Friday, April 10, 2009

11 Year Old Kills Himself After Gay Taunts Left Unaddressed

An eleven-year-old boy hung himself in Springfield, MA yesterday. He had been repeatedly taunted as "gay" even though he did not identify as such. His mother went to the school over and over again, trying to get something done.

Nothing happened.

So for all those right wing nuts who insist we are teaching all sorts of positive gay messages in our school, fuck you. You caused this kids death. You and your bullshit rhetoric.

I wish we were teaching more positive images of LGBT people because then "faggot" and "queer" wouldn't hurt so much. I wish that boy had an advocate in the school who listened to his mother. Who did something.

I'm angry. How can this happen today? Why did that mother have to lose her son? Why was that boy not taken care of by the school officials?

It reminds me of when my son Zachary wanted to do the day of silence in his class. He wanted me to go in and explain. I was told no, it's too scary to talk about Lawrence King. It's too... much. A permission slip would have to go out to the parents. We can't talk that way without permission.

Which of course meant it was sexual in nature, even though it was not. This crime is not gay only. This crime- and it was a crime the way the issue was handled- was about bullying. Teasing. Mean, hateful words.

I'm beyond angry. This is something that could have been prevented. I have an eleven year old son. He wanted to recognize the day of silence. He understood how words can hurt.

He's not gay.

And when we all wonder if marriage equality is the end all and be all of the movement? Think again. In the first state in the nation to accept equal marriage rights, kids are still taunted. Humiliated.

"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."

Carl would have turned 12 on April 17th, the national day of silence in schools. The irony turns in my gut. I must do more. How can I as an advocate, as an activist look his mother in the eye and say I'm sorry? We're trying to push for welcoming, safe schools but haven't made it there yet?

We still need permission slips to talk about how it's not okay to call someone a dyke. lezzy. How the words cut like knives, and the targets aren't just LGBT kids, but all kids.

An eleven-year-old boy is dead today because no one in the school did a thing to help him. They should be ashamed- and they should go to jail for it.

And on Monday, I am going to the funeral. I will promise the mother that until the day I die, I am going to fight for comprehensive anti-bullying policies in schools. Because I'm a lesbian, because I've been on the other side of the taunts but mostly because I am a mother.

We must end the violence.

"GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, recommends four approaches that schools can begin implementing now to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.

# Adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that enumerates categories such as race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression/identity. Enumeration is crucial to ensure that anti-bullying policies are effective for LGBT students. Policies without enumeration are no more effective than having no policy at all when it comes to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, according to GLSEN’s 2005 National School Climate Survey.

# Require staff trainings to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment effectively and in a timely manner.

# Support student efforts to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment on campus, such as the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance or participation in the National Day of Silence on April 25.

# Institute age-appropriate, inclusive curricula to help students understand and respect difference within the school community and society as a whole."

It's not that hard. It's not about sex. It's about dignity. And clearly, about saving kids lives.

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Blogger SavannahNell said...

thank you for this post.
thank you for allowing your passion to lead into action, in order that lives may be saved and children would know they are loved regardless of their external social interactions.

i am a straight elementary teacher from iowa. this story breaks my heart. i go out of my way to address respect in my classroom and immediately tend to the circumstances to which respect has gone void. it should NOT be optional for teachers to play a role. it should be required of every one of us. we are responsible for what occurs throughout the duration of their day in our care.

thank you for sharing the GLSEN website. I have not heard of this - but have book marked it and begun to read through the website thoroughly.

joining your fight from iowa.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

Oprah did a show on this a long time ago. One of my children was on it as a gay child who was tormented at school. I don't know if she has done any shows on it lately but I do know that her voice is powerful. Could you try getting in touch with her? It would be one more way to get this message across. Not THE answer or even AN answer but one more piece of possible, eventual solution.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

ms moon, please email me

I'd like to get in touch with her.

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:27 PM  
Blogger Ulla said...

Oh, please, there is no need to enumerate what you cannot say to other kids. Just specify that teasing/bullying/harrassment is not okay and should be stopped. "No name-calling" is enough.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

clearly, ulla, it's not.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Sue J said...

Thanks for writing about this, Sara. And Ulla, I think we do have to enumerate what you cannot say to other kids -- for the administrators and certain teachers, as much as for the students.

As SavannahNell says, there are good teachers everywhere who are trying to address this in their own classrooms, but once the bell rings and the kids are in the hallways, you watch as other teachers (and administrators) allow bullying and teasing and name-calling. When you bring it up they always say something like, "What? They don't mean anything by "faggot." They don't even know what it means."

I saw it every day when I taught middle school.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous donald said...

when you told me about this yesterday, it saddened me to no end. but today reading about it, it just makes me MAD!

i am so tired of hearing these "so called" religious people spouting off about sin and being untolerate of other people. during this time of easter, i would hope they would listen to the words of their savior, and understand it is not up to them to judge other people in anyway. thank god i am from a family of "true" christians, who are loving and understanding!

10:22 AM  
Blogger LilliGirl said...

ovation - for you

8:36 PM  
Blogger John Bisceglia said...

Sara, I just reflected on the INSANITY that I experienced after PROP 8 passed, and I came to one conclusion - Teachers ALSO need to feel safe in order to be ABLE to teach.

Teachers in America should never have to wonder about which parent of the child they are teaching voted "for" or "against" his or her own family.

I would never, ever vote to take away another family's due civil rights, even if I had the INSANE OPPORTUNITY to do it "legally".

"What a Teacher Needs in America"

In 9th grade I went to school one morning in Tecumseh MI, only to hear how a friend had hung himself in a dress last night. NO ONE spoke more about it. Gay kids silently knew why he did it.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Ulla said...

Sue J. - but that is exactly why there should be no enumeration of unacceptable and "acceptable" taunts. Apparently a lot of adults think that this faggot-calling is a way to keep homosexuality uacceptable and send a signal to kids that they better conform - so they take a pass on that taunt. If nothing but the use of given names is acceptable, they can't make that distinction.
Taunts are like designer drugs in that way - no matter how many you outlaw, there will be new ones invented.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Seda said...

Thank you for this post. This is the kind of stuff that flies under the radar, that should be plastered on the headlines.

Here in Oregon, BRO (Basic Rights Oregon) has been instrumental in getting an anti-bullying law to run through the legislature. It passed in the House by a huge margin (just a few "Christian" Republicans voting against it). Now it's in the Senate, and let's hope and pray it passes.

Things are happening. If you don't have that in place in MA, maybe you can use ours as a model. (It's good to feel we're getting one thing right, after Measure 36.)

And Ulla, yes, it DOES have to be enumerated - not the taunt's themselves, but the meaning of them. So that inventing new terms for the same taunt doesn't matter.

Because if you don't enumerate - if you are not specific - kids of all genders and sexes will continue to be victimized because they are perceived as gay or trans. It's not just queers who suffer from violence against us. A couple of years ago a straight man was killed because some people thought he was a trans woman when he carried his wife's purse! And the taunting and bullying on school grounds is absolutely vicious. I know. I've been on the receiving end.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Nulaanne said...

When I lived in Springfield my son was bullied at both the schools he went to. At one the teachers thought that it was funny at one point the kid bulling him stabbed him in the leg with a compass. It was still funny. So I put him in private school he was still bullied there.

I had to move home to get him away from that and it was the best choice that I made.

It still makes me angry thinking about it. I will never live in Mass again even if it means that I cannot marry Honey.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Ulla said...

I was bullied terribly, too, and it has marked me for life. I distrust any and all until they prove themselves to like me. And even then a gentle teasing from people who love me can make it all come back.
But I was bullied for being too clever by half. The know-it-all, the professor. Now, that wasn't on your list. Does that mean it would be acceptable to call someone a nerd?

4:30 AM  
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12:44 AM  

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