Blake Brockington, a young trans activist celebrated nationwide as the first out trans homecoming king in a North Carolina high school, is being mourned after committing suicide Monday night, reports North Carolina LGBT newspaper QNotes.
Brockington, an 18-year-old student at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, became homecoming king of East Mecklenburg High School a year ago after he raised more funds than 12 other senior royalty hopefuls, ultimately gathering $2,555.55 out of the school's total 3,203.22 for the school's charity of choice, Mothering Across Continents -- an organization working to build a school in South Sudan.
"I honestly feel like this is something I have to do," Brockington, who mentored several younger trans students, told QNotes at the time he was named homecoming king. "Nobody should be scared to be themselves, and everybody should have an equal opportunity to have an enjoyable high school experience." He also shared how he had been rejected by his family after coming out as transgender, leading to his placement in a loving foster home.
Receiving public attention for his homecoming win was a defining moment for Brockington and also a difficult one, he told local newspaper The Charlotte Observer, as reported by QNotes. "That was single-handedly the hardest part of my trans journey. Really hateful things were said on the Internet. It was hard. I saw how narrow-minded the world really is."
"I've had a hard time coming out to my family, I had a hard time coming out to my friends at school, but I did it," Brockington said in a video interview with the Observer (below). "I've lost a lot of friends ... [But] I want other trans youth to understand that they're not alone, and that this is a large community."
Despite any hardships, after high school Brockington continued his activist work, recently being photographed by the To Speak No Evil Civil Collective, which documents and creates social media imagery about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other actions for racial justice in the U.S. QNotes reports that Brockington spoke at last year's local Transgender Day of Remembrance and organized public rallies and other grassroots campaigns to raise awareness about police brutality and violence, including leading a December march through Charlotte's Uptown with the Charlotte Activist Collective that briefly shut down Independence Square.
After announcing Brockington's suicide Tuesday morning, Charlotte's Time Out Youth Center has provided a counselor to meet with youth and other clients. Memorial plans are forthcoming.
Brockington's death is the sixth reported suicide of a trans youth in the U.S. this year, in an "epidemic" that trans advocates say sees far more casualties than are noted by media. "For every name we know, there are surely many that we don't," Trans Lifeline cofounder Greta Gustava Martela explained in an Advocate op-ed a week before Brockington died. "It looks to me like the five reported suicides of trans people in the first three months of 2015 [including 23-year-old Eyelul Cansin in Turkey] have more to do with an uptick in reporting around trans suicide than an actual increase in the number of trans people taking their lives."
The numbers themselves have been staggering, both before and after the media began to take notice -- a recent change that Martela suggests may have something to do with the international outcry following the late December suicide of 17-year-old trans girl Leelah Alcorn in Union Township, Ohio. Alcorn left a public suicide note pleading for the world to "fix society" so fewer trans people felt rejected and hopeless, spurring national conversations about how families and communities treat their trans children. An extraordinary 41 percent of trans people have reported attempting suicide, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force -- a rate that stands at nearly 10 times the national average for cisgender (nontrans) individuals.
A documentary about Brockington's homecoming king win and beyond, titled BrocKINGton, began filming last year.
Following the reported death of Alcorn as well as three young trans men, 23-year-old Jay Ralko, 24-year-old Andi Woodhouse, and 17-year-old Riley Moscatel, last year, 2015 has already seen the reported suicides of Taylor Wells, 18, March 15 in Springfield, Ill.; Aubrey Mariko Shine, 22, February 24 in San Francisco; Zander Mahaffey, 15, February 15 in Austell, Ga.; Melonie Rose, 19, February 11 in Laurel, Md.; and Ash Haffner, 16, February 26 in the same town as Blake Brockington -- Charlotte, N.C.
Haffner, whose mother said he was bullied for years about his gender expression, left a final note on his iPad before stepping into oncoming traffic -- the same fashion in which Alcorn took her life. Similar to Alcorn's final message, Haffner's read, in part, "Please be WHO YOU ARE... Do it for yourself. Do it for happiness. That's what matters in YOUR life. You don't need approval on who you are. Don't let people or society change who you are just because they're not satisfied with your image."
Following his suicide and several others, hashtags that include #HisNameWasAsh, #HerNameWasMelonie, #HisNameWasZander, and #HerNameWasLeelah have emerged on social media in memoriam.
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.