Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brody's Notes... Utah Family Of Gay Student Unhappy With School's Handling Of Personal Details

David Phan * Family Photo
By Brody Levesque | TAYLORSVILLE, UT -- The parents of 14 year old David Phan, an openly gay student who shot and killed himself in front of his horrified schoolmates at school on November 29, are speaking out accusing school district officials of "mishandling" the situation that led to their son's death.
Phan, an eighth grader, had been suspended from Bennion Junior High, in this southern Salt Lake City suburb for bringing a condom to school according to his parents. The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that the day David committed suicide, his mother, Phuong Tran, said she was called at work by the principal, who informed her David had been suspended.
When she arrived and asked for an explanation, Tran said school officials brushed her off, perhaps because of her heavy accent. 
Here is what she understood: Another student had complained — had David made a sexual overture? — and when district officials searched David’s backpack, they found a condom, Tran said. 
"I asked [the principal] why he was suspending my son," Tran said. "He told me: ‘We will discuss on Tuesday.’" 
Nhuan Phan, the teen’s father, added: "We have a right to know as parents. Nobody told us anything." 
Afterward, Tran took her son home, asked him if everything was all right and if he wanted lunch. After being reassured by him, she returned to work.
They were the last words between the mother and son. ~The Salt Lake City Tribune
Later, she found a suicide note in his room that read: I had a great life but I must leave.
Phan walked back to school after he grabbed a 22-caliber pistol loaded with a single round and shot himself upon reaching a pedestrian bridge that leads to the school shortly after 3 p.m. as other students watched in horror.
Family members told the Tribune that Phan had come out to his older brother and other family members about a year ago, then about three months ago to his mother, and finally, to his father.
What sparked outrage for the family was a series of public statements made by Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley, after the their son's death who described the teen as having "significant personal challenges on multiple fronts."
Another disturbing factor- according to the family- was after their son's death was the media storm of questions and school officials’ offensive responses including this statement by Horsley the day after the suicide:
"Counselors have further remained in close regular contact with [the boy] because of other issues in his personal life. Despite specific personal inquiries, [the boy] never reported any further bullying concerns and, on the contrary, reported that things were going well." 
Both of Phan's parents said they were unaware of any counseling of a personal nature.
On Saturday, in response to a question from The Salt Lake Tribune about whether the school was obligated to inform David’s parents that he was seeing a counselor, Horsley clarified that it was a guidance counselor, not a mental health specialist.
"As an educational entity, our guidance counselors are not licensed for these types of [mental health] services," Horsley said. "When needed, we make notifications to the family."
As the press and public statements continued, the Phan family reached out to John Mejia, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) of Utah who wrote in a letter last Friday Tuesday to Granite School District Superintendent Martin Bates,
"David’s parents have expressed deep concern that since the tragic incident, Granite School District officials, and particularly district spokesman Ben Horsley, have been extremely inappropriate in their public statements about David and his family. We urge you to immediately cease and desist from any further release to the public of any information about David and his family."
In a telephone call this afternoon, a spokesperson from the ACLU told LGBTQNation that the situation was still developing and that ACLU officials were working with the school district.
The family hopes that they can continue their son's legacy with the help of Steven Ha, the Director of Family Services Asian Association of Utah who has ties to both the Vietnamese and LGBTQ communities.
Ha told the Tribune that he will introduce the Phan family, who want to learn more, to local gay activists and assemble a group to address several issues, primarily suicide prevention for gay-ethnic youth.
"We’re not interested in suing but working with credible sources. That’s how we want David to be remembered," Ha said.