Anything But Straight: Words That Kill

April 16, 2009 3:41 PM0 comments

It’s been a heady couple of weeks for gay activists and it keeps getting better.

There were twin marriage victories in the unlikely states of Vermont and Iowa, doubling the number of places where gay people can get hitched. If that wasn’t enough, the New York Times reports that New York Gov. David Paterson will unveil plans this week to introduce marriage equality legislation.

On New York City’s Upper West Side, The Jewish Alliance for Change presented a benefit concert on Monday evening for marriage equality that featured a stunning array of stars. I spoke at the event and followed Linda Lavin who played the lead in the television show “Alice.” It was exhilarating to be among the Broadway glitz and glamour. Most important, the event encapsulated what the movement has worked decades to achieve: broad mainstream support and cultural acceptance.

Unfortunately, while our movement bathed in the well-deserved spotlight, not everyone felt its warm glow. There are still gay people, particularly of school age, who feel the cool sting of homophobia. They are teased, harassed, humiliated and beaten on a daily basis. They enter the schoolyard in sheer terror as if it were a prison yard ruled by fearsome gangs.

Teachers who are supposed to be in charge – act no better than prison guards, indifferent to the pain and suffering. The cries of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students often fall on deaf ears. It is a living Hell and one that too often ends in tragedy.

In 1998, I remember an effeminate male student in high school who was teased mercilessly. He was assaulted verbally and physically and it got so bad he had to drop out. Teachers who allowed bullies to ruin his life curtailed his right to an education.

Thanks to groups like the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) much has changed. There are many openly gay GLBT students who have uneventful, if not enjoyable, high school experiences.

Still, if a student ends up in the wrong school it might as well be 1988 (or even 1958). One such student is Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. He was an 11 year-old boy who was taunted by bullies who repeatedly called him gay. On April 6, he hung himself in his Springfield, Mass. home.

It is heartbreaking to hear Sirdeaner Walker, Carl¹s mother, talk about her son¹s death. She did everything in her power to alert the school and they failed to intervene.

“I have been homeless, but Carl made it through,” Walker told ABC News. “I was a victim of domestic violence, and we made it through. The one thing we couldn¹t get through was public school.”

Last week, parents in Ohio sued a high school after their son, who did not claim to be gay, shot himself after bullies clobbered him with anti-gay epithets. This problem is as pervasive as it is perverse. It is an open secret and offhandedly dismissed, as “boys will be boys.” Of course, this response comes from the boys actually throwing the slurs and punches and not the victims and their families.

Equally tragic, is that this problem is not considered a major story in the mainstream media. We are treated to countless hours of babbling baloney and blithering buffoonery but the preventable suicide by an 11-year old boy is considered an afterthought.

In my view, this tragedy should be on the front page of every newspaper in the nation. Satellite trucks should be parked in front of Ms. Walker¹s home to address a serious issue that affects far more people than stories about the latest star in rehab.

On Friday, April 17 students across the nation will participate in GLSEN’s 13th annual National Day of Silence, where they will take a one-day vow of silence to shine a light on anti-gay bullying. More than 8,000 schools are expected to participate in this incredible show of solidarity.

Now, if the media will just end its “century of silence” and elevate this issue, we might see less 11 year olds committing suicide.

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