Note: The following article contains sensitive content that might be triggering for some readers.
Blake Brockington was beloved at home and around the U.S. As the first transgender homecoming king in North Carolina, he made history while raising thousands of dollars to support charity. At 17, his status as an openly transgender black teen boy, a straight-A student, and a community activist was an inspiration.
Now, a year later, he is the seventh trans individual to die by suicide in three months. He is also the sixth teen in as many months to involve social media in a suicide or suicide attempt. And as his Tumblr queue continues to roll even after his death, his friends and supporters grapple with the question of how to mourn him without escalating a pattern.
Brockington made national news last year when he was chosen homecoming king. At the time, he told local news outlet WCNC that he wanted his achievement to serve as an inspiration to other trans teens:
“They can be themselves, regardless of what anybody else says,” Brockington told WCNC. “Even though you go through some things, and have some negative encounters in your life, anything is possible. You can do anything you set your heart to.”
North Carolina GLBTQ media outlet GOQ reported that Brockington had taken a leadership role in his local trans and black community:
In the year since his homecoming win and graduation, Brockington became an outspoken advocate, speaking at last year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance event and organizing public rallies and other grassroots campaigns to raise awareness on police brutality and violence. In one action in December, Brockington led activists in a brief shut down of Independence Square at Trade & Tryon Sts., followed by an impromptu march through Uptown. He and other activists also planned and coordinated a similar action at SouthPark Mall during the Christmas shopping season.
Brockington’s death follows the suicide of Ash Haffner in February. Like Brockington, Haffner lived in the Charlotte, N.C. area.
An alarmingly high number of transgender teens have died by suicide since the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn on Dec. 28. These include 15-year-old Zander Mahaffey, 19-year-old Aubrey Shine, 16-year-old Haffner, and 19-year-old Melonie Rose.
Additionally, 23-year-old Eylül Cans?n died in February after uploading a video message to Facebook.That same month, 13-year-old Damien Shrum’s use of Instagram prompted an anonymous phone call to police, who were able to intervene and place him under medical care.
Brockington was an active part of the trans community on Tumblr. The sidebar on his blog currently reads, “remember me for me or not at all.” One post, which was queued or made shortly before his death early Tuesday morning, references self-harm. Another reblog, which appeared this morning, references depression and feelings of hopelessness.
It appears that despite his generous nature and sunny attitude, Brockington was one of the 90 percent of people who have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issue at the time of their suicide. Prior to his death, he reblogged numerous posts indicative of a see-sawing state of mind, including a list of app resources for Tumblr users seeking mental health support.
“If we plan to change the system as a whole, we have to change the system together,” Brockington told GOQ during the December rally, which was a combined protest against racialized police violence and an awareness rally for minority issues.
“We have to address all these problems at once — misogyny, patriarchy, LGBT issues, race issues. We have to address everything at once if we plan to change the system at all.”
But while addressing each of these other issues of social justice are important, promoting mental health is just as vital. Had Brockington been able to receive proper mental health care before his death, he might still have been able to share his important, powerful voice as a black trans advocate.
Instead, his death is one more tragedy within a community that has grappled with grief and violence for most of 2015.
Contact Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 (U.S.) or (877) 330-6366 (Canada) if you need to speak to counsellors with experience dealing with transgender issues.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)