CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Local LGBT community leaders are responding with messages of support and encouragement, following the death Thursday of a transgender student.
Ash Haffner, 16, died by suicide on Thursday. In an interview with WSOC, Haffner’s mother, April Quick, said Ash had been bullied in school, despite receiving support at home and at groups like Time Out Youth.
Time Out Youth’s executive director, Rodney Tucker, said his organization, which serves LGBTQ youth ages 11-20, is responding with support for other clients who knew Haffner.
“We have counselors and we’ve already reached out to school officials, the GSA [advisor] and the principal at the school,” Tucker said, adding that a counselor at the school will also be on hand.
Suicide risks for LGBT youth are significantly higher than those for straight peers, according ot advocates. Transgender youth, in particular, face higher risks, including risks of violence and bullying.
Tucker says TOY has responded with services to support transgender youth.
“It’s a rising population group in the space,” Tucker said. “We’ve added a transgender intern and started the Q-Tribe [transgender youth support] group.”
Additionally TOY is engaged in safe zone trainings at local schools, Tucker said. The trainings include trans-specific language and issues.
Paige Dula, founder of transgender support group Genderlines, was shocked to hear of the youth’s death.
“My initial reaction was one of horror,” Dula said. “I always hate hearing of a young trans person taking their life. It breaks my heart.”
But Dula cautioned there are “a lot of factors that contribute to feelings of suicide.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, also said she was taken aback by the news.
“I’m just heartbroken about all this violence of different kinds we’re seeing,” Keisling said, referring also to a recent increase in reports of violence against transgender people.
Keisling said her group is working on anti-violence programs, as well as services to help train local law enforcement and policies to end harmful conversion therapies.
Most important, Keisling said, is that people speak up and support each other.
“I think people, trans or not, queer or not, need to be there for each other, need to stand up for each other,” she said.
Keisling added, “I am so broken hearted over this. Ash’s mom, April, from the news reports clearly loved and supported Ash. I can’t imagine what she’s going through and can’t imagine what Ash was going through. A lot of people around the country have broken hearts over this.”
News of the youth’s passing comes as the city of Charlotte engages in a tense debate over LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.
Leaders aren’t linking the two incidents together, calling them an “unfortunate coincidence.”
“We don’t know what was going through his mind,” Tucker said.
Tucker hopes that youth in need will reach out for support. TOY, he said, provides free therapy, support specifically for transgender youth and safe-space drop-in center.
“We can get them the help they need,” he said.
Ash’s mother has asked that donations be made in memory of Ash to Time Out Youth. Condolences can be left online.
Those youth in need of support are encouraged to contact Time Out Youth, timeoutyouth.org, 704-344-8335. Their center is located at 2320-A N. Davidson St.
Those youth in need of immediate support can call the Trevor Project helpline at 1-866-488-7386 or access resources online at thetrevorproject.org.