Monday, April 13, 2009

Homophobia and Bullicide: Terrorism in Schools Has Got to Stop

Carl Walker-Hoover was an 11 year old student who played basketball and football. He was a Boy Scout. He went to school in Springfield, MA, about 30 minutes from where I sit right now. He is the latest victim of “bullicide." He was taunted and threatened daily in school by classmates who called him gay and made fun of his clothes. Last week Carl hung himself in his bedroom with an electric cord while his mother cooked dinner downstairs. His mother knew about the bullying and had complained to school authorities to no avail. Carl hung himself, but his death was the result of peer cruelty and school indifference or ineffectiveness in response –bullicide. According to Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, Carl’s suicide is the fourth among middle school students linked to bullying in the last year.

Whether Carl was gay or not doesn’t matter. Being called gay and threatened because other students think you are gay is one of the most common forms of bullying among middle and high school students and clearly one of the most deadly.

Eric Mohat, a 17 year old student in Ohio killed himself after being bullied and called “fag,” “homo,” “queer. He was habitually pushed and shoved in school, sometimes in view of school staff who did nothing to stop it, according to his parents. They are suing the school in federal court, not for money, but to require the school to address bullying. They claim that bullying was also a significant factor in the suicides of three of Eric’s classmates in 2007. Four student suicides linked to bullying at the same school in one year? Where are the adults in this school? They need to be sued to get them to act in the face of these student deaths?

Bullying is so much more sophisticated now. Cyber-bullying via the internet, social networking sites and cell phones make it virtually impossible to escape the hatred and cruelty. When students targeted by bullying see death as the only way to escape their tormentors, we must acknowledge that schools are not protecting students. They are not safe places to be if you are unlucky enough to be targeted by anti-gay bullying. Some students, as was the case in some of the school shootings over the years, bring guns to school to protect themselves in the absence of protection by the adults in schools. Other students, as in the case of Larry King’s killer last year, bring guns to kill gay kids. How can we avoid the realization that schools in which bullying and homophobia are commonplace have become terrorist sites every bit as dangerous as a war zone for anyone who is different or is perceived as different or vulnerable.

Yet community groups, often driven by religious conviction and school administrations, often driven by cowardice in the face of community protest, see gay students, or those assumed to be gay, and their friends as the problem. How many communities have protested anti-bullying curriculum in schools because it addresses anti-gay bullying? How many schools have denied students their right to form a Gay-Straight Alliance based on the lies and distortions of anti-gay community groups? Even when research tells us that GSAs in schools can help change the school climate for the better and provide support for students who are targeted by bullying, some school administrators try to forbid them. Some school boards have disbanded all student clubs in order to prevent students from starting a Gay-Straight Alliance as is their right according to the Federal Equal Access Act.

As we approach the annual GLSEN-sponsored Day of Silence on April 17 in which students in schools volunteer to take a vow of silence for the day in protest of anti-gay harassment and discrimination, Christian-based groups are responding with their own Day of “Truth” where they spread their hateful lies about LGBT people. Some of these groups encourage parents to keep their children at home to register their outrage that the school allows students to participate in a Day of Silence. Where is the outrage at the death of students tormented by anti-gay bullying? Are their children participating in the bullying based on their parents’ example?

If we read or watch news accounts of homophobic bullicide in schools or hear about school inaction or indifference to anti-gay harassment by students or teachers, if we sit back and do nothing when schools in our communities refuse to enact programs to address bullying or refuse to allow students to form a GSA or participate in a Day of Silence or No Name-Calling Week, then we enable cruelty, fear, hatred and ignorance in schools. By our silence and inaction, we contribute to the violence, terror and suffering that was the day to day experience of Eric Mohat, Carl Walker-Hoover, Larry King and still is for far too many other young people who are targeted by anti-gay bullying. Whatever our views on being gay, how can we live with that and call ourselves a civilized society?


Anonymous said...

This has gone on far too long, cloaked under the excuse of "children will be cruel", or it's accepted "team hazing". I think administators or teachers who do nothing are accomplices, and acessories and maybe if we start prosecuting them as such, something will be done. And we need to promote acceptance in society so that even if the name-calling happens, being gay isn't perceived as being something so horrible the only alternative is to end your life.

triv said...

Parents and siblings are part of the hazing too. Many of you excuse them.

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