consider the behavior bullying. When Adam finally stood up to his bullies, the school had him arrested and expelled, and he entered the juvenile justice system where his father said he was abused in a group home for two years.
On two occasions, Adam was beaten so badly that he wound up in the hospital.
“Almost daily he would text me from school about being bullied. He had so much anxiety because of it. He didn’t go for a full day of school for probably a year. Even a couple of his teachers harassed him,” William said. In other press reports, school officials claim not to have known anything about bullying, even though William said he went to the school and showed them proof that his son was being bullied and asked them to help.
“The best we could do as his parents was console him and get him [mental health] treatment, but the school would never listen to him or us. They didn’t do a single thing – but they sent us flowers after his passing,” William said, with a tone that conveys the tragic futility of the posthumous gesture.
Adam’s situation is, sadly, not unusual among LGBTQ youth – and bisexual youth in particular. Last month, bisexual youth Alyssa Morgan died by suicide.
HRC’s 2012 youth survey found that only five percent of bisexual youth reported being “very happy,” fewer than half said they had an adult in their family they could turn to if they were sad, and only 10 percent of bisexual youth reported feeling like they “definitely fit in” in their community. Nearly a quarter of bisexual youth said they were frequently or often excluded by their peers and 29 percent reported frequent verbal harassment.
These problems follow bisexual youth into adulthood, where other studies have shown bisexual adults to face significantly higher levels of anxiety, substance abuse, depression and eating disorders than their lesbian, gay and heterosexual counterparts, and some of the lowest levels of social support in the LGBT community. In one study, bisexual adults were three times as likely to report suicidal ideation as heterosexual adults.
Bisexual advocates who are all-too-familiar with experiences like Adam’s have rallied to support his family and encourage other bisexual youth to stay strong in the face of bullying and other challenges.
Faith Cheltenham, President of BiNet USA, posted on the organization’s blog yesterday, “REMEMBER before you pack for a trip that has no return, try and reach a community of people who have pretty much been there and survived…Make it to tomorrow. Make it to tomorrow and find us, we are the B in LGBT and you are not alone.”
To be clear, bullying does not cause suicide, and there are many LGBTQ youth who endure bullying and go on to live happy and healthy lives; but according to the Movement Advancement Project,“Research indicates that persistent bullying can lead to or worsen feelings of isolation, rejection, exclusion and despair, as well as to depression and anxiety, which can contribute to suicidal behavior.”
“I’d like to meet the parents of the kids who bullied my son and show them the picture of him on life support so it’s embedded in their mind,” he said. “They can’t imagine the pain I’m going through. I don’t leave my house. I sit in the backyard and I wait for my son to come home.”
To other parents of bullied youth William Kizer has a message. He explained, “People need to wake up, not just talk about it but actually protect your kids. Stand up for you child. Believe your child. Hug your child. And go with your child to that school and demand action and demand change. Not words on paper, but active change.”
Through all of his frustration and all of his grief, William’s voice lightens when he talks about what a loving person his son was.
“The world lost such a shining star. Hopefully when people read about him and when they say his name. I hope they smile, because he did so much for so many people.”
HRC extends its deepest sympathies to William Kizer and the rest of Adam Kizer’s family and friends.
If you’re a youth and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project, which provides a 24-hour crisis hotline for youth, at 1-866-488-7386.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’re a teacher or parent and want more information on how to create safe and welcoming schools for all children and families and prevent bias-based bullying, visit welcomingschools.org.