Tania McAtee, Mom Against Bullying
Note: Tania McAtee is the mother of Matthew’s Place blogger, Jake Stallman. Jake, 17, has written about being bullied and the death threats he has received for being gay. He’s also been candid about that emotional strain and his suicide attempts. Jake came out to his mom when he was in seventh grade. Tania agreed to share her story with Matthew’s Place in honor of Mother’s Day 2013.
September 10, 2012 – 7 p.m. I enter the library of the high school that my son, Jake, attends to speak to the school board. This school is supposed to be a safe place, but my son is being bullied and harassed here on a daily basis. Kids call him a “faggot” and draw male genitalia on his locker. He’s going through hell, and nobody at the school has done anything to protect him.
We live in a small town in Eastern Iowa with about 4,000 residents. It’s the kind of small town where everybody knows each other or knows of each other. It’s an all-white community that’s in a very beautiful setting, but it’s also very conservative. My son’s sexual orientation became the talk of the town. I would say it was received with a mixed reaction.
As I enter the school board meeting with my brother Mike, I’m frustrated, angry, hurt and worried for my son. My son is in hell, and little do I know that in the days to follow things will only get worse. I’m ready to speak up for Jake, and I feel a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes.
I push back the tears and tell the board about my son’s experience of being bullied, taunted and harassed. I want to know why I have to come to the school board just so I can hope something will be done to help protect him and guard his safety. I ask why nothing came out of my meetings with the principal and superintendent. I want to know why it’s taking me stepping forward to get somebody at the school to take Jake’s situation seriously.
I promised to attend every single school board meeting until proper measures were set in place for my son and every other child who is being bullied. I demanded a plan to educate teachers, incorporate discussions in classrooms, and involve students in anti-bullying measures.
Work Against Bullying
I still attend every single school board meeting. I started a campaign on Facebook called, “Tipton Against Kids Being Bullied.” My family has tried to do as much as we can. We hold anti-bulling meetings, candlelight vigils, take part in events, and give support to parents and children. As part of our work, we offer “Love Notes.” Jake and I send cards with words of encouragement to kids who are being bullied. We are also working on helping establish state standards for schools to protect kids from being bullied.
A week after I addressed the school board, I passed fliers out in town with my phone number. I asked people to contact me if they were being bullied. I promised to listen to them and offer support.
Our local newspaper wrote an article about the situation and included the information from my flier with my phone number.
After the newspaper article was published, I received a phone call from an “unknown” number. The caller said, “Your son is a fag, and we are coming to kill him.”
My stomach dropped. My heart broke. Jake was at work. All I wanted to do was go get him and get the hell out of here. The fear and hurt my son must endure everyday truly hit me like a ton of bricks. Jake has inspired and changed me. He’s a remarkable young man.
Jake is my baby. I know that it’s not cool to say that from a teen’s perspective. But he is. He has always been such a loving little guy. He never wants to disappoint me. He tries his hardest to do well, and he has big dreams for his future. He is very active in school. He walks around the house singing all the time; sometimes hearing this deep voice coming from my sweet baby is startling. It’s a beautiful voice that I never tire of hearing. Jake uses music to express his emotions, and I am honored to hear most of his music. He’s also an extraordinary cook. He loves to share his creations with me, and I love to sample all of it. Jake has told me that he loves to cook because it makes him feel free. He feels it’s an expression of himself, what he wants to be, and his hope for the future.
I have seen my son cry and sob while curled up in a fetal position because he doesn’t understand why someone would want to kill him for being gay. I’ve seen his pain that results from him just trying to walk down the hall to get to his next class, while kids taunt him saying: “Fag! Fag! Fag!” Jake has been shunned by kids he once called friends after they learned he is gay.
A Mother’s Love
When he was younger, I could put a Band-Aid on his “ouchie” to make the hurt better. Now all I can do is hold him, tell him that I love him, and assure him that I will do what I can to fix this. There’s no Band-Aid big enough to fix this hurt.
Jake has even tried to attempt suicide three times because he felt that was the only way out. As his mom, I can’t understand how kids can be so hateful just because he’s gay. Who cares who or how you love? Everyone is entitled to feel love, and I hope that my son and other kids will be able to feel and receive love.
Jake is stronger today; he has seen the support of people reaching out to him, including LGBT groups, parents, other kids who have been bullied, and former students who were bullied. All of this has helped Jake, who has taken something so negative and turned it into positive. He’s helping others who are bullied.
My Children Are My Success
I have four accomplishments in my life, Amanda (my oldest), Haley (middle child), Jake (my only son), and my husband, Chuck. My son is my true hero; he has taught me how to be strong, forgive and help.
My 17-year-old son stands 6’5″ with blond hair and glasses. He sports classy bow ties. He is a true gentleman. I am honored to be his mother. I am honored to fight for my son, and I am so grateful that he is here with me today.
As parents, we are told that we eventually have to let go of our kids, let them learn the ways of the world and make mistakes. But you know, my kids will always have my heart, and my kiddos are remarkable young adults.
My message to my kids and others is that if you see someone who is in trouble you should be a voice. You never know what they are feeling. By using your voice and standing up for them this can make a difference. You may even help save their life.
Thank you for allowing me to share our journey. To my kids: “I love you so very much, always and forever. You three are my true success in life.”