Police investigating vandalism of nonbinary student's dorm room as hate crime

“It was like all the air was taken from the world … I sat there shaking, unable to force myself to move and get up,” Eleanor Wheeler wrote.
Eleanor Wheeler.
Eleanor Wheeler.KNSD
By Gwen Aviles

The San Diego Police Department is investigating as a hate crime the destruction outside a college student’s dorm room, which occurred a day after the student came out as queer and nonbinary on social media.

Eleanor Wheeler, a freshman at the University of San Diego, described the incident on Instagram earlier this week. Wheeler, who uses they/them pronouns, wrote that sometime in the middle of the night on Oct. 24, someone “vandalized” their dorm room by writing transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs and comments instructing them to take their life on the Pride flags hanging on their door. They discovered the damage on their way to use the bathroom and were devastated.

“It was like all the air was taken from the world … I sat there shaking, unable to force myself to move and get up,” Wheeler wrote. “Finally I stood up and the blood in my body was replaced by pure and utter terror. I ran to the bathroom and threw up out of sheer revulsion.”

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Wheeler, 19, is the founder of We Exist, a social movement that aims to include people with disabilities in activism and educate others on ableism. The student told NBC 7, NBC News’ San Diego affiliate, that they believe they were targeted because they came out as nonbinary on Instagram the day before the incident.

"What if I had killed myself like they told me to?" Wheeler told NBC 7. "Some people might have, and some people have, and some people will and that's not OK."

More than 40 percent of nonbinary youth attempt suicide in their lifetimes, according to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are not only more than three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, but are more vulnerable to hate crimes and abuse. The Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ youth organization, reports that each act of LGBTQ victimization, including physical or verbal harassment and abuse, more than doubles the likelihood of queer youth harming themselves.

NBC 7 reports that a group of USD students gathered Thursday night for a vigil to support Wheeler.

“Frankly, I don’t care if my existence makes you uncomfortable. Deal with it. Because this, this is life-threatening for me,” Wheeler wrote in their Instagram post. “You may be disgusted by my love, by my truth, but did you know that I stayed up for two nights sitting on the floor by my door in silence out of fear that this bigot would come back? Did you know that every time I met someone new I wonder if my truth will put me in harm or kill me?”

The San Diego Police Department has confirmed that an investigation into the incident is ongoing. In the meantime, Wheeler wants to share their story to show their LGBTQ peers that they are not alone.

“I’m speaking out because whoever did this heinous act wants to erase me, they want to silence me, they want to take my power and pride. That is simply not an option for me,” Wheeler wrote. “If you have experienced this type of violence and hate, you are not alone and I encourage you to come forward if you are able and safe to do so.”

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