I got the living@@@@ beat out of me both at home and at school.What I have learnecd is be tough and smart. This is not the communitysfault, he should of moved and started a new school.
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
For the first time in nearly 10 years, Sue Turbenson wanted to tell a stranger about her son.
Turbenson was looking for the woman from the newspaper, the one with the sad eyes. She'd come to Mississippi River Community Park that sunny August day with no guarantee of finding her there. Standing under the picnic pavilion, the petite blond retiree scanned the crowd of middle-aged men and women, each of them carrying their own burden.
Finally, Turbenson saw her, standing not 15 feet away.
"Hi, I'm Sue," she began. "Do you remember me?"
The woman shook her head no.
"I have a son—Erik," Turbenson said, and pulled out a picture of a lanky blond boy in glasses, 16 years old, with a cat cradled in his pale arms.
The woman's dark ringed eyes flashed with recognition. Sue Turbenson and Tammy Aaberg were no strangers, but members of the same grim sorority.
In the past two years, nine students who attended Anoka-Hennepin schools have committed suicide. State public health officials declared District 11 a "suicide contagion area" in 2009.
The enormous, 38,000-student school system lies predominantly in Tea Party presidential candidate and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's district. Her fervent opposition to gay marriage and husband Marcus's ties to reparative therapy make her no friend to gay teens, and she has refused to comment on the crisis.
Her silence has left the school district administrators to defend Anoka-Hennepin's highly controversial "neutrality policy," which has been nicknamed "no homo promo." The only policy of its kind in the state, it forbids acknowledging homosexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation: "Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation."
In July, the Southern Poverty Law Center followed through on a longstanding threat to sue the district over the neutrality policy. The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of five district students who claimed they were subject to harassment. Several complained of being physically attacked, while others were told to "kill themselves."
CNN jumped on the story, noting that the Department of Justice had launched a civil investigation into the claims that the "no homo promo" policy illegally discriminated against gay kids. Earlier this month, the New York Times profiled several kids from the SPLC lawsuit.
Both the lawsuit and the DOJ investigation are pending.
With echoes of her son's struggle in the newspapers day after day, Turbenson decided to reach out to the district's newly bereaved parents, starting with Aaberg, whose son Justin killed himself in 2010.
"It just brings back everything," Turbenson says. "I feel bad for every family. It's one of the worst things you'd ever have to go through."
THE STAGE LIGHTS in the theater at Coon Rapids High School had gone dark and the audience had long ago dissipated, but Erik Turbenson wanted to put on a show of his own. He pulled off the costume he'd been wearing for the production of Peter Pan and put on his street clothes—all but his sneakers. He'd brought something special for his feet.
The production had been an ordeal. A few days earlier, the director abandoned his teenage cast in a rage just hours before first curtain and the rehearsal devolved into a shouting match.
Although Erik, a tall beanpole of a 16-year-old, was just a freshman and a new face in the drama crowd, he reassured the cast that the play would be a success.
"We're doing a good job, everyone," he said. "It's a good play. It's going to be fine."
Erik was right: Eventually the director slunk back and the rattled cast pulled itself together.
Onstage as the Lost Boy "Tootles," Erik tumbled around the stage, flailing his long limbs with the abandon of a feral child. Offstage he never broke character, skipping around wildly to amuse the stage crew.
After the final performance, the drama teachers hosted a tear-down party with pizzas and soda. It was then that Erik made his most dramatic entrance of the night.
He spotted Kay Fracisco, a gloomy girl just trying to get home as fast as possible, as she tore pieces of the set apart with a hammer. At the sound of a thunderous clomping coming across the wooden stage floor, Fracisco looked up.
"Hi," came the voice from above. "I'm Erik."
Her eyes lowered and she stared at his feet. Pulled up to about mid-calf were shiny, black platform boots with heels several inches high. They made him nearly seven feet tall, and he wobbled slightly.
"What's the deal with the boots?" Kay asked sardonically.
Erik looked down and shrugged casually.
"I like them," he said.
One by one the rest of the cast gravitated around them, and Erik chatted brightly, posed shakily. No one passed by without stopping to stare and ask questions.
"Those are awesome," more than one girl remarked. "Where'd you get those?"
It was, it seemed, a very successful debut.
"From then on, that was it: Basically everybody in theater got it," says Fracisco. "I don't think that he actually just came out to everybody. He didn't really hide it."
THE HALLWAYS WERE packed with teenagers, clumped together in circles or jostling past. Erik was chatting with Fracisco when he heard the slur.
I got the living@@@@ beat out of me both at home and at school.What I have learnecd is be tough and smart. This is not the communitysfault, he should of moved and started a new school.
What I learned from this article is that I shouldn't feel so helpless. When I hear people make this types of remarks, I need to respond and express my disapproval and let them know that they are being disrespecful and hurtful. We can no longer tolerate and allow bullying to continue.
I was lucky enough to have been Erik's drum teacher when he was in middle school. He was such a nice, smart, and fun student. Plus, after talking to his mother after one of our first lessons, I found out that my first (and in a lot of ways my most influential) drum teacher was her brother (and Erik's uncle). If my memory is correct, Erik wasn't able to continue lessons with me once he entered high school, but I talked to Erik and his mother on occasion. It sounded like high school was a difficult adjustment and Coon Rapids was not a good fit for him, so I was relieved to hear that he was going to Perpich. Reading the article brought back a flood of memories. I remember literally collapsing into a dining room chair in stunned disbelief when I saw the notice in the paper. I remember his visitation and talking to his uncle Allen (my first drum teacher) who I hadn't spoken to in years, and thinking how good it was to see him and hating the reason we were getting the chance to see each other. I guess I just wanted to share this. I don't have any answers - I wish I did. I don't really know who to blame; I guess I hope that at the very least those pathetic homophobes that tormented him have had to answer for that in some way. Erik, you are not forgotten.
The day our class at PCAE found out about Erik's suicide, it hit me like a ton of bricks that this awesome friend who had gone out of his way to make some bad days brighter for me was lost to us all forever...and that I never knew the depths of pain in his history. I wish there was something I could have said or done that would have eased his hurting, or even an indication that our last interaction would be the memory I'd carry of him always.
I miss Erik's ability to light up a room, his enthusiasm for adventures and lack of inhibition when it came to expressing joy. I miss the boy who listened to me when I was sitting alone after a bad day and took the time out to care and make me feel better, even though it's now so obvious he had his own things to grapple with. I miss him practicing that rooster crow, sometimes at very amusing moments. I miss his way of being so completely "present" - and I think those reasons are why it hurt so much to learn he was gone. I often wonder about the man Erik would be today as we get close to our 10 year class reunion, and over 10 years since he left us...and everything in me still hurts to think of what a bright, talented and caring life was lost.
Seeing the picture of Erik's smiling face and remembering those boots that made him nearly 7' tall brought tears to my eyes. Erik was the first person I met on our first day at Perpich as Juniors, I remember him fondly and will never forget his smiling face.
One of the very few regrets that I hold is that I couldn't muster up the strength to attend his service... I will never forget his Target outfit with his red hair and eyebrows, the way he carried himself and always had a smile and hug for you first thing in the morning, and all of the other wonderful memories I have of and with him.
Fly away my friend, you are free.
Very touching article. Erik was my friend. We sat together in Math class. I was very surprised and glad to see this in the CityPages. I miss him and send my love to his family. RIP Erik.
I think it's a sad situation. Whether someone be gay or straight bullying is never the answer. I know people who are outraged that also bulliedMe. I'm no victim I did my fair share of wrongs. But to make someone's life so miserable they consider switching schools or harming themselves is an outrage. I was called fat, a cow, shamoo. And that was when I was thinner than I had ever been at 110lbs. My point being, bullying is always wrong, and distrct 11 isn't doing enough to stop it.
I want to second Tiff's comment. I've always had great respect for you, and I can't imagine how hard of a position that was for you.
I can't believe I went to this school. I graduated in 2007. It makes me SICK TO MY STOMACH THE TEACHERS THAT I KNEW AND LOVE DID .NOTHING. .NOTHING. .NOTHING. .NOTHING. ABOUT THIS! Honestly, I dont even know how to express my disgust, my embarrassment, my utter SHAME. SHAME on you parents, your children have blood on your hands, YOU are responsible for raising ruthless kids. I could never imagine sitting by and letting this torment go on, and I can only imagine the LACK of parenting it took for your children to achieve this level of inhumanity. Teachers? Shame on you!! WHERE were all of you? What happened to you?! I remember being preached to every week about respect, what happened?! To sit by and do nothing... you are just as guilty. Any one of you could have raised the bells and whistles about this, do you really think other districts/schools wouldn't offer you a job if you lost yours fighting for this cause? You could have been praised as a hero, now you are all simply disgraces to what a human SHOULD be. I graduated from here.. I've never been more ashamed to call myself a Cardinal.
Eric was such a joy to be around. Even though he was taunted and harrassed he had a way about him that could put a smile on your face no matter your mood. I remember hearing the news of Eric and couldnt believe it. I mean he was the same age as me how could this happen. It was an awakening that no one was prepared for.Eric collected those little umbrellas and they handed them out at his service. To this day it is hanging in my car as a reminder that what I say and do affects a person. Eric has been missed by many and will continue to impact the lifes he touched.
Oh Tootles. I believe in miracles. Those who knew Erik, you remember. He will be the boy who didn't grow up. But I will remember you in your platform boots, your mirrorball shirt, shining like the star you were. I believe in miracles, you sexy thing.
I went to school with Erik and was in a few plays with the talented youth, even the famous Peter Pan play that landed him his ever fitting nick name. I was also on the field with the Marching band the day he was stung by the bee.
Erik was a true gem. He was talented, selfless, and caring. I wish I had known the struggle he was going through. Those like me, who werent close to him, but considered him a friend, were leveled by the news of his suicide. We all knew of the taunts he endured and the personal pain he suffered through, but had no idea how to help. A few, like me, would do our best to help where he could. I was always kind to Erik, he was a good kid. He did not deserve the treatment he received at Coon Rapids. '
I was in Theater, Choir, and Marching band while I was a student in Coon Rapids High School. I didnt play an instrument in the band, I was in the color guard. This combination of extracurricular activities branded me as gay to most of the school who did not know me. I wasnt gay, but received many similar taunts regarding my assumed sexuality. These was devastating to me, but I cant imagine the way it must have phased Erik.
I remember walking into the school the first day classes started after Christmas break my senior year. I was walking in from the student parking lot in the Foyer of the Auditorium. Us theater kids always congregated in the safe haven of the theater foyer in the mornings, between classes, and even after school when there was no play practice. I hadnt made it more than 5 steps into the foyer when a friend of mine rushed up to the me to tell me the news of Eriks death.
Having been lucky in my life never to lose someone to death, the news of a fellow students suicide, one whom I had shared a stage and field with, left me speechless (which is rare for me). All I remember clearly saying was, "Are you sure? That cant be right!" My friend simply nodded his head and told me the story he had been told from those whom knew Erik closely.
To this day I am one of the biggest advocates of gay rights and their fair treatment. Erik was, like I said earlier, a gem. He was so talented and good and brought a smile to all of our faces so many days. A true loss at Coon Rapids. He should have never had to go through what he did. He had such a future ahead of him. I wish there was more that I had done to help.
Matt, that's all I can think too after reading this. We were all so young... I wish I could remember why we didn't do more. I can't remember understanding that things were really that bad... I don't know how I could be so blind.
I really hope some good can come out of this article. It left me in tears.
this is a true loss he could have changed the world we will never know that for sure but we can take his tragic death and all the others to make a point there is no glory in spewing hate there can be no good out come only sadness and grief only more hate if you say these things to someone what do you accomplish do you go home and give yourself a pat on the back or are you realizing that your just a bully a selfish being who cares only for them self with no worry of retribution there will be retribution there always is
If this your idea of a joke, I suggest you retract it. If not, I ask you to benefit from my years as a parent. Simply ask yourself, "what if that was my child? Would I want him or her to be treated that way?" If you answer in the negative, then stop hating other people's children. If you answer yes, then be prepared for the life of torment you are setting up for your child. If you are unable to make the leap of sympathy required for the above thought experiment, just replace the word faggot with whatever ethnic or religious labels you use. In short, nobody should ever be on the receiving end of such hatred.
I have never been so heartbroken about a story. I'm honestly disgusted and embarrassed to have been a student in this district let alone coon rapids high school. 'a contagion of suicide' is right. Any person willing to follow Michele bachmann's disgusting 'rules' I am sad for. I know 100% for aFact a teacher(s) there that don't believe in this utter bullshit and I feel absolutely terrible that in this economy you feel like you have to stay working in this prison of terror to care for your families. I would like to give a giant FUCK YOU to Minnesota School District 11 and Coon Rapids Senior High school. You all have blood on your hands and I'm not sure how you can live with yourselves knowing you're responsible for these deaths.
Check out the It Gets Better Project. http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ It was created in the hopes that it could help and provide support for people who feel they are in the same situation.
I think what happenned is terrible and going to school in the neighboring city, I must say I didn't even know that it happened. Thinking back on my days in high school I'll say there was little acknowledgement that homosexuality existed. There were slurs that people used off hand but I never knew anyone who was guy until after high school. I went to the U of M and learned about the gay and lesbian culture and found out some of my friends in high school were gay. Kids at that age need to have some exposure to the culture (it won't turn them gay to learn just as it won't turn them black or muslim or latino to learn those cultures) to learn tolerance. It's easy to make fun of or be mean about something you know very little about. Then you learn a bit about it and realize some of your friends may be that way and things change. The culture today struggles in high school due to silence on the issue but my generation is very tolerant of the gay and lesbian community and the older generations are the ones which are against it. This will change as time goes on and our generation begins to lead society. Those young kids in high school haven't had the tolerant parents and education to know much different. Things are changing for the better and they need more of a push to get there but the generation leading society currently will not get us there. Neither party will stand up and defend the gay community including Barack Obama because it isn't politically "safe". To lump all conservatives and Republicans to be against Homosexuality is completely wrong especially for those under the age of 30. I hope someday these problems are behind us but it will take time and small steps not big sweeping changes. It's unfortunate but true.
I would say what you are describing TD is the gay bar scene which is a magnet for a lot of very different people looking for very different things in exile outside the larger culture. It's not a community really. Just people willing to live. It seems a good and honest life as a gay person partnered or otherwise starts later in life. I've seen many examples. Some don't have to wait so long to get a good life going. We didn't have the chance to fully grow emotionally in relation to intimacy in grade school and high school. So I admit what you are saying has a lot of truth too. The real issue is the non-embrace by our culture. It's a blanket rejection of us personally, as a people and of our lives or their potentiality. It comes from leadership. Church and State both. Perhaps it has it's origin in reproduction and cultivating masses, I don't know. But it's an old way of doing things. This cover image though only serves to make cynics and bleeding hearts alike laugh. It's a joke. A diversion. I voted for change not cautious progress.
It's a tragic case but the article trivializes it by throwing mud at Michelle Bachmann and the Tea Party. They may not be friendly to GLBT issues but the fact is many of the worst of the worst bullies of gay and lesbian students are members of another very prominent protected class. If one uses the same logic as that presented in the article, Keith Ellison should be speaking out and taking responsibility for that group's behavior. It's disingenuous to try to paint all of these bullies as rednecks when a substantial portion of them have absolutely zero potential to get a redneck even if they were out in the sun all day every day all summer long.
I knew Erik in school and witnessed the bullying he went through. I had other friends who were also gay and went through this bullying. On the contratrary to what u are suggesting rarely was the bully anything other than white. And when they were of another race the friend(s) that were with them were white. That and District 11 is a predominately white school district. Know you facts before turning it racial.
I can only hope every adult who made fun of others as a child feels so horribly guilty about their actions and by some fit of wisdom teaches their own kids not to be such jerks. :(
I came out at 15 and I can tell you now, the 15 years since coming out have been the hardest, most depressing and lonely years of my life. It hasn't been anything like I expected. Let me explain:Gay people (not just youth) are ignored on two sides...straight society is coming around, which is nice, but gay people can be terribly mean, rejecting, elitist and eager to get the chance to finally abandon someone, since it's happened to them for years. Unfortunately, we take all that hurt and anger out on other gay people and exacerbate it. We do need support in schools and at home, but I see very few people coming out in real life. Why should they when they can hide online while keeping the fantasy of finding the perfect gay person to spend forever with (that fantasy which is built on surfing images of straight college athletes so desperate for money they are taking it off for gay magazines). Then these guys finally go someplace with actual gay people and are devastated to see gay people look just like everyone else. Few if any of the models in those websites are seen. Welcome to being gay, where maybe 1 out of 100 people are actually healthy enough to be able to say those words (I'm gay) while sober. The reality nobody wants to talk about is we are so lacking in social skills that I question why we are even talking about gay marriage when I almost never hear of many gay relationships making it to three months. If we want to finally be honest and quit with this rich-bitch illusion gay men live in, we must tackle our attitudes and lack of interest in even knowing each other. You can't have a 'gay community' if it only includes the gays who are 'your type'. We have so much growing up to do and it starts with being a lot less selfish and self-obsessed and a little more interested in the health and well-being of other gay people (even the ones you think you're too good to be seen with).
I came out at 16, I'm now 27. I've been with my boyfriend for about 6 years now and things are still going great in our relationship. I have a good group of friends that includes gay and straight people and I am, like my boyfriend and my friends, "healthy" enough to say "I'm gay" while sober. I should also add that most of my gay friends are also couples, many of whom have been together for several years now, far past three months. I'm sorry that you've had such a hard time since coming out and that you've found so many gay people to be disappointing. We as a community do need to do better supporting one another, especially during the coming out process, but you also need to have realistic expectations. Gay people are like everyone else - some people are nice, some are jerks, some people are very thoughtful and giving, others are selfish and shallow. You can't expect to have every other gay person accept you and want to be your friend just because you are both gay. The gay community is very diverse with people who have wildly different interests and values. You just need to find people who have similar interests and values to you, beyond being gay.
I don't think teaching tolerance is enough. The root cause of this bullying based on sexual orientation is bigotry and hate. It will not stop until people accept that sexual orientations come in a wide variety of "normal" and that being gay, lesbian, bi, or anything else is just as fine as being straight. Religious and political leaders are partly responsible for the state we are in. Proclaiming repeatedly that it's wrong to be gay makes it OK to hate and discriminate and bully. Love the sinner and hate the sin makes no sense if the "sin" is part of who you are as a person. It's just a back-door way of encouraging people to hate and discriminate.
I don't have much faith in the Anoka-Hennepin school board's ability to light a shining pathway of progress on this. So in the meantime, students who are bullied and harassed should take advantage of the PSEO program and finish high school at a local community college where gay students are allowed to learn and faculty are allowed to teach in an atmosphere of intellectual and personal freedom.
I agree with everything you had to say....... But, adolescents the age of Erik aren't old enough to participate in PSEO except under rare circumstances. They are "trapped."
As a past student and debate team student of yours I would like to pass on how honored I am to have been a student of yours. I had no idea any of these things happened before my years and I am so sad that you had to almost just sit by and watch. I would never blame someone for not wanting to lose their job and you did absolutely everything you could, in a way you were just as trapped as he was. Thanks for taking care of all of us wags, gay or straight. Tiff
I'm as grateful for this article as I am saddened by the loss of Erik, not just to himself, his family & friends, but to the world that his life would have bettered. I would say that his death didn't "foreshadow" anything--his was a significant loss in itself, and is probably not the first death of a kid who was LGBTQ in Anoka-Hennepin that was tossed into their closet. No doubt there are many skeletons there. Also, he wasn't "The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up"; he was "The Boy Who Couldn't Grow Up," denied as he was the support that his schools owed him, since they took the lion's share of his time in the day, and were the place at which he was affected most for the ill.
I went to school with Erik, I was in marching band with him and in art classes with him. He was a wonderful kid and is still a vibrant memory. While this article is important I did want to point out that the Tea Party had nothing to do with the ignorance he faced from other kids. As his life was sadly cut short long before it came into being.
The importance here should be on raising children to be tolerant, responsible beings. We always thought Erik would be famous one day for his personality and contagious sense of humor. (Honestly if you had been in a room with him he brought humor and smiles to everyone) If his family reads this I wanted to say thank you for having an open wake, my friends and I had a hard time understanding he had passed, and you did a wonderful time preserving his memory/personality. Every detail from his shirt, to his art and his alarm clock was very comforting somehow. I am, and have been since learning of his death, very sorry for your loss.
To those individuals who treat others poorly because they are different due to appearance, gender identification issues, religion or sexual orientation they should experience shame and remorse... but that goes for ALL discrimination. Not just sexual orientation, so writing an article that points the fingers at Tea Partiers is just going to cause hate. I'm NON partisan, but all this political party hate on both sides is just causing damage. We need to make all people feel safe, and all that starts at home with how we raise our kids.
As hippy like as this may sound we need to spread love and tolerance.
You are greatly missed Erik.
how sad that anybody should be judged just because they are different, I have six kids and they are all different people but loved very much by all their family members. I don't raise clones!
Nice job incorporating Bachman into this article. Why is this her fault? She does not run the school district, thats not her job. Is this Bush's fault as well? What about the bear killing, is that Bachman's fault as well? Don't make this dead kid a political pawn for your ideology.
The fact that all you gleaned from this entire article was to try to defend the indefensible is pretty sad. This lack of empathy is what is destroying our country and our kids............my deepest sympathy to Erik's mom who's had to try and live her life after losing her boy and seeing how little progress has been made in making things better. As a current parent in Anoka-Hennepin I am shocked at not only what's going on but how long it's been going on and the fact that the district has spent countless years and likely millions trying defend itself...when all they should have done was defend the children it's there job to protect?
What is Bachman supposed to do? The kid killed himself before she came to power. I didn't know she ran the school district. There is blame to go around, but not to Bachman
Erik killed himself BEFORE Bachman was in power. Trying to drag point and blame politics into the article is insulting when it should be about remembering an amazing kid.
The government can't force people to be tolerant, that's something you have to be decide to be. So what we should be saying is "What as a community can we do to better protect our kids from harassment and bullying?".
Are you honestly this stupid? First off Palin and Bachmann are potential candidates for President, its not a personal attack to report on the stupid things they do or say. Second, Palin and Bachmann choose to be public figures so pretty much everything they do is fair game. Gay people didn't choose to be gay, they are born that way. Honestly I know you have to be a pretty fucking stupid person to be a Republican but you can tell the difference between a blog and the government right? Is Arianna Huffington a congresswoman? What branch of the government is she attempting to use to demonize Michelle Bachmann?
Liberals spread hate as well. Have you read the Huffington Post? Non stop personal attacks against Palin and Bachman (who are minorities). I remember seeing posts stating they they are glad Tony Show is dying of cancer. Don't politicize suicide, thats low.
Republicans spread hate and bigotry against gay people to get votes and raise money. The more hate you have in a society the more kids you have that commit suicide. It's wrong to appeal to the worst most hateful parts of society like Republicans do. Gay hating politicians and religious leaders absolutely have blood on their hands and should be ashamed of how they behave. Michele Bachmann didn't bully Erik, she bullies all gay people. Gay men and women in this country are sick and tired of being a political wedge issue. Michele Bachmann uses the government to tell people how to love, how can you be human and not be outraged by that?
Actually being in a place of power and influence such as being a congress woman DOES mean she should at least say something about it. Look if there was some other disaster in her district she would be the first to at the very least offer condolences. She didn't even bother having her office send out a form letter. She certainly had time to pose with some student from our district who won an award. I don't think it's the media making it political as much as Michele's selection about who she'll meet with in person and whom she won't. Daddy's who give to her campaign and want their daughters to have a picture with Michele...check...mothers of son's who lost their lives to bullycide....now if those mothers would just be big donors...
Bachman has no say over a school district. Im not a big fan of her, but I'm also not a liberal ideologue who tries to bash her at every attempt (which is also hate). Where do the "form letters" stop? Lost cat, graduated from elementary school, new car, promotions, etc. could all get form letters. She is not Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson which pop up from nowhere for media events. This is a county issue and he power resides at the national level. Point your finger elsewhere, like to the actual school district.
Thank you for writing a compelling and personal side to Erik. You did a wonderful job of bringing his story forward. I'm the Myles Wagner mentioned in this eulogy.
Great writing Jessica, very touching. That bee story was just so sad, how can you not feel for that poor kid. To read a story like this and not want to do something to help kids like Erik would probably mean you'd do stuff like cheer death and boo an active duty solider.