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.