Homophobic Bullying is a Problem.

This is the second incident this month of a young man of color that killed himself because of anti-gay bullying. The first was an 11-year-old Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. The second is eleven year old Jaheem Herrera hung himself last week and speculation suggests it was due to homophobic bullying.

Jaheem was bullied relentlessly, his family said. Keene said the family knew the boy was a target, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope.
“We’d ask him, ‘Jaheem, what’s wrong with you?'” Keene recalled. “He’d never tell us.”
He didn’t want his sister to tell, either. She witnessed much of the bullying, and many times rose to her brother’s defense, Keene said.
“They called him gay and a snitch,” his stepfather said. “All the time they’d call him this.”
In an interview with WSB-TV, Bermudez also said her son was being bullied at school. She said she had complained to the school.
She said she asked him about the bullying Thursday when he came home from school and he denied it. She sent him to his room to calm down. It was the last time she would see him alive.

At what point do we start paying attention to kids that are being called “gay” as an epithet? It is never OK and no matter how much it is happening, it seems that our cultural fixation with masculinity and homophobia subsides. My heart goes out to his family, this is truly devastating.
Also check out GLSEN’s 4-steps you can take to stop anti-LGBT bullying in your school.
(h/t BiancaLaureana via Twitter.)

Join the Conversation

  • dormouse

    This is so sad I welled up when I saw it. It’s even more sad because I feel so helpless to do anything about it.

  • Ali

    This is heartbreaking – as is mainstream media coverage.
    CNN coverage spent 12 minutes debating whether Carl Walker-Hoover was “really” gay. As if whether he was “actually” gay should somehow shift our sympathies and reactions to his suicide and his bullies. The way they discussed his sexuality and his mother’s insistence that there is no possible way her son was gay started to sound like there was an implicit message that if he “really were gay” this might be more understandable.
    I think it is important to discuss the nature of bullying and homophobic bullying – and homophobia/heterosexism – but I do not like it when media outlets such as CNN avoid those very real, very critical conversations we should be having.
    There are so many thoughts coursing through my mind, in addition to finals week, so I will have to come back to this…

  • Skippy

    I find this extremely disturbing as well. As a male, I figure skated for many years and ultimately quit freshman year of high school because of the constant harassment. I tried reasoning with them at times, stating that it wasn’t me who was rolling around the floor with other guys in a leotard, like the wrestlers. I was surrounded by girls in short skirts all afternoon. Unfortunately, people who are homophobic are inherently unreasonable, so there is no point in arguing. I can relate to the powerlessness one feels, the inability to escape, and I think this leads some to consider more extreme measures. Very sad.

  • GeekGirlsRule

    As much as I really wish those boys didn’t have to go through all that, I’m going to say that it isn’t specifically anti-gay bullying that’s the problem. It’s bullying. Period. To put it any other way makes it sound like, say, taunting them for being fat or slow or too smart would have been ok.
    Bullying is the problem. We don’t need any identifiers on it.

  • Lilith Luffles

    My SO is writing a paper on the subject of bullying and how it relates to suicide. He’s supposed to write a paper on a subject in our area, and he’s found two or three mentioning of school bullying. It’s so easy to succumb to, even people who don’t think homosexuality is wrong use words like ‘fag’ and ‘gay’ to bully and insult people. He was even guilty of it until a little more than a year ago.
    I agree with GeekGirlsRule, this is not anti-gay bullying, it’s just using anti-gay slurs to bully other kids. It’s anti-gay to use these slurs, but they are not picking on the kids because they are gay. Homophobia just makes using gay slurs to bully possible.

  • Devonian

    I’m interested by the “snitch” part. I never did understand the revulsion people have for people who tell on kids who are doing something wrong…

  • Skippy

    Just to play devil’s advocate a bit, I am going to go ahead and state that my gut tells me there is something more to the anti-gay slurs, something that makes it a much more compelling weapon than calling someone “fat” or, well, an “asshole,” for instance. I think the conversation benefits from putting some identifiers on it, so to speak. Lumping it all under the umbrella of bullying, although I cannot be sure why, takes something away from it or renders it more difficult to enforce.
    I also do not agree that calling it anti-gay bias or what have you automatically renders calling one fat or too slow less significant forms or even acceptable forms of bullying, per se. Lumping it all together as “bullying” takes some of the extreme vitriol and violence away from homophobia. I think it needs to be targeted directly.

  • LalaReina

    Bullying is terrible but I don’t think being bullied by “gay” taunts is any worse or harmful than being bullied for being too dark, to light, too fat, too short or any of the other reasons kids torment each other. bullying is bullying. On the other end of the scale you have at Oprah’s school lesbian girls doing the assaulting and bullying. Wrong is wrong.

  • Punchbuggy Green

    That is so sad. We really need to put pressure on Congress to add ‘sexual orientation’ to Title IX. Students are protected from harassment under Title IX, but not if the harassment is based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. And that is fucking bullshit.

  • hekuni_cat

    My niece was bullied for being “too short.” She was only 7 when she talked about “jumping out her window” to end it. Luckily, my sister–not her mother–is also very short and was able to talk to her about her own experiences and how best to deal with her tormentors. Too many children are not that fortunate.

  • GeekGirlsRule

    Having been called a “dyke” as well as being taunted for my bad skin and early development, I gotta say, they all hurt pretty equally.

  • Toni

    Bullying period is a problem. I wasn’t out in high school (not even to myself). But I was severely bullied and I have no idea why. Even with having my dad working at the school, they didn’t do anything about it.

  • BackOfBusEleven

    Bullying affects all kids differently, so no insult is worse than any other on an objective level. But I do think that there is so much homophobia that being called a gay epithet can especially be hurtful, especially with kids at Carl Joseph’s and Jaheem’s age. At that stage of development, they’re not really sexual. Kids that age are pre-pubescent, they’re probably not too imaginative so they might not be fantasizing. So they might not have been able to think of a time where they wouldn’t be bullied anymore, and they probably thought that they could be gay because they’re not really anything yet. I think physical and psychological development plays a big role here.

  • Artee

    This is such a sad incident. BULLYING definitely must NOT be tolerated. I was a victim of bullying back in elementary school and my early teen years and let me tell you some kids just know how to make you feel like crap. Anti-gay, bi, lesbian violence, and bullying cannot be tolerated! The school system needs to crank it up a notch to accommodate our ever diverse society.

  • Anne Marie

    My sister was bullied/harassed for several years to the point of PTSD. The mental gymnastics the administration did to avoid stopping the problem (especially since the ringleader was a teacher’s son) were enormous and deplorable. They blamed it on her and basically said if she weren’t weird, people wouldn’t harass her and referred to it as “teasing.” I wish schools would take it seriously when first reported and stop putting the onus on kids to end situations that are out of their control. Bully apologists are so common and are so convinced that it’s good for kids to be attacked, that it builds character but I bet the victims would clearly disagree, if they made it through.

  • Brianna G

    My fiance was an intellectual (ie, loved learning and education) in a low-income school growing up; he was the only intellectual boy (one of two intellectuals period, the other was a female classmate), one of only two Jewish children, and by far the smallest and skinniest kid in his grade.
    The stories of bullying he tells are all the same, the same as we see now with these kids. Indeed, the result was almost the same, except he happened to call the psychiatry department at Children’s Hospital Boston and a resident there saved his life. But I read these and I imagine him, as a child, coming home and crying every day because they would torture him physically, emotionally… And homophobia was a constant factor.
    I worry about the homophobic slurs for two reasons. One, they do not just bully the target. They also create a hostile environment for any kids questioning their sexuality, so in a way, unlike calling a kid a “baby” or something, they actually have bullying collateral damage.
    Second, they are usually targeted most at the nice kids, ie, those who care for others and don’t want to see others hurt (for boys at least); and at intellectuals. Ie, two of the greatest virtues adults can have are being beaten out of them as children. It reflects more than homophobia, it reflects anti-intellectualism and an opposition to caring for those around you. I know in my fiance’s case, he completely rejected his intelligence, rejected love and kindness, and it has taken him years to get it back.
    I think a lot of people don’t worry about this because they think it’s harmless bullying, or it’s only hurting gay people who they don’t care about, but the truth is, EVERYONE should care, because it creates a world where intellectuals reject their intelligence, peace is impossible, and violence and hatred are glorified. And that is if the child LIVES.


    Yes, there are other types of bullying.
    I know this personally – when I was a kid, I was bulled for being fat, for being a lightskinned Black person who had a White father (this came from other, darker skinned, Black kids) and for not wearing fashionable clothes and having an afro (my parents were avante garde artist types).
    But, especially for young men, no bullying hits harder than being bullied for being gay.
    The fact that two boys hung themselves because of homophobic bullying is mute testimony to this.
    In a world where males (ESPECIALLY African American males) are expected to be supermacho, even as little boys, there is no insult worse than being called gay.
    Those two boys saw no other way out than hanging themselves – and that’s horrible – and, it shows just how hard that insult hits.


    I understand it very well. Snitches get other people in trouble – and in much of adult society, they are despised.
    In the adult world, snitches at work who rat out their coworkers to the foreman or the manager can get people written up, suspended or fired. In the world of at will employment (especially low wage at will employment) snitches at work can cause an economic disaster for a family.
    Snitches in the neighborhood (especially if it’s an inner city community that’s overpoliced by a hostile police department filled with suburban commuter officers who look upon the community with racist contempt) can get people sent to jail.
    So a lot of kids grow up learning from their parents that snitches are bad.
    They bring this attitude to school with them – and, when a kid rats out another student, they view that kid as a snitch, and hate them just as much as their parents would hate an adult world snitch.


    Calling a girl an anti lesbian slur is very different than calling a boy an anti gay slur.
    Calling a girl lesbian implies that she’s masculine – and, in a world where girls and women have a much lower status than boys and men do, that’s not that much of an insult.
    But calling a boy gay says that he’s feminine – and in a sexist world there is no insult more annihilating to a boy than to say he’s less than male.
    That’s why the gay insult hits boys so hard – it negates their masculinity, and reduces them to the very bottom of the male pecking order in their school, because, in that sexist pecking order, anybody who is feminine is automatically at the very bottom of the heap.
    In my neighborhood (West Harlem, Borough of Manhattan, City of New York) when teenage boys say anything that might even remotely be taken as “gay” (basically, any expression of love or affection for another male – no matter how nonsexual it may be – even something as innocuous as complimenting another boy on his sneakers – is considered “gay”) they will IMMEDIATELY say “NO HOMO!” so anybody listening will know that they are not gay, and won’t be able to call them gay for making that comment.
    That’s how powerful anti gay insults are in the world of adolescent boys.


    Bullying is bullying – but some bullying hurts worse than other bullying, at least among males.
    As a kid, I was bullied for being lightskinned, for being fat, for having the “wrong” hairstyle (an afro, instead of a caesar or a fade) and because my parents brought me the “wrong” clothes.
    But I had it much easier than the boys who were perceived to be gay – they were at the bottom of the male pecking order, and could be abused by ANYBODY (even very low status boys like me).
    For boys, no insult is worse than being called gay – because in the sexist and heterosexist pecking orders that teenage boys set up among themselves, that puts them at the very bottom of the heap, and negates their masculinity, automatically making them less than any other man.


    The brutal pecking orders that students set up mirror the tracking that is the official policy of every school system.
    Schools set up official pecking orders – some kids are on the academic track, some kids are on what used to be called the vocational track, some kids are on the special ed track – they divide the kids into groups, and treat some kids a whole lot better than other kids.
    The kids, seeing this behavior by authority figures, model it and recreate it, in a far more brutal, honest and open form.
    This is why schools have such a hard time with bullying – the kids perceive it as hypocrisy (and we all know how much kids hate hypocrites) so it doesn’t register with them.
    As long as schools have tracking systems and in other ways play favorites among students, the kids will reproduce those inequalities in the spaces that they control – the schoolyard pecking order.
    In a horribly tragic way, it makes sense that the school stood up for the bullies who tortured your sister – and it also makes sense that a teacher’s kid was the chief bully (because what kid is more favored in a school setting than one who has a “connection” with a staff member).

  • Ashtree

    “Calling a girl lesbian implies that she’s masculine – and, in a world where girls and women have a much lower status than boys and men do, that’s not that much of an insult.”
    On what scale do you judge which insults are “worse” than others? Everyone’s experiences are different. No one has any place to make rude, hateful presumptions about anyone else. There shouldn’t be an argument about which kind of bullying is less of an insult–they are all insults regardless of who is saying them, to whom they are saying them, and what they are saying.
    Besides, “calling a girl lesbian [implying] that she’s masculine” is a really broad generalization: not all lesbians are masculine, and that is just another ignorant stereotype that’s contributing to the problem of bullying and overall negative attitudes.