Braden’s story is tough to listen to.
We didn’t know what to expect when, on the morning of November 13th, we met Braden in the Food Court of the Bay City Mall in Bay City, Michigan. Braden’s mother had driven him down to Bay City from their small town of Sebewaing, which is up the “thumb” along the bay coast about a half hour away.
The Bay City Mall was not crowded at 9:00AM, and we sorta stood out, mostly because we were the only young people there but also because Braden was wearing gold beads and had a fabulous leopard-skin purse. All the jeans-wearing mountain men at a neighboring table looked at us curiously while we brought out the computer and started talking with Braden.
Afterwards, we met Braden’s mother in the parking lot and thanked her for bringing her son down to Bay City for the interview. We know it was a big step for her. With tears in our eyes, we drove away, wondering how brave you’d have to be to endure the type of daily fear Braden endures in his home town. It makes us sick and furious to think that this country of ours can be so self-righteous about how great a place it is when it allows very real terrorism to take place on a regular basis on our own soil and the people who are supposed to protect us do nothing about it.
YGA: What’s your complete name?
BRADEN: Braden J. Jahr.
YGA: You say you “have to have the J.” Why is that?
BRADEN: I don’t know. It just makes my name complete.
YGA: How do you pronounce your last name?
YGA: Tell us about yourself.
BRADEN: My family lives in Sebewaing. I’m 15. I used to be in high school, but now I’m home schooling.
YGA: Why are you home schooling?
BRADEN: I left high school in February because of a lot of violence at school.
YGA: Violence in general?
BRADEN: Violence toward me. Against me. Violence, pranks, other things.
YGA: What kind of pranks.
BRADEN: Bird seed is probably the most interesting one.
YGA: Bird seed?
BRADEN: All over, by my locker. They threw it at me.
YGA: They threw bird seed at you.
YGA: Why bird seed?
BRADEN: I have no idea. I have no clue what bird seed symbolizes.
YGA: Maybe that’s all they could creatively come up with.
YGA: What else happened.
BRADEN: Death threats. A lot of them. Via email. Via message board posts on my website.
YGA: What’s your website?
BRADEN: www.Broder13.com.It’It’s my life. My story of my life.
YGA: Where else did they make death threats?
BRADEN: Messages on the school messaging system.
YGA: What did those messages say?
BRADEN: “Don’t mess with us fag.” Other things. “I’ve got my shotgun with me.” There’s nothing but shotguns and trucks where we come from.
YGA: What else? The reason we’re asking is because we have realized that the press picks up on statements like the ones you’re giving. This type of testimony helps cover this issue in a broader range.
BRADEN: I understand. And I want to help others like me.
YGA: You don’t have to tell us anything that’s too uncomfortable.
BRADEN: They went looking for my house, asking around, looking for where I live. I think they actually did find out where my house was but forgot because they were smoking marijuana. That’s my town for you.
YGA: They never found you then? Nothing ever happened?
BRADEN: Nothing yet.
YGA: But it’s still scary.
YGA: Stuff like that happens to us time and again. We’re on a Christian Right group’s list of the “10 Most Dangerous Websites.” Sometimes wackos will post things about us on message boards and other websites. Whenever something like that happens, it affects you for days and days.
YGA: You can’t sleep. You can’t wake up. Pain in your chest.
BRADEN: Yes. Sebewaing is an open-door community. You can go to sleep there without locking your doors. Not at my house.
YGA: Did this all start out of the blue?
BRADEN: It quite literally did.
YGA: Were you singled out?
BRADEN: I was told that it was because I was a freshman.
YGA: Who told you that?
BRADEN: Another boy they were doing a lot of things to. Now that I left school, he gets a lot more stuff done to him. He was raped.
YGA: Is it one particular group of people?
BRADEN: No. It ranges from the popular people to the marijuana-smoking, truck-driving crowd. It’s everybody.
YGA: What about your parents.
BRADEN: My dad is one of them. My mother, on the other hand, she’s… coping. She is a nervous wreck and she’s not completely accepting, but she’s there for me.
YGA: Why do you think she’s a nervous wreck?
BRADEN: She’s dealing with a lot of things. Religiously and otherwise.
YGA: Reconciling her religious views and her love for you?
YGA: Those can be difficult to put together.
BRADEN: Unfortunately for her it is, yes.
YGA: So your home schooling. How does that work?
BRADEN: Actually recently I’ve been doing a lot of other work. I just got back from Milwaukee at the Creating Change conference. I’ve been working with the Triangle Foundation, working to create a group to do advocacy work for people in small areas.
YGA: Tell us about the Triangle Foundation.
BRADEN: It’s a brilliant organization. They’re a statewide advocacy group for LGBT people. They deal specifically with hate crimes, homocide, that type of thing.
YGA: What work are you doing with them?
BRADEN: I’m trying to start up a group in the tri-cities, just to get our issues known and heard about. Up here the nearest group is actually PFLAG in Midland, other than that we have nothing.
YGA: Have you received support from school?
BRADEN: They have told me a lot of things. They’ve told me to “tone it down.”
YGA: Tone what down?
BRADEN: I don’t know. The way I dress, my attitude.
YGA: What’s the way you dress?
BRADEN: This. I don’t know. They didn’t specify.
YGA: They just said “it”?
BRADEN: Yes. I frequently wear glitter. I am shy, but not about those type of things.
YGA: Do you think it would be easier if you lived in a different place?
BRADEN: I think it’d be a lot easier if I lived in a bigger city, even here in Bay City. It’s a little bit more accepting than my town.
YGA: How many high schools are in your town?
YGA: Did you consider the other high school?
BRADEN: They’re exactly the same. I’ve received death threats from the other one also.
YGA: When these death threats happen, do you tell the police?
BRADEN: I told them. They said basically they couldn’t do anything. It’s “out of their jurisdiction.”
YGA: Under whose jurisdiction is it? Under whose jurisdiction does a death threat fall?
BRADEN: You have to wonder. I don’t know. They didn’t want to deal with me.
YGA: If you got a death threat from Osama bin Laden it would matter.
BRADEN: I agree.
YGA: But homophobic bigoted asshole fucks don’t matter.
BRADEN: That’s because a lot of the police are them.
YGA: It’s America’s own terrorism. That IS terror.
BRADEN: I agree.
YGA: We get threats from crazy people who are trying to stop our project. It kills us for days. But we have a lot more resources and connections than someone like you. We can call friends who have lawyers, for example.
BRADEN: The ACLU has been very helpful in dealing with my school.
YGA: Oh really? As part of their Making Schools Safer program?
BRADEN: They wrote a letter and my school complied within two seconds. I was trying to start a GSA. My school allowed me to start a “Diversity” group. Now they’re trying to halt the group for other reasons. No matter what we can’t use the word “gay” or “lesbian”, we have to say “diversity.”
BRADEN: They don’t want to come under fire.
YGA: How many people are out in Sebewaing?
BRADEN: I’m the first out person that I know of. I met a man from Triangle foundation who’s actually from there, but didn’t come out till he went away. Smart move.
YGA: What do you plan to do?
BRADEN: I plan on moving away, to New York to go into drama. But until then I’m stuck. So I’ll have to make the best of it. Which is difficult for everyone.
BRADEN: People who wish I wasn’t here. It’s difficult for them because I’m going to be there, in their faces, and starting things. And for people like me and the other people who are LGBT who are still going to exist until something is done.
YGA: What is your ultimate goal.
BRADEN: To be an actor.
YGA: What kind of actor?
BRADEN: Any sort.
YGA: Are you involved in theater here?
BRADEN: Yes, surprisingly, because it’s not offered much. But I’ve been in things. I had the lead part of a play recently.
YGA: What’s your sign?
YGA: When’s your birthday?
BRADEN: January 2nd.
YGA: With all the hate around you… do you hate yourself?
BRADEN: No. I know a lot of people who do, though.
YGA: And what do you say to those people.
BRADEN: Just that there is a lot more out there that I’ve seen. Even though coming from my town you don’t see it, it’s out there. They just need to find ways to see it.
YGA: Are you hopeful?
YGA: You plan on helping things happen.
YGA: And that gives you a sense of hope.
BRADEN: Definitely. The people who are working on the Triangle Foundation are often from this area and that’s just amazing that someone from this area CAN be open about these things, as difficult as it may be. Homophobia isnt the only thing in my community. Racism is another major factor. People of color who HAVE lived here have been driven out.
YGA: What does your mom say to you when you guys talk about you. In asking this question, our intent is not to vilify your mother. Just to reflect on your status.
BRADEN: It’s difficult, especially because she doesn’t accept me fully. I keep a lot of my life private from her, which a lot of teenagers do. It’s diffficult. If my own mother can’t accept me, who can? But she’s working on it. She’s trying. She’s come a long way. I can’t blame her.
YGA: It’s great that she’s trying.
BRADEN: I agree.
YGA: And that must give you some kind of comfort.
BRADEN: It does.
YGA: Do you have brothers or sisters?
BRADEN: Not directly related. Stepbrothers and half-brothers. My younger brother is 8, I have high hopes for him. He acts like me when I was that age. I have a suspicion about him, that he might be gay. That would just kill my father and that’s what I want.
YGA: Well chances are good. .. do you get along?
BRADEN: With my brother? He adores me. I gave him the agenda at an early age. He knows what to do.
YGA: What agenda?
BRADEN: I dunno. I haven’t read my pamphlet yet but I’ve heard they’ve sent it to me.
YGA: What motivated you to write your story on the website.
BRADEN: A few years ago I started my website. I just wanted people to connect to me better. A few years ago I was very alone and wanted peopke to know the real me, not just what people heard was me.
YGA: Have you found people have used your site as a way to get to know you better?
BRADEN: Actually yes. A lot of them have. I was very scared. Thought I’d receive a lot of negative reaction. I actually received more positive than negative. Things like “I didn’t know anything about you. Now that I’ve read it I’m very ingtrigued and I’d like to get to know you better.” It’s odd.
YGA: One thing interesting about a website is it lets someone be supportive personally without being supportive publicly, which is often an important first step. If you’re in a peer group and they’re all homophobes and racists and you don’t really agree with them you may not be able say anything publicy but you can go to your website, send you an email anonymously. You can almost use it to apologize for things you’ve done.
BRADEN: Yes. But it also works the other way too. The negative emails I’ve received. “I can’t believe you’re doing this. How awful you are.” There’s nothing I can do about them.
YGA: With all this, how do you also carry on a regular 15yo life? Or do you?
BRADEN: I don’t think I do. But I’m happy. I think the majority of 15yo’s are very vain. They’re into popularity above all things. The majority of my friends, who I love to death, would much rather fit in than be their own person. And being your own person in this town–probably anywhere—gets you a lot of harrassment.
YGA: What’s your social life like?
BRADEN: Nonexistent. Nonexistent in my community with people of my age group. I associate much better with people who are older than I am who can have a reasonable conversation with me.
YGA: We meet a lot of people like that. People who are 14, or 15, but hang out with adults.
BRADEN: That’s because you have to grow up a lot faster. As damaging as that is for some people, it can be a blessing for others.
YGA: You have a very balanced outllook
BRADEN: Thank you.
YGA: You shouldn’t have to have one. You shouldn’t have to be forced into it like you have. But at least you have that balance. It’s very healthy.
BRADEN: I agree.
YGA: What about finding a boyfriend. Is that important to you?
BRADEN: It is. Not as important as other things, but important. In Sebewaing, that I know of, I have two other options. And you wear them out fast. It’s difficult. PFLAG is the central meeting place for anyone. Hopefully with this Triangle group we will change that. It’s difficult if you don’t have clubs, which is not my scene anyway.
YGA: What about the internet?
BRADEN: It has been a major source of finding people. With my experience it’s been the wrong people.
YGA: It usually is.
BRADEN: I agree.
YGA: What kind of support do you get from other members of the gay community? Do you find older gays and lesbians supportive? Lecherous?
BRADEN: Ageism is an awful thing, people don’t give other people a chance. Just the same with any “ism.” Adults within the LGBT community have been more helpful than anyone else. They’eve been there, they’ve lived thru what I’ve lived thru. My bias is that our people are much more intellectual, at least I like to think that. I’ve found that to be true.
YGA: You’re forced to be.
BRADEN: You’re forced to grow.
YGA: It’s a survival instinct.
BRADEN: When you’re a minority you have to look out for each other. Although that’s not a given. I’ve seen a lot of minorities, including gay people, who discriminate against other miniroities, which is awful. In my mind that should not exist. How can you feel sorry for yourself — I don’t feel sorry for myself — and then make someone else feel less even though you went through all the same stuff?
YGA: I think you’re a very inspirational person. Do you have anything inspirtational to say? If we gave you a podium and you could speak to these people right here.
BRADEN: Most of these people would not listen.
YGA: Let’s assume they did
BRADEN: The best advice I could give, and have been given, is that there’s a vast world out there. Just because you might grow up in a community of people who are not openmminded, or you think aren’t openminnded and don’t give them a chance, remember that people are out there. People who’ve been thru what you’ve been through. Maybe even people in your own community. The majoriity of people are normal, healthy, people.
YGA: Who are your role models.
BRADEN: They’re not famous people. A man named Jeff Montgomery who works for the Triangle Foundation. Actually, everyone who works there. They’re an amazing crowd of people. (www.tri.org) Actually, I’d say anyone who’s been thru any kind of discrimination and can come out and survive and do something about it and talk about it. They’re the true heroes of the world. If it wasn’t for the Triangle Foundation, I probably wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be talking. I would probably be dead. Who knows where I would be