“BROKEN HEART LAND”
With a Gunshot to the Head
On early fall afternoon in 2010, Zach Harrington, a gay teen, killed himself with a shot in the head on his parent’s ranch in Norman Oklahoma. I can read that sentence over and over and over again and not make any sense of it. I just do not understand what killing ourselves is all about. Just one week earlier, Zach had been to a local city council meeting to support a proposal for LGBY History month in his town which is located in the Bible belt. As can be expected in the Bible-belt, when the floor was opened to discussion there were those community members who said some highly controversial things and went as far as to equate being gay with the spread of disease like HIV and AIDS.
Zack’s parents are conservative Republicans and military veterans and they are filled with grief. Their town is divided bitterly about homosexuality and now they are forced to reconcile their own social and political beliefs with the death of their son.
They are determined to understand Zack and when they find his private diary, they discover a portrait of their son as a boy in crisis. “Ultimately, they discover a chilling secret that Zack kept hidden for almost two years, which leads them to some painful conclusions about their son’s life and death”.
An outspoken conservative decides to run for City Council and this is the impetus they needed to join a politically active group, “MOMS: Mothers of Many” which is a bit similar to PFLAG in membership—it is composed mainly of local mothers of LGBTQ youth.
As the election grew nigh, Zack’s family, people who had once been private and politically conservative came out of that closet and left private denial behind and came out climatically to a very public acceptance of their son’s legacy. From the tragedy of losing a son, they moved to advocacy. With Zack’s suicide, they were shocked and distraught. We must keep in mind that Norman, Oklahoma is the site of the University of Oklahoma and because it is a college town, it is a bit more liberal than other Oklahoma sites. It was shocking and amazing to see that at that city council meeting there were many people supporting both sides of the argument and there was a great deal of opposition to allow the town to celebrate LGBT History month.
In this beautiful film directed by brother and sister team Jeremy and Randy Stulberg and produced by Randy’s partner Eric Juhola, we do not learn if it was that council meeting that drove Zack over the edge but we do see that his parents suffered and are suffering greatly especially when they discovered through the diary that Zack was keeping a terrible secret from them and that was that he had known for more than a year that he was HIV-positive. He had only recently shared this with friends and he certainly knew his status at the meeting where uninformed citizens gave incorrect and erroneous statements about HIV/AIDS.
Nancy, Zack’s mother recently sat down to write about the details and struggles she faced when she tried to get members of their community involved and she tells “how certain obstacles are detrimental to spreading awareness and understanding about important LGBT issues like HIV/AIDS awareness, comprehensive sex education, and LGBT rights, especially in America’s heartland”.
It took a tragedy and a secret for the Harrington’s to unravel the mystery behind their son’s death. This caused them to question their own sense of civic responsibility “as they undergo a harrowing transformation from private citizens to public defenders of their son’s legacy”.
Zack had had no doctor and he got his AIDS medication on the street. Oklahoma bans talk of homosexuality in sex education classes. The religious right dictates public health measures and we go back to that old “Silence=Death”. We must remember that with all the LGBT community has gained in the last few years, there are still places in this country where it makes no difference. None of us are free until all of us are free.