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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Cries for Help Unanswered

Brutal murder of a gay teen illustrates why Baltimore needs a PFLAG chapter.

On March 1, Dante Parrish, 37 was convicted for the killing of 15 year-old, Jason Mattison, Jr. in East Baltimore in November 2009. Jason was openly gay and attended West Baltimore's Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy where he was a popular student and had hoped to be a pediatrician.
However, Jason was not welcome in either the homes of his mother or grandmother because of his sexual orientation and needed to couch-surf to survive. He ended up in a house of a great aunt, but it was occupied by heroin addicts and drunks, including the great aunt.
Parrish had previously served nearly 10 years for murder before being freed thanks to the help of the Innocence Project, whose attorneys fight post-conviction appeals. Not knowing Parrish’s criminal record, Jason’s great aunt allowed him to move in.
When Parish allegedly attempted to rape Jason while the boy had been asleep on the second floor, Jason screamed for help. But because of the drugged state of those in the house at the time, no one could rescue him, and was ultimately suffocated by Parrish forcing a pillow case down Jason’s throat and then repeatedly stabbing him in the neck, face and head with a box cutter until his death. His body was found stuffed in a closet.
This tragedy illustrates the need to fill a void in Baltimore City. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has been doing yeoman’s work since its inception in 1973. With over 350 chapters nationally, PFLAG members have counseled parents of LGBTQ children as well as the kids themselves. They have intervened when they can be of help or they referred clients to social service agencies to receive professional guidance.
While PFLAG is not just for parents anymore—many LGBTQ individuals participate in chapter activities or even take on leadership responsibilities—those parents who are involved usually traveled a journey that took them from denial upon learning the sexual orientation of their child, to anger, to acceptance, to full-throated advocacy.
Could a PFLAG chapter in Baltimore City have prevented such a horrific crime committed against Jason? Probably not. But if more parents were involved in PFLAG, the chances of such devastating outcomes could be reduced. Rejecting parents and grandparents as in Jason’s case may have sought the comfort of others who share the experience of having an LGBTQ family member.
Make no mistake; the challenges in Baltimore City are enormous. Churchgoing parents consistently hear anti-gay epithets from pulpits that drive the point home that homosexuality is a sin and therefore, unacceptable. These preachers and ministers contribute to a culture that justifies throwing a 15 year-old out of his home to fend for himself, which subjects him to a wide range of perils including disease, malnutrition, drugs, crime and violence.
Several attempts to establish a Baltimore chapter failed as a result of lack of interest by the community to sustain it. The most recent try occurred in 2006. “I often use Baltimore City as an example of an area that is ripe for a PFLAG chapter,” said Jamie Curtis, a field manager for PFLAG National. “But it just needs to find the right people to lead it up.”
The location could also be a barrier. “The group met in an area of the city with little diversity and a lack of public transportation,” Curtis pointed out.
But Gary Wolnitzek, program director for The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB), indicated that if a chapter was formed in the city, the Center, with easy access to public transportation, would provide space to meet.
A two-pronged effort is clearly needed for both parents of LGBTQ children and the youth themselves. “The real goal here is not how we grow a PFLAG chapter in Baltimore,” said Mark Patro, the president of the Baltimore County chapter. “The real question here is how we deal with the needs of the other Jasons in Baltimore City.”
To that end, the GLCCB’s Wolnitzek stated the Center maintains or partners with several groups that have programs involving LGBT youth. And with more funding from grants and other sources, the Center could operate an expanded drop-in center complete with counselors and learning tools. This is a goal that merits full community support.
Worthy organizations, such as the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative and AIRS are working hard with scarce resources to alleviate the homeless problem among LGBTQ youth. Restoration Gardens in Northwest Baltimore, a $6 million, 43-unit shelter for homeless youth including LGBTQ that opened last year, is an excellent result of those efforts.
“At the end of the day we need strong dedicated parents on the ground,” explains Jamie Curtis. Parents, families and friends are the backbone of PFLAG, and without them in any community the chapter struggles. The biggest struggle in Baltimore has been finding this group of people.”
June Horner, a PFLAG mom who sits on the steering committees for both the Westminster-Carroll County and Columbia-Howard County chapters, suggested that pro-LGBT equality clergy from the city could be asked to promote a chapter.
Support and resources are not seen as obstacles in this regard. PFLAG National as well as the suburban chapters pledged to provide the needed resources to make a Baltimore chapter viable and effective. It just requires leaders to step up.
We will never know if Jason’s promising life could have been saved had there been a PFLAG chapter that could have helped keep Jason at home with his mother. Matt Thorn, president of the Columbia-Howard County chapter mused, “PFLAG could have been a strong resource for that family.”
If only.


Rob Lance said...

Well said, Steve! (as usual)

Jen Fischetti said...

Thank you Steve. I believe you have touched on a greater need than just a Baltimore City PFLAG chapter. The need for a youth drop-in center and/or transitional housing for queer youth. Too many children are lost to the street economy in order to survive. PFLAG is a resource which has provided incredible support to so many, yet there is potentially a push afoot to combine chapters for strength, or at least a centralized statewide authority. Any scenario which expand's PFLAG's presence is a good thing. Thank you again.