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In Memoriam

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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

503-421-3343 (Cell)

503-281-2293 (Home/Office)

[email protected]

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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

What the fuck? Teenagers

What the fuck? Teenagers have the intellectual capacity to rationalize their suicide (I'm not condoning it), but this boy was a child. Eleven years old. What in the world kind of bullying could push an eleven year old to suicide? This is outrageous and sickening. This sort of thing should not happen in the first world.

Very Unfortunately

Suicide rates among GLBTQ teens have been increasing for quite some time. More often than not, bullying and tormenting are the most likely contributors to them. Self-acceptance is another.

This is one resource addressing the issue.

The 11 year-old victim's tragedy is just another example of how bullying is a serious matter. Period.

I have a sibling who was bullied and tormented for much of the sibling's school years. After the sibling graduated college (incredibly and miraculously) the sibling was diagnosed with severe forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and bi-polar disorder. Supporting the sibling's needs has been a great sacrifice on both myself, my family, and the "system" of dependency the sibling must rely on to function in daily life.

Bullying is no laughing matter. Those who think, insist, and defend its "playful actions" as "an innocent part of childhood" are dangerously mistaken. The most fragile part of one's body, is actually the "psyche." Once it's damaged, the damage is done for a lifetime.

The "system" is one form of taxation I defend and support because those who bullied my sibling to its permanent emotional and mental state are paying the moral price for it honestly, effectively, and compassionately.

I am deeply hopeful that the families of the bullies who drove this pre-teen to suicide will also pay the price for their actions.

Why is this not all over the

Why is this not all over the news? Some white kid who plays sports and has 3 girlfriends dies, and the world comes to a screeching halt, but a slightly effeminiate black child dies (under horrifying circumstances), and not a peep, except from the LGBT community. This needs to stop, this boy never even got to realize what his sexual preference was, but apparently these horrible children decided for him (or rather, thier parents did by teaching them this way of thinking), and told him his life was not worth living because of it. I was teased relentlessly in school, but I live in Canada, and it seems like the bullying here dosn't even compare to the bullying south of the border, for which I am forever thankful. I'll take being called a dyke, or a she-male over what this boy must have gone through anyday... 11 years old, that is NOT okay.

A reminder

This is a sad reminder of why we have the day of silence...it's truly heartbreaking.

Happy Birthday, Carl...

Unfortunate and somewhat frightening

This is truly an unfortunate and somewhat frightening event. Homophobia and Misogyny are everywhere and need to be understood as serious problems.

This makes me sick. How can

This makes me sick. How can kids be so cruel to tease a kid so much. I find it very mind boggling that this isn't the first time this has occured in a middle school. To think that an 11 year old wold think to result to suicide because of this, and I also can't believe that teachers and other officials at the school, didn't do anything to stop the bullying. This could of been prevented.

Gender and innocence

I'll begin this post with an expression of sympathy, apology, and love towards Carl's family. I can't imagine the agony that this must cause a loved one, every day.
Speaking in a broader social context, I think much of the homophobia and brutal bullying in school springs from our cultural treatment of gender. Children are taught, explicitly or by personal and media example and attitude, that there exists a precise definition and standard dictating one's gender, and a deviation from these "laws," a too-effeminate or too-masculine face, an interest in "girly" things or "stuff that's meant for a boy," a too-close relationship with a same-sex companion, is taken as unnatural and even dangerous. This happens to so many kids, whatever their actual sexual orientation, so that over time a child can come to believe he or she is truly a monster.
It's a huge and systemic blight, one that would take so much effort, willingness, and self-examination on parental, personal, cultural, and philosophic levels; it's almost painful to hypothesize, simply because the concept is so daunting. But in any contact with a child, I truly believe it's so important to take an attitude towards gender which moves away from a strict, simple, either/or definition and towards the vision of a spectrum, in which one can simply *be*.