Bullying leads boy, 11, to commit suicide
A disturbing cluster of bullying-related suicides of children and young adults has sparked outrage from regional and national LGBT leaders.
Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, 11, hung himself at home April 6 after enduring bullying at his Springfield, Mass., school, including daily taunts of being gay. His mother reportedly complained to the school weekly, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network ( GLSEN ) .
This is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year, reported GLSEN: "The other three known cases of suicide among middle-school students took place in Chatham, Evanston and Chicago, Ill., in the month of February."
This latest suicide, by someone just 11 years old, has further shook the activist movement trying to fight against school violence.
Carl, a junior at New Leadership Charter School who did not identify as gay, would have turned 12 on April 17, GLSEN said, the same day hundreds of thousands of students will participate in the 13th National Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment at school.
"Our hearts go out to Carl's mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, and other members of Carl's family," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "As we mourn yet another tragedy involving bullying at school, we must heed Ms. Walker's urgent call for real, systemic, effective responses to the endemic problem of bullying and harassment. Especially in this time of societal crisis, adults in schools must be alert to the heightened pressure children face, and take action to create safe learning environments for the students in their care. In order to do that effectively, as this case so tragically illustrates, schools must deal head-on with anti-gay language and behavior."
"What will it take for parents to start advocating that schools address anti-gay prejudice and bullying? A suicide or murder in every classroom?" Debra Chasnoff, director of the new documentary, Straightlaced-How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up, said in an e-mail to Windy City Times. "It's absolutely unconscionable that school district officials are ignoring this epidemic of prejudice and harassment. It's time to insist that our schools help all students become allies to stop anti-gay taunting and support each other to break out of gender-based stereotypes."
"Anti-gay bullying cannot just be seen as 'boys being boys,'" said Chicago youth activist Joe Hollendoner. "School communities have a responsibility to keep their students safe, which includes preventing harassment based on one's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The suicide of Carl Walker-Hoover reminds us that all students-gay or straight, trans or not trans-are affected by anti-gay bullying. By making schools safer for LGBT students, we are actually making schools safer for all students."
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's 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."
"The recent suicides in Illinois and Massachusetts are tragic reminders of the work that needs to be done around creating safe schools for all of our youth whether they are LGBTQI or perceived to be LGBTQI, so that they can build healthy and self-satisfying lives regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Chicago youth activist Bonnie Wade.
Two weeks ago, GLSEN reported about Eric Mohat, 17, who killed himself after bullies urged him to take his own life. His parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the Mentor, Ohio school he attended, saying that the school knew of the bullying. The parents don't want money; they want Mentor High School to recognize their failure to protect Mohat and to implement anti-bullying programs.
GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey reported that 86.2% of LGBT youth said they were 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 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. Of those who did report the incident, 31.1% said the school staff did nothing in response.
"If we don't do something to end the bullying then these kids have died in vain. No child deserves to be hounded to death because they're perceived to be gay or weak or different. And they deserve better than adults who look the other way," said Eric Marcus, author of Why Suicide?, a question-and-answer book that was inspired by his own father's suicide
"There's plenty of blame to go around, but the teachers and the administrators who knew what was going on but looked the other way should be charged as accessories to murder. They had the power to save these kids from killing themselves, but they did nothing," said Marcus, who is also the author of several books on gay issues and history, including a book for teens, What If Someone I Know Is Gay?
While LGBT youth face extreme victimization, bullying in general is also a widespread problem, GLSEN stated. 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 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.