When Sirdeaner L. Walker of Springfield spoke at a press conference in Massachusetts last year calling for effective and comprehensive anti-bullying legislation to be passed in response to the tragic loss of her 11-year-old-son, Carl, I had hoped I would neither read nor hear ever again about another child or young adult committing suicide as the result of bullying.
But the rise of "bullicide" has become a national epidemic, where anti-gay bullying, just in the month of September, resulted in nine suicides because of teenagers' sexual orientation or gender expression, highlighting the disproportionate bullying of our LGBTQ kids (or those perceived to be).
One of the suicides this past September was that of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after finding out that his college roommate and another classmate used a webcam to secretly broadcast his sexual encounters with another male, highlighting the dangers of "cyberbullying" -- teasing, harassing, or intimidating with pictures or words distributed online or via text message.
Ms. Walker found her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of their home after he endured endless anti-gay and homophobic taunts by schoolmates, although Carl never identified as gay.
When I went to speak last year at the Anti-Bullying Community Forum and Vigil in reference to Carl's death some kids in the black community of Springfield I spoke with about the incident said Carl's gender expression was queer, implying that there existed sufficient rationale to taunt him.
With homophobia being what it is in the African-American community, I imagined Carl, an African-American, must have experienced an endless cycle of bullying.
Anti-gay bullying is not to be endured or tolerated. And it must be stopped by us all -- and at all levels, from our legislators to our educators.
Governor Patrick signed a strong anti-bullying legislation cementing the state's commitment to changing the culture of bullying in schools, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) was involved in the drafting and legislative process from beginning to end.
The harm from bullying and the toll it takes -- not only on our kids but also the society at large -- is far greater than people realize. At the press conference Ms. Walker highlighted those concerns.
"In the immortal words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, 'It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.' Bias, bullying, and harassment currently stand between too many youth and this essential opportunity."
And Walker is right. Anti-gay bullying truncates a child's academic ability to excel. And the cost, while immediately about the child, is an equally greater cost to us as a society down the road.
For example, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network's (GLSEN) 2008 National School Climate Survey reveals that anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment remain commonplace in America's schools.
Key findings of the survey revealed the following:
- Approximately two-thirds of students have heard homophobic remarks from school personnel
- LGBTQ students were five times more likely to report having skipped school in the last month because of safety concerns than the general population of students
- LGBTQ students who experienced more frequent physical harassment were more likely to report they did not plan to go to college. Overall, LGBTQ students were twice as likely as the general population of students to report they were not planning to pursue any post-secondary education.
The average GPA for LGBTQ students who were frequently physically harassed was half a grade lower than that of LGBTQ students experiencing less harassment (2.6 versus 3.1).
And where traditional schools have failed to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ students, many educators have and are creating alternative safe spaces.
In 1985, the Harvey Milk High School in New York City's East Village was founded to provide safe space for LGBTQ students. And data has shown that the school has a 95% graduation rate, far above the state average especially for an urban school that is predominately Latino and African-American; in addition, 60% of these students go on to attend institutions of higher learning.
In 2008 David Glick founded the GLBTQ Online High School. The school provides a pragmatic solution to an alternative path to a diploma for LGBTQ students who are unable to succeed in a traditional high school due to a homophobic learning environment.
Victims of bullying endure a host of emotional problems. They become anxious, insecure, and suffer low self-esteem because the targeting of them has made them feel isolated, helpless, and vulnerable. Those feelings are just merely some of what we can surmise Carl and Tyler experienced. Countless others, unfortunately, will experience those same feelings during this school year.
When will the homophobic bullying cease?
On Tuesday, Oct. 5, Join the Impact MA, a grassroots organization in Boston, held a vigil at the State House in remembrance of the recent LGBTQ suicides.
Let's hope that those who gathered last night will not have to return in the future.