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How a Bullied Gay Marion Teen Used Secret Identity to Fight Back

Marion resident and Linn-Mar High School student Matt Shankles has made tremendous efforts to address bullying in his school.

Matt Shankles lost friends and self-esteem and his depression grew when his eighth-grade classmates learned he was gay. They bullied him relentlessly.

He one day locked himself in his bathroom and jammed the door shut with a drawer, intending to end his life with of a box of X-Acto blades.

"I hated myself more than I hate war," said Shankles, 16, now a sophomore. "More than I hate famine, more than I hate hate."

Thankfully, Shankles didn't die that day.

Rather than give in to his suffering, which is too much for many other , he has devoted his high school career to fighting bullying. He has been reaching out and reassuring victims, advocating for anti-bullying legislation in our nation's capitol and telling his painful story in front of the very classmates that still ridicule him.

Have a message for Matt or the bullies? Share it in comments below.

Shankles' story provides optimism to bullied children, and their parents, everywhere. And, it offers some hope in the battle against bullying and cyber-bullying less than a month after a gay Iowa teen took his own life. committed suicide after being teased and bullied by classmates at South O'Brien High School in western Iowa.

"I hated myself more than I hate war."

The suffering was so great that Shankles rationalized his escape from his burdensome depression like this: people that surpass suffering become angels.

"I feel like regardless of whether I am an actual angel or not, I feel like I can help people become angels themselves," he said.

His advocacy has taken many forms. In addition to more routine support of bullying victims, Shankles has spoken at the Safe Schools Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C. and served as co-president of a gay-straight alliance club called Spectrum. 

Shankles' mother, Tracy Bradley, said that until recently she was unaware of the bullying after he came out or that he had contemplated suicide. She said she feels terrible that he went through so much suffering alone, but she said she is incredibly proud of the maturity, character and generosity that he has shown since the bullying began.

"Nobody is pleased when their child is bullied," Bradley said. "At the same time, I am proud. He is going to be a better human being — 10 times the person that a lot of bullies who never grow out of being bullies will be."

Twitter Power

Shankles is most known around school for a Twitter account he started last fall.

Shankles said a Linn-Mar student started a Twitter account specifically to harass students, divulge unflattering secrets and spread false rumors.

So, Shankles decided to create a rival Twitter account to Tweet kind words to ridiculed students. The handle is linn_mar_love.

But he knew he couldn’t take ownership of the account. Despite his advocacy work, Shankles is still bullied. He said he can’t walk home from school alone without having derogatory words shouted at him from cars. So he remained anonymous to keep his credibility.

"You can pull through this! Stay strong! Don't let him get to you ever," he Tweeted to a student ridiculed by the bullying Twitter handle, which has since gone offline.

Last week he officially revealed himself to be the author of the Twitter feed linn_mar_love and said he was approached by many students who were bullied. He said the trust they have shown him and has been amazing.

"Within the past three days I have felt very empowered," he said. "I have the power to make so much more."

Proud Mom

Shankles isn't the only one in the family to experience bullying. Bradley said she experienced bullying so extreme in her youth that it had a profound effect on her.

That's why Tracy Bradley is so proud of her son for getting past his depression and devoting himself to the well being of his classmates.

"If I have done only one thing right in this life, it's raising this kid," she said. "I couldn't be more proud of the path he has taken. It is not an easy one, and it takes more courage than I have, but he handles it with grace."

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Jeff Robison May 01, 2012 at 11:37 AM
Good Job, Matt Shankles. Don't let your adversaries pull you down. Instead, let the knuckle draggers drown in the obvious filth which spews from their ignorance and bigotry.
Stephanie Fudge May 01, 2012 at 02:10 PM
What a wonderful story from a courageous young man. I too was bullied at Linn Mar back in the 60's because I had "buck teeth". It was horrible back then...now kids are much more vicious and they start at a much younger age. If the parents are bullies, more often then not, their kids will be bullies as well with the cycle never ending. Please Matt, stay strong and true to yourself and continue doing what you have started. God bless you!
Sara May 01, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I know it's hard. Always believe in who u are it will get better. I am proud of you
lisa northrop May 01, 2012 at 05:24 PM
You rock, Matt!! Keep up the good work!
Maureen Johnston May 01, 2012 at 07:25 PM
What a mature young man! Keep up the great work you will be rewarded!
Kayley Orchuk May 01, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I'm so sorry that your going through this but people like you are needed in this world. People to help us be strong when we are at our weakest. You have obviously helped a lot of people, and reading this reminded me that no matter what we go through that there is someone there for us. I'm proud of you!
Scott May 02, 2012 at 06:22 AM
Fantastic, Matt, you're an inspiration. So many young people will benefit from your strength. Keep up the good work and always remember to love yourself!
Z Jr. May 02, 2012 at 08:56 PM
So proud of Matt, so proud of Spectrum! You all rock!!!
Noelle White May 02, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Good job Matt! Keep bring a positive attitude to everyone you encounter and you will continue to be an angel! You are an inspiration to us all and I hope that others who are faced with the ignorance and hatred of others can use you way of dealing instead of suicide. Thank you.
Liz Nelson May 03, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Matt, you are doing wonderful things! I hope my 10 yr old son grows up to be just like you. I can't wait to read about the great stuff you will be leading 5...10...15 years from now. And hang in there--the world gets sooooooo much bigger than high school!
james sigler May 03, 2012 at 04:37 AM
beautiful. inside and out. just beautiful.
Michael May 03, 2012 at 06:35 AM
Hate is a learned behavior. Unfortunately, as long as ignorant people continue to reproduce and not teach their children that all "men AND WOMEN are created equal" the kind of treatment you and others suffer will continue. Stay strong Matt and continue to love and help those around you. Never forget that the people who love you far out number those who would be so ignorant to hate you for being the person you were created to be. Always, always remember that and let others know that.
E.B. de Mas May 03, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Hi, Matt I'm starting an advocacy group for bullied LGBTQ youth called Project ProteKT. We'd love to hear your thoughts and know more of your experience. Our aim is to hold schools accountable and act as mediators between kids and schools. We'd really appreciate it if you contacted us: pink.agendist@yahoo.com Our website will be up by the end of the next week, but you can have a glimpse at what we're doing here: http://pinkagendist.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/project-protekt-breaking-news-the-austin-school-district-exposed-neutrality-on-anti-gay-bullying/
Matt Swedish-Ninja Shankles May 04, 2012 at 12:18 AM
i'm working on my own non-profit advocating group too! But we'll check it out. :)
Kevin Rogers May 04, 2012 at 01:37 PM
You are quite the young man Matt! Keep up the fight!!
Jen B May 04, 2012 at 02:09 PM
You are a wonderful young man. In about 10 or 20 years you are going to find true love and happiness with the seeds you have planted. You will be lightyears beyond those bullies in every facet of your life. Remember that. The world needs you.

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