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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 23 2012

West Fargo 9th-grader determined to make schools safer, more accepting

WEST FARGO – Jeremy Brown is having a good year at Sheyenne 9th Grade Center.

The openly gay 15-year-old feels accepted, and safe. He’s become a leader.

It’s a sea change from his last school year.

While going to Griggs County Central High School in Cooperstown, he said he lived a daily slice of hell, regularly shunned, verbally and physically harassed, even threatened with death, he said Friday.

Rather than live cowed, he’s decided to get active.

This weekend, he’ll travel to Washington, D.C., for the Safe Schools Advocacy Summit sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

There, he’ll learn how to make schools safer, to prevent bullying, and lobby for better protections for GLBT students, he said.

He’s also become a leader in the 9th Grade Center’s Safe Zone group for GLBT students, and their friends or family, counselor Jessica Raile said.

“There are a lot more people here who don’t even care (about whether you’re gay). … That’s helps a lot,” he said.

Brown told his mother, Terri Brown, he was gay two years ago.

They lived in Goodland, Kan., and Jeremy said his friends accepted him there.

Then they moved to Binford, N.D. Terri has a married daughter, Lynelle Donohue, living there. Terri and her husband thought their family would be accepted.

Acceptance didn’t happen at school, though.

Jeremy said he was smacked into lockers daily.

“People were always cutting in front of me in the lunch line telling me that the ‘Queer boy eats last,’ stuff like that,” he said.

He received a death threat at a football game, he said.

“After that, I didn’t go anymore. I just stayed home,” he said.

Griggs County Central High School Principal Travis Jordan said he could not speak to the allegations.

“There’s FERPA (federal privacy) laws that prevent me from talking about another kid,” Jordan said. “We have a harassment policy that we abide by. We have a bullying policy that we abide by.”

Then tragedy struck last March

Terri’s other daughter, Kendra Brown, committed suicide. She, too, had come out as being gay, and was shunned in the area.

Last summer, the family moved to Fargo, where Terri’s other son, Michael, lives.

Michael Brown is also gay and is past president of the local Pride Collective. Jeremy lives with him.

“I’m just amazed he has the courage to come out as gay. … I’m so proud of him,” Michael Brown said.

Next year, Jeremy plans to work with Adam Pankow, the West Fargo High School theater director, to start a Gay Straight Alliance group.

“We still have our downs every once in awhile. But it’s gotten better. And I can only see it getting better in the future,” Jeremy said.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583