Eugene Cho

we should all be enraged about bullying especially to gay/lesbian students

I received my share of taunts, slurs, beat downs, and bullying – particularly in elementary and middle school.  But when I hear my kids come home and speak of some taunts or bullying, I can’t help it:  I get enraged.  It pains me immensely.

And so when I read this news from the NY Times about two young 11 year old boys – Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera – who hung themselves because of “gay” taunts at their schools, I was enraged.  There’s couple issues here:  bullying and specifically, the bullying and abuse specifically targeted to gay and lesbian students.

What does it all mean?

And if we have 11 year old kids committing suicide, we have to ask the question: Are we doing enough to protect kids and punish those that bully?

Locally, (as I’m sure nationally), there are pastors and others leading, organizing, and encouraging parents to not send their teenagers to schools on (the now passed) Day of Silence – a peaceful demonstration representing the silence many gay and lesbian students feel they must maintain to avoid harassment and bullying at school.

While I can understand the anxiety that some parents may have in our homophobic culture, I completely disagree with the action to boycott school and in recent years in Seattle, for rallies against or taking out full page ads encouraging parents to keep their kids out of school.

What is the message we are conveying?  Can’t this be an opportunity for parents – while one honor their personal convictions – for a teaching moment to their kids?

So, while Christians and churches should certainly have the right to exercise their freedom with their views, all Christians and churches should be enraged at the bullying and verbal, emotional, and at times, physical violence against our gay youth.

For those that have read my blog, you know where I stand on homosexuality, but without any reservation, I stand and remain silent and enraged…  I know, that for some, this position may paradoxical, hypocritical, and I regularly receive criticism from both sides.

But seriously, the following are unacceptable:

  • Gay, lesbian & bisexual youth represent 30% of all teen suicides. (Thomas Marino, Counseling Today, May, 1995)
  • Gay, lesbian & bisexual youth are more likely to have attempted suicide than their straight peers. (U.S. government survey, 1995, and a report from Harvard Medical School, the Mass. Dept. of Education, and Wake Forest University, 1998)
  • Gay, lesbian & bisexual youth represent 25% of all homeless youth in the U.S. (U.S. Department of Health Services, 1989)
  • 28% of gay/lesbian youth are forced to drop out of school because of their sexuality. (National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, 1998)
  • The average high school student in the U.S. hears anti-gay slurs 25 times per day. (Massachusetts Department of Education, 1994)
  • 1 out of 6 gay teens has been beaten badly enough to require medical attention. (Center for Disease Control)

Here’s the article and a corresponding video:

[full article] On April 6, just before dinner, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a Massachusetts boy who had endured relentless homophobic taunts at school, wrapped an extension cord around his tiny neck and hanged himself. He was only 11 years old. His mother had to cut him down.

On April 16, just after school, Jaheem Herrera, a Georgia boy who had also endured relentless homophobic taunts at school, wrapped a fabric belt around his tiny neck and hanged himself as well. He too was only 11 years old. His 10-year-old sister found him.

The sad ends to their short lives shine a harsh light on the insidious scourge of the homophobic bullying of children.

Children can’t see their budding lives through the long lens of wisdom – the wisdom that benefits from years passed, hurdles overcome, strength summoned, resilience realized, selves discovered and accepted, hearts broken but mended and love experienced in the fullest, truest majesty that the word deserves. For them, the weight of ridicule and ostracism can feel crushing and without the possibility of reprieve. And, in that dark and lonely place, desperate and confused, they can make horrible decisions that can’t be undone.

For as much progress that’s been made on the front of acceptance and tolerance of all people, regardless of our differences, enough hatred remains–tucked in the crags and spread about the surface–to force Carl and Jaheem into the abyss.

We should commit ourselves to ensuring that their deaths are not in vain, that their lives are the last page in this sorry chapter of our development as a people. And, the first step in that direction is to fully understand the scope of the problem.

In short, homophobic bullying is pervasive. It disproportionately affects black and Hispanic kids. A new study suggests an apparent link between bullying and suicide. To wit, black and Hispanic adults who are gay reported higher “serious suicide attempts” than their white counterparts, most of those attempts taking place when they were young.

Filed under: christianity, church, pastors, religion, seattle, , , , ,

33 Responses

  1. Carolyn says:

    Good on you, Eugene.

  2. LW says:

    I’m sorry, Eugene. You can’t have it both ways.

  3. Jessica Stevens says:

    LW I’m not sure what you mean? The fact of the matter is two children were so tormented that death seemed to them to be a better fate. No child, regardless of whatever label they wear, should suffer this way. This is a tragedy.

  4. AE says:

    All Christians must think about how their own resistance to promoting 100% equality for LGBTQ people contributes to a social climate where such bullying at any age is socially acceptable. Albert Einstein once said, “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”

  5. Joel says:

    Amen. We had a powerful Day of Silence (on-campus newspaper article) at SPU recently. We as Christians need to acknowledge that wherever we are, we simply cannot alienate and otherize our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and that despite what seems to be the prevailing attitude, it is not the most abominable of sins, if there even is such a ranking.
    Turning the gay community into a “them” that we can hunt and persecute and shun is incredibly un-Christlike, but far too prevalent.
    One of my theology profs recently gained a lot of respect from me when he was confronted with the “gay question,” and after a thoughtful and pained pause, basically said that we can’t make the Bible say homosexuality is OK, but when there is a faithful, committed, loving gay couple, and a heterosexual couple that is (and I quote) screwing everything up and everyone they can, there is something very wrong when we condemn the gay couple without hesitation, yet look the other way, maybe feel like it’s not our place to pass judgement on the straight couple.

  6. beattieblog says:

    It’s a horrible story that breaks the heart of God, I’m certain. Whatever your understanding of what the bible teaches regarding homosexuality, the death of two young boys from taunting means we failed them. LW, have some courage to clarify what you mean.

  7. anni says:

    i don’t think your position is hypocritical or paradoxical. i think it is just and right and respectful of both yourself and others. keep standing up for justice — whether you’re silent or not.

    and, yeah, the criticism will always be there.

  8. Sara Reimer says:

    This really breaks my heart, it is so devastating when anyone, especially a child, chooses to commit suicide.

    However, I don’t see why the blame is mostly being pinned on Christians. I understand and agree what you are saying about Christians protesting the Day of Silence, God will certainly judge them one day. But as for the bullying, nothing implicates Christians specifically. At that age everyone is guilty of taunting and bullying, it doesn’t usually have anything to do with their religion. Children just don’t understand what the effect their words have on others. I do not tolerate or condone bullying or homophobia in anyway, but I think you are wrongfully trying to assume Christian blame to this story where it remains unclear.

  9. queermergent says:

    Thanks for this Eugene. i really do appreciate your heart. BUT, from your post on where you stand on homosexuality, i’d like to say, as a queer Christ-following woman, the fact that you say your church is welcoming to gays but not affirming is not very welcoming feeling to me at all. It’s like saying ‘i love the sinner but hate the sin’. The LGBTQ community doesn’t see being gay as a sin. it is a part of our identity and when you say things like that, it denigrates us a humans beings and children of G-D. It communicates to us that all of our being is not acceptable. i still respect you and would appreciate more dialogue with you. i just encourage you to be careful in how you communicate. i know you can understand being that you are from a minority group yourself.

    Warmest Regards,

    Existential Punk

  10. LW says:

    I was referring to Eugene’s comments about advocating for the LGBTQ community while simultaneously, not affirming them. Like I said, you can’t have it both ways.

  11. Becky says:

    Sara Reimer,
    I don’t think that anyone is saying that it was Christians bullying those kids, but that as Christians, we should be doing everything that we can to stop this, as we are called to do everything that we can to stop the other injustices in the world. The first thing we can do is to stop spreading the gospel of God’s condemnation of homosexuals, hatred, fear or apathy.

    It isn’t enough to care about the two boys who died this month, we should also be enraged at how many of our brothers and sisters have been ostracized from the church, and many in their view from the love of God, because of what Christians have said to them regarding their sexuality. We should be enraged about our brothers and sisters in the church who constantly have to defend themselves, instead of being accepted into the loving community that God’s Church is supposed to be.

    Our brothers and sisters are being tormented, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and we (as a community) are silent at best.

  12. Becky,

    From a queer sister in Christ, THANK YOU! You are a brave soul and appreciate your honesty and love. Your words are like a cold drink of water or a healing salve.

    Warmest Regards,

    Existential Punk

  13. Leah says:

    Thank you for speaking up so courageously on such a controversial subject. After reading this article, my husband and I attended church this afternoon (thankfully not our regular parish) and heard a sermon which was very condemning of homosexuality. All I could think about was this article, and that those kids who were in that church today might grow up to be the kids who torment yet another homosexual teenager to death–and think that they are doing what their church teaches. I actually cried on the way home from church today because it was so hurtful to hear such hatred put forth as “Christian teaching.” Thank you for having the courage to speak out against the sin of homophobia, and PLEASE preach on, Christians need to hear this whether they like it or not.

  14. Thanks, Eugene… So sad. I agree 100% with you… We cannot tolerate this, and we must stand in love with homosexual brothers and sisters. And I just want to say I deeply appreciate your “welcoming but not affirming” stance. Stanley Grenz would be proud. This is a topic that will not go away anytime soon, and voices like yours are refreshing to me… getting to be rare. Loving and open and ready to befriend and be in dialogue… but not willing to bless what we believe God does not bless. I don’t see any other way BUT yours, but I know it’s lonely sometimes.

    Grateful for all the dialogue on all sides, and praying that it can continue to be respectful.

  15. anonymous says:

    Becky- all I can say is thank you, thank you thank you. You wrote, “brothers and sisters have been ostracized from the church, and many in their view from the love of God, because of what Christians have said to them regarding their sexuality.” That is more true than anyone can possibly imagine. As someone in the queer community, I have been burned over and over and I think the GLBTQI community has been one of the most drastically burned community in the name of Christianity. People don’t realize what their silence preaches.

    Existential Punk/Queermergent – it looks like there are two of us here. I used to believe it was a sin, and you are right, it tore my heart into pieces because it made only part of me acceptable to God. It was the main thing that tore me from God and from the Christian community.

    side note: I would like to encourage the use of the word “queer” rather than gay/lesbian. It is much more inclusive and there are many queer people who should be included in this discussion but don’t fit in those two boxes. (ie- transgender, transexual, bi,-sexual, intersex, gender blenders, etc….)

  16. KH says:

    Adam, sorry for eavesdropping, but I can’t help – this topic is a passion of mine.

    For me, Christians (as should all individuals of any faith or non-faith orientation) should be enraged at bullying in general. But why should Christians (and others) be enraged in bullying and especially bullying that involves gay youth?

    Because nearly 9 out of 10 GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) students experience harassment and high levels of victimization at school.

    Because GLBTQ students are TWICE as likely than heterosexual students to commit suicide.

    Because GLBTQ students have a higher incidence of feeling isolated, rejected, fearful and hated in their own communities, in their homes, in their churches, in their schools, and in their classrooms than heterosexual students.

    Because the Christian community in general (I’m not talking about isolated incidences) rejects GLBTQ individuals.

  17. KH says:

    In my opinion, individuals who care about the holistic well-being and basic rights of human beings are the ones who should be the first people to advocate and fight for the protection and rights for anybody who is GLBTQ. And again, in my opinion, the Christian community should be one of the first to step up and say that GLBTQ harassment should not be tolerated in any form, in any setting.

    So, yes, bullying of any type should not be tolerated. Whether that be with homosexual, heterosexual, trans, bi, or queer youth. But, are we really looking out and caring for our GLBTQ brothers and sisters JUST THE SAME as we are with our heterosexual ones?

    Take a look: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/home/index.html and http://www.soulforce.org/index.php

  18. Adam says:

    Certainly we should be enraged about bullying against gay youth. We should be enraged about how many Christians speak of gay youth. I wouldn’t want to intimate that the damage done to a child who is bullied because of one reason is in some way less or more noteworthy than another. I don’t suppose it matters why they are bullied, the damage to the child is still life long.

  19. Adam says:

    Reflecting on this a bit more, I can see how one might say “especially one group” as a way of underscoring a group that is often looked over, or regularly faces unchecked prejudice from Christian groups. I just wouldn’t want the designation “especially one group” to diminish the protection or consideration of those who are in a group that is not normally thought of as being noteworthy or vulnerable.

  20. steve s says:

    Late to the party and all, and I know this is a rather harsh medium to speak on such a sensitive topic, but…

    It seems that this needs to be said:

    It is not that a heterosexual person is wholly acceptable to God and a homosexual person is acceptable to God except for their sexual orientation…

    Rather, it is that our identifying ourselves and defining ourselves apart from Christ causes our whole being to be unacceptable to God (sexuality included), for both homosexual and heterosexual individuals.

    It is for this reason that I feel that many homosexual people have a better grasp on the call of Christ (although few choose it) and so few heterosexuals have such a weak grasp on that same call (although many more nominally choose it).

  21. steve s says:

    sorry, “so few heterosexuals have a grasp” or, “so many heterosexuals have a weak grasp”

  22. gaius says:

    I come from the perspective that bullying in general needs to be addressed. From my observations, very little is actually done to effectively stop perpetrators and address root causes of bullying. Whether this relative lack of action is caused by fear of legal repercussions, apathy, a lack of knowledge, or something else, the consequences, as detailed above, can be devastating and long-lasting. In the case of tragic events like Columbine and the Virginia Tech shootings, those who are bullied may end up causing more destruction to other innocents. This in no way absolves the heinous actions of those involved in those shootings, regardless of whether they were or the extent to which they were bullied. It is clear, however, that events would have likely unfolded a lot differently if they were treated more decently. No matter where we stand on the conservative-liberal spectrum on social or religious issues, I think that one thing that we can and should all agree on is that these hurtful actions – “taunting, slurs, beat downs, or bullying” – are unacceptable and indefensible.

  23. Stephen says:

    I don’t think this is an issue about slurs against homosexuality but the paper (with its own agenda) made it as such…

    This is about bullying, adolescence and boys desire to become a “man”. Calling someone a “fag” is a tool to say that someone does not measure up to a standard of becoming a “Man”.

    I think he committed suicide because he doesn’t want to be called a “fag” but rather a “boy who is growing to be a Man”.

    Yet without intervention of adults, those bullies made life so horrible for these boys..

    S

  24. bl78 says:

    Here’s a good video link on a Biblical view/response to Homosexuality.

    http://coalitionofconscience.askdrbrown.org/resources/debate.html

  25. queermergent says:

    @bl78 – Why don’t you give us all some context to the video. Is it bashing us queers? So sorry, but that is what i hear when i read ‘Biblical view/response to Homosexuality’. If i am cynical it’s because of the constant barrage of unkindness i and my community have been shown over the years.

  26. correctmyreligion says:

    I would be interested in your opinion on this post…

    http://correctmyreligion.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/mma-ufc-gay-porn/

  27. bl78 says:

    @queermergent- Its a debate (not bashing) between Theologian Dr. Michael Brown and Mr. Harry Knox.

    http://coalitionofconscience.askdrbrown.org/resources/debate.html

  28. Dan S. says:

    Thanks for this Eugene.

    I am personally very conflicted on the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage, but there’s no question that this bullying and homophobia must be put to a stop.

    Whatever your position is on gay marriage, we should at least agree that it’s not easy being gay. As an evangelical Christian, I believe my religious tradition needs to repent for the way we have often demonized the GLBT community.

    I have personally witnessed and read far too many stories of those who have rejected Christianity primarily because of the derision and animosity emanating from those who purport to follow Christ. Until homophobia is clearly and consistently rejected, it will undermine anything we have to say about how marriage should be defined.

  29. Thanks for the article.

    We should be outraged, but I think that this really isn’t about anti-gay bullying and abuse. It’s about stopping all bullying and abuse. The bullies used whatever came to hand or mouth – their hatred of gays.

    The principals and school district administrators didn’t protect either boy, just like they don’t protect most targets of bullying and abuse. That’s why we need laws to force principals to act and to protect them from countersuits by bullying parents trying to protect their vicious little darlings (like Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series).

    Also notice that none of the teachers or the other kids stood up to the bullies. Shame.

    At the same time, we also can’t and shouldn’t count on schools to protect our children from hurt feelings all the time. We must help our children develop the inner grit and resilience to know how to protect themselves from verbal harassment as well as from physical abuse.

    I’m the father of six children and we live in Denver, home of Columbine High School.

    Disclosure: I’m the author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.” See my web site and blog at BulliesBeGone (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com). Or Twitter @BulliesBeGone.

  30. joshuadf says:

    I know this is only peripherally related, but this past week Dan Savage did a really heartfelt segment on growing up gay and Catholic and on his mom’s passing on This American Life (episode 379). It’s the last part of the episode and I highly recommend it.

  31. And now this says:

    Leading disease experts said President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget proposal for global health falls far short of what is needed to combat the deadly twin epidemics of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Details on global health spending were released by the White House today, and a preliminary analysis indicates the President is proposing only $165 million in additional funding for bilateral AIDS as well as the US contribution to the Global Fund. “This proposal is even worse than we had feared. With this spending request, Obama has broken his campaign promise to provide $1 billion a year in new money for global AIDS, and he has overlooked the growing threat of tuberculosis,” said the Center for Global Health Policy’s Director, Christine Lubinski

  32. […] From Eugene Cho We should be enraged about bullying especially to gay/lesbian students […]

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