The Middle Tennessee community continues to mourn the death of an Ashland City teen who committed suicide Wednesday.

Jacob Rogers, 18, attended Cheatham County Central High School, and friends say he was subjected to frequent anti-gay bullying by classmates.

Discrimination has long been an issue in the largely conservative region, according to a former  student at CCCHS.

"Cheatham County was a very hard place to grow up," says Brian Etheridge, who now resides in Nashville. "I was done the same way as this young kid and it was hard (to go through that)."

Etheridge eventually quit school due to daily abuse from his classmates. He says the support from those close to him was his sole comfort.

"When I was in school there, teachers knew I got called names every day and did nothing. I'm sure it hasn't changed. It's a very closed-minded town," Etheridge says. "I had a good group of close friends and family that helped me make it as long as I did."

CCCHS officials have enlisted the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN) to offer consultation and counseling for the campus. Scott Ridgway, executive director of TSPN, says that their goal is to help others gain understanding during this difficult time.

"The loss of a person to suicide is always a tragedy," he says, "and all the more so when it is a child or teenager who had so much potential and so much ahead of them—even if they were not able to see it themselves."

The school will host a community meeting next week with information provided by TSPN. Ridgway says the focus should be on helping young people in crisis, not placing blame for Rogers' death.

"All of us want to make sure that the people of Ashland City, young and old, understand that suicide is not the answer," he says, "and that there is hope for a better tomorrow. Anytime someone dies by suicide, he or she has been influenced by multiple stressors and contributing factors, both internal and external. These factors become a snowballing effect and overwhelm the person."

Tennessee Equality Project has circulated a petition asking CCCHS to revise their non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Protecting students through policy change is a crucial element to ending harassment on campus, says Brad Palmertree, co-chair of GLSEN Middle Tennessee.

"We encourage students and community members to seek help where possible," he says. "When the school is ready, we are more than willing to help them develop inclusive policies and procedures that have been proven to improve the school climate for all students."

Donations for Rogers' funeral can be delivered to Sandman's Ink Shop, located at 1102 Main St., Ashland City, TN, 37015.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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