Imagine being teased and harassed by your peers--"You're gay!" "You're girlie!" "You're a fag!"—because you don't conform to their expectations of you based on your gender.
Imagine that this happens every day at school.
Imagine that you are 11 years old.
What if every week your mother pleaded with the officials at your school to do something to put an end to the taunting--to no avail?
And what if one day you just couldn't take it anymore?
Many of us can only imagine this scenario, but it was the unbearable reality for Massachusetts middle-schooler Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who hung himself Monday in the aftermath of relentless bullying at school.
Carl's is the fourth known case of bullying that resulted in suicide among middle-school students. The others took place in Chatham, Evanston and Chicago, Ill., in February of this year.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):
Two of the top three reasons students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. The top reason was physical appearance.
"As was the case with Carl, you do not have to identify as gay to be attacked with anti-LGBT language," [GLSEN Executive Director Eliza] Byard said. "From their earliest years on the school playground, students learn to use anti-LGBT language as the ultimate weapon to degrade their peers. In many cases, schools and teachers either ignore the behavior or don't know how to intervene."
Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, nearly half (44.1%) reported being physically harassed and about a quarter (22.1%) reported being physically assaulted, according to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT students.
In most cases, the harassment is unreported. Nearly two-thirds of LGBT students (60.8%) who experience harassment or assault never reported the incident to the school. The most common reason given was that they didn't believe anything would be done to address the situation. Of those who did report the incident, nearly a third (31.1%) said the school staff did nothing in response. While LGBT youth face extreme victimization, bullying in general is also a widespread problem. More than a third of middle and high school students (37%) said that bullying, name-calling or harassment is a somewhat or very serious problem at their school, according to From Teasing to Torment. Bullying is even more severe in middle school. Two-thirds of middle school students (65%) reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and only 41% said they felt very safe at school."
Today, April 17th, would have been Carl's 12th birthday. Today also marks the 13th annual National Day of Silence during which hundreds of thousands of students will participate by taking some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment at school.
There is a virtual guestbook for anyone who would like share thoughts or words of encouragement with Carl's family. My prayer is for peace and comfort for his family, and for an end to the ignorance and cruelty that lead to tragedies such as this.
Tomorrow, April 18th, African-American community leaders, parents, family, and friends will launch the first PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians &Gays) chapter in the nation dedicated specifically to the African-American community. The gathering will take place at Ainsworth United Church in Portland, OR.
"PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten a poorly-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights. PFLAG provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity."
For more information or to RSVP, contact:
Geri Washington, Community Organizer