The Consequences of Anti-LGBT Bullying

Trigger warning
This is just so incredibly sad. Via the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN):

An 11-year-old Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hung himself Monday after enduring bullying at school, including daily taunts of being gay, despite his mother’s weekly pleas to the school to address the problem. This is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year.
Carl, a junior at New Leadership Charter School in Springfield who did not identify as gay, would have turned 12 on April 17, the same day hundreds of thousands of students will participate in the 13th annual National Day of Silence by taking some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) bullying and harassment at school. The other three known cases of suicide among middle-school students took place in Chatham, Evanston and Chicago, Ill., in the month of February.

It shouldn’t have to take this person’s death for folks to realize that bullying – specifically, anti-gay and transphobic bullying – is a very real and very serious problem that absolutely must be addressed in schools. GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard says:

“As we mourn yet another tragedy involving bullying at school, we must heed Ms. Walker’s urgent call for real, systemic, effective responses to the endemic problem of bullying and harassment. Especially in this time of societal crisis, adults in schools must be alert to the heightened pressure children face, and take action to create safe learning environments for the students in their care. In order to do that effectively, as this case so tragically illustrates, schools must deal head-on with anti-gay language and behavior.”

In 2007, almost 9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and gender expression. This should be reason enough for schools to take action, and now.
Our deepest sympathies go out to Carl’s family and friends. If you work in a school, check out GLSEN’s four steps they suggest that schools can take to combat anti-LGBT bullying and harassment.

Join the Conversation

  • Jennie

    This is so sad. My heart goes out to Carl and his family.

  • wyo_cowgirl

    Bullying in schools is definitely an issue that deserves more attention. As someone who experienced a fair amount of bullying, I actually tried to do something of a research paper on the topic while still in high school. I was shocked at the lack of coverage, attention, resources etc. generated by this issue. I found very few clinical studies, and very few official policies. The overarching attitude is something along the lines of “kids will be kids” and “sticks and stones” and “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
    But the tragic fact is that a certain type of sustained verbal abuse at the hands of one’s peers can have a permanent and very negative effect on one’s psyche. I suspect this holds true in an even more problematic way for those who are targeted because of race, class, sexual orientation, etc., than for someone like myself who was targeted just for being a bit “different”.
    I also come from a family of educators, and know how hard it can be for teachers and administrators to identify this type of abuse, and then to correct the situation. It’s difficult enough that many just don’t do it, and justify this with a sort of “pick your battles” attitude.
    Educators need to be trained to choose this battle, EVERY TIME. As the system stands, the consequences are too great for students who have to endure this type of thing. GLSEN’s “four steps”, linked to by Vanessa above, provide a great foundation for changing the culture around issues of bullying and diversity in schools. This seems like an area where some serious grassroots activism is needed!

  • Barbaragordon

    aack this makes me sick and sad and flashbacks to my own problem with bullying in elementary school, I was cornered and called ugly by groups of girls, had rocks thrown at me, dead animals tied up in my yard and people trying to get me suspended by falsly accusing me of things i would never dream of doing! Why? Cause i was fat and liked reading! People always tell you if you ignore bullies they go away. They don’t! Grown ups need to step in sometimes! I’m not saying never let kids fight their own battles, but he obviously needed help and the people responsible were not listening!
    And I also have to say, grown ups, kids learn their hate from some where. Get that through your noggin!

  • yorubella

    This is so tragic. I’ve never heard of kids that young committing suicide before.

  • kjt

    No matter the focus of the bullying, if it’s intense enough, it can do a number on a kid.
    People interviewed for an article I wrote on bullying said the best thing anyone can do is to NOT just stand there when they see it, but to get involved. If you hear about it, notify someone who can do something.
    Push the issue.

  • radishette

    I think injury law is out of control, but this poor boy’s story might change more schools’ attitudes if his parents bring a lawsuit. I hate even thinking that, because it shouldn’t take a financial threat for administrators to respond to a clear problem. But in too many cases, the health and well-being of the students apparently isn’t enough.

  • Karen Maguire

    This made me incredibly sad. It’s heartbreaking that a child of 11 years old has gone through so much inner suffering due to bullying, that it causes them to feel such a deep, despairing hopelessness, to which suicide seems like the only solution.
    I remember when I first began heavily comtemplating suicide. I was 9 years old. The kids at school were always telling me how ugly I was, and I was incessantly bullied each and every day on the school bus. It was humiliating to be called such awful names in front of my sister (who would never stick up for me, but would always report back to my parents how no one liked me). I was ashamed and tried to down play how it was affecting me inside.
    I’d say, “What names? I didn’t even hear them. Oh well, I don’t know what their problem is. Who cares?” But secretly I would cry in my bedroom, stare at fashion magazines, try to make myself look as much like those women as possible (which usually only resulted in me using an entire bottle oh hairspray and looking ten times worse than I did before).
    I would pray to god every night and BEG him to make me pretty. I was so young, I believed he would hear my prayers and magically I would be turned into one of those beautiful children from the Sear’s catalog’s. In my fantasies, the kids at school wouldn’t even remember that I had been ugly just the day before. They would even start treating me like a human being.
    I gave the prayer thing a chance for a little bit (I figured god was busy, but he’d get around to me soon). When I was tired of waiting, I began thinking of different ways to kill myself. I won’t go into the details of my secret attempts. It’s too depressing. I was so young.
    Now I am 29 and am constantly getting stares from men, being told ho pretty I am, and have even been referred to as “The hottest girl I know” by more than one person. At times, I enjoy the compliments, but more often than not, I hate them. I hate remembering how I was treated then, and seeing how I am treated now, all because of physical appearance. I hate how this difference in the way people have treated me has turned me vain. Always wanting to look good because I was brought up learning that how you look plays a huge factor in how you are treated. I hate that I know this is all bullshit, and although I will probably never believe that I am “pretty” no matter ho many people tell me, I hate the fact that I even give a shit.
    And super apology for making this comment all about me. I feel deep sympathy for Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s family and friends. I wish I could have talked to him and told him that someday things will be ok, and not to let a pack of pre-pubescant little bullies who know nothing about life make you feel so inferior. I wish there was a better way to teach this to children. And I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at that lame vow of silence. Too little too late, but I guess those students have to do something to make themselves feel better about the situation. Let’s just hope they remember their little moment of silence next time they are tempted to laugh at a fag joke, make fun of someone’s voice, whatever.

  • h2o_girl

    Oh god, this just breaks my heart. My daughter is also 11, and is in the Gay-Straight Alliance at her middle school. They are participating in the Day of Silence, and I helped her make buttons for it the other day. I believe it’s a national thing.

  • melaniemrms
  • LalaReina

    It’s horrific and sad. I’ve always despised a bully they are the biggest cowards. And he was a baby he was eleven, what does he even know about sexuality? I know 20 year olds who haven’t figured it out.

  • Skwrr

    This has happened four times this year, and it’s only April.
    I need to go cry somewhere.

  • fr1kle

    This is probably the saddest story posted on Feministing for months. Especially since the context of taunting someone for being gay requiring an overwhelming consensus in the school culture that it’s something to be ashamed of..

  • buggie

    I agree that bullying is terrible, no matter what the harassment is about. But I really don’t think that you can target the actual bullies, especially, say elementary school kids. The problem is in the overall cultural. Until adults (parents, relatives, teachers, the media, etc) learn to accept everyone equally, the kids will never stop bullying.
    WRT the specific issue of kids being harassed about being gay, I was shocked to find out that this is actually still really common- mostly because I can’t believe that there are still so many young kids out there who don’t even know what it means! I have a friend who teaches elementary school and she had a student who was constantly calling kids “gay” to pick on them. She started to become aware that the bully didn’t even know what it meant, so she called him in explain it to him, and he stopped. I remember back when I was that young and maybe not really knowing what “gay” meant but knowing it was *sexual* mystery, like other sexual terms I heard but didn’t understand. But why is “gay” associated with sex and not openly discussed with children? Heteronormativity is shoved down their poor little throats since birth- they know that people pair up, that people date, the concept of “love”, marriage, romance, etc, and they are actually taught to strive toward it. So why then is “gay” saved until they know about things like the actual mechanics of sex? This would be one less subject to be bullied over…oh well one can dream.

  • sly

    Words fail me in situations like this. Tragic. Its hard to imagine what he faced in his life that drove him to this.

  • Lilith Luffles

    Chatham, IL? Holy shit, that’s like, 15 minutes away from me T_T
    It is ridiculous how bullying is such a huge problem, how many more suicides need to happen before people start taking it seriously? I was lucky enough to have failed at my attempt.
    Something that I wonder, is if teachers or other staff notice the bullying of gay students and see it for what it is, or if they just think ‘well, gay kids always get teased, so he/she is probably used to it’ or something. I mean, especially teachers who know a child or teen is gay, and think homosexuality is ‘sinful’ and wrong. Do you think teachers or other adults who feel homosexuality is wrong let their anti-gay bias affect the level of commitment they give to stopping the bullying of said gay child? I sure hope not.

  • CrankyCat

    Omg why is it everytime i find someone else who shares my birthdate something bad happens to them?
    This poor kid. My heart goes out to his family. Those brats should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Robert Johnston

    Isn’t it time that schools start with a zero tolerance policy for bullying rather than for taking your birth control pill? While the punishment should differ based on the nature of the bullying, I can’t imagine bullying that shouldn’t be punished. The failure to punish bullying is an utterly mystifying abdication of the primary missions of schools. You can’t effectively teach substantive knowledge, model good behavior, or provide a safe environment for children if you allow bullying.

  • Robert Johnston

    “I really don’t think that you can target the actual bullies, especially, say elementary school kids. The problem is in the overall cultural. ”
    Of course you can target the actual kids. You have to. Bullying is every bit as dangerous as, for example, drug dealing. You wouldn’t tolerate a 12 year old dealing smack in class, even if his dealing was a cultural artifact of his socioeconomic situation. The only real difference with bullying is that it’s much more prevalent.

  • j7sue2

    I knew I was trans when I was at school. You can bet I never let on. Sociey made me pretend to be something I wasn’t for years and years with the threat of transphobic violence.. until I got to the point that I would rather die than carry on pretending. Why should the price be THAT high? Poor kid .. it’s a really tough choice.

  • rhowan

    From my experience with elementary school bullying (3 years of extended social bullying between the ages of 8 and 10 culminating in my bully telling me that she was going to make all my friends hate me, that she would kill me and no one would come to my funeral) schools are very reluctant to engage the perpetrators. My bully was much more socially adept than I was and came across to adults as a very charming and engaging young girl. I on the other hand was sent to a school therapist and counseled to try to avoid her – impossible to do since she was in my class and friends with all of my friends. I ended up switching to a school an hours city bus ride away and losing all my friends to get out of the situation.
    Non-physical bullying is difficult to prove and its easier for school systems to put the onus of changing the situation on the victims.

  • khw

    as someone who had a problem being bullied in primary school, I continued to be in the socially excluded in secondary, although I was fortunately just ignored then rather than hit and called names, I really feel for anyone who has to go through this hell. It took me until I was around 25 to feel like I was finally comfortable among my peers.
    Bullying is a serious issue which really needs to be dealt with, the damage done to kids is very real.
    My thoughts are with this poor young man’s family at this time.

  • lonsch

    What a beautiful young boy he was. This is so heartbreaking. There are no words … just sadness.

  • rhowan

    Ugh, the articles about this case just reinforce my perception that schools still don’t know how to deal with bullying. Apparently the day Carl killed himself he’d been ordered by a mediator to eat lunch with one of his bullies for a week so they could “work things out”. We’re talking about someone who had just threatened to beat and kill him. The poor kid also though he was being suspended from school for 5 days. What a horribly mismanaged situation.

  • Devonian

    The title of this post should just be “The Consequences of Bullying”, period…
    Because kids are like wolves, show the slightest weakness to them and they’re on you in a heartbeat…

  • azzhole

    Take a look at in action.
    Apparently it’s become some fad to call this kid a homo, he has 33,141 comments of it to this day. It’s honestly sad, but it’s an accurate depiction of group mentality behind bullying.

  • College Feminist

    It’s horrible how the derogatory terms for gay, and the use of them have became fill ins for our youths vocabulary. Kids need to be taught that it is not ok to use these terms and their superiors, whether it be teacher, family friend, parents or stranger, need to be the ones who teach them this lesson. Ridding these terms from our culture is one of the saddest obstacles in our society yet if done will bring liberation to many, gay and straight.

  • marie-jean84

    It makes me very sad that a nation that has progressed so far is still hung up on something as irrelevent (in the grand sceme of things) as sexuality.
    First of all, how do 11 year olds know their gay? Yes, I realize it’s a dumb question. At 11 years old, I knew I found other women attractive but I certainly never heard that there was a word for that. So I couldn’t be teased for being gay/ bi because I didn’t know what that was and I’d venture to say that neither did anyone else in my class. I think children are learning about this much sooner than they ought to be. They shouldn’t have to figure this out until they’re old enough to have to the experience. They’re not even having sex yet and they’re supposed to know their orientation off the bat? I think children are being asked to identify a sexual orientation waaayy too young.

  • Toni

    This shows we need to take more action against bullying. I was severely bullied all through school and once I reached middle school the administration didn’t care anymore. My worst year was senior year in high school. My dad was a teacher at the school but that certainly didn’t make things any better.

  • Lshygirl5

    I’m from Springfield Massachusetts, so this story particularly strikes me. I never thought that something like this could happen near me, but now I can really see that this happens everywhere, everyday. I, like most of the people who commented, was bullied in middle school. Even though I now think that living through that experience has made me a stronger, more accepting person, I still don’t think bullying should happen to anyone.

  • Toni

    I hope that at least a couple of those users are one guy with mulitple accounts.