Bullying because of his sexual orientation played “a big part” in the suicide of a 17-year-old Century High School student on Sunday, according to the boy's father.
Jay'Corey Jones knew he was gay from a young age and was bullied for a number of years because of it, suffering depression as a result, said to his father, JayBocka Strader of Rochester.
"He said all of his life they always picked on him," Strader said. "He'd still try to keep his head up at school, but then he'd come home and be really sad about it."
Jones, a member of Century's gay-straight alliance, had an image on his Facebook page that said, "Gay & Proud." He was open about his sexuality and occasionally wore tight, colorful tank tops and short-shorts to school, Strader said.
"He just got really depressed about it because the guys weren't accepting him," Strader said.
Jones jumped from a pedestrian bridge near Century High School on Sunday, according to police.
In response to an inquiry from the Post-Bulletin, schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz issued a statement acknowledging there are issues related to bullying in the district. He did not directly address Jones' situation.
The district is in the planning stages of providing training and support for students, staff and families, Muñoz said, and will continue anti-bullying collaborations with Gov. Mark Dayton’s recently formed anti-bullying task force, Rochester police and others in the community.
Looking for answers
Jones moved to Rochester about two years ago after living in the Twin Cities with an uncle, then in Owatonna with his father. He lived in Chicago before moving to Minnesota, Strader said. Jones joined the gay-straight alliance after enrolling at Century and attended the group's twice-weekly meetings.
"He was strong about supporting gay people," said Century junior Tia Born, one of Jones’ close friends.
Born's grandfather, 74-year-old Don Born, of Rochester, said his impression of Jones was that he was a nice kid and a fun kid, but he had had “a rough life.” He said he told Jones that he could come to his house any time he needed help.
In early March, Jones attended a support group meeting at Gay and Lesbian Youth Services in Rochester. Jones had supportive friends with him, group facilitator Vangie Castro recalled, but he seemed to be looking for something more.
"He was looking for something, but I think he just didn't know what he was looking for," Castro said. The meeting was the only one Jones attended, she said.
Weeks later, around early April, a student directed an anti-gay comment at Jones at school, according to one of Jones’ friends. Jones wanted to wear short-shorts to school to stand up to the student, friends recalled. Friends told him not to do it, however, out of concern for what might happen to him as a result. He did eventually wear the shorts to school, several students said, and he received support that day from many people at school.
Jones was hurt, however, that people had told him to not wear the shorts, friends said, and he stopped going to gay-lesbian student alliance meetings last month as a result.
"Up until his death, he took a stand," Strader said. "He was like, 'Whatever happens, happens — I'm just going to take a stand.' And he started to take a stand."
'It was all unexpected'
Strader, who said he raised Jones as a single parent, said his son’s depression didn't appear to get worse in the days leading up to his death.
"It was all unexpected," Strader said.
Multiple issues beyond sexual orientation can be at play in a suicide, and it can take a single instance to trigger what happens, said Castro, a member of the governor's task force on bullying.
"We don't know what really happened," she said, though the depression Jones suffered from bullying probably didn't help. "It could have been a bunch of stuff that led up to it."
Jones’ funeral will be in Chicago, but Strader said he also wants to do “something big” in Rochester to honor his son, who on April 20 was involved in a “Day of Silence” at Century. The effort was part of a nationwide initiative by youth gay-straight alliances to call attention to the silencing effect of bullying in schools.
"I want everyone to have on pink shirts and remember the Corey that tried to get the rights," Strader said. Pink was one of Jones' favorite colors, his dad said.
"When I saw him in pink, I really liked him in pink, and he was really happy," Strader said. "I just told him that pink looked good on him."