Sara Whitman

11 Year Old Kills Himself After Gay Taunts Left Unaddressed

Filed By Sara Whitman | April 13, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: anti-gay bullying, bullying, GLSEN, hanging gay people, sexual orientation, suicide

An eleven-year-old boy hung himself in Springfield, MA last week. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Require staff trainings to enable school staff to identify and address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment effectively and in a timely manner.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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Once upon a time, when I was teaching high school, I sidetracked an entire lesson because a kid decided "faggot" was an okay word to say. And I took the moment to talk about Lawrence King, and of the price anti-gay rhetoric on people it hurts most. I thought I did a decent job.

The response: "Don't they choose to be that way?"

It's a long, hard road, but I'm with you 100%. Kids are damn cruel when they want to be, and the administration at that school had a duty to engender a safe learning environment for the children.

ALL SCHOOLS are paralyzed by this "Culture War" - teachers, administrators, parents, and students are all terrified of being "too tolerant" of gays OR "too hateful".

I worked for a non-profit children's music academy where the director has a mother who is lesbian. I was "loved and appreciated" for years as a "gifted teacher of young children". But when stress from PROP 8 greatly affected my life and I had to temporarily stop teaching? - NOTHING. Not A Single Word.

The silent message? = "This makes us uncomfortable."

Yeah - I'd hate to make THEIR live's difficult...

Yes John, LGBT teachers are really in a double bind. We can't stand by and do nothing when kids are bullied, but we also risk losing our jobs if we speak out about who we are.

Great and moving post Sara!

As a private teacher I had it a bit easier than ANY teacher who is in public school, BUT there are weird closets in music/dance teaching. For 8 years it was my husband who poured the children milk or juice at EVERY recital and helped with setting up chairs and preparation (piano recital). My "housemate".

Maybe it's "too early", but I hope one day soon all of these private and public music-theater-dance studios become "Open & Affirming" for the sake of EVERYONE, esp. the kids.

MY GOD. Art without Queers? Please. Private arts teachers give their heart & soul to these families; it would be nice to know they would NOT vote to take away due civil right IF given that INSANE opportunity.

OF COURSE Sara's point on bullying and the welfare of the children is always PARAMOUNT - but, as any teacher of young children, I was always considering THEIR safety and never once considered my OWN need for safety at our Arts Academy. Schools, Universities, Arts Academys, etc., need to have designated SAFE PLACES for ALL Q Students/Parents/Teachers and the folks who love us.

I'm also a private music teacher, and transgender. I generally don't have a problem w/ kids, however I live in a rural area, and parents write the checks. I think they mostly just see me as artistic or eccentric and yes, as you said John, there's considerable "don't ask don't tell" regarding queers in the arts.

Wow, that really hurts. I have an eleven year old son and many eleven year old students and I live in Mass.
I am lucky since I am a private music teacher we don't ever put up with any of that here and I don't ever hide who I am.
A lot of the kids come out here where they know that it is safe.
I don't know, maybe I'll have to go to the funeral too.

Rob, the funeral was yesterday. Very sad. so so sad.

Wow, that really hurts. I have an eleven year old son and many eleven year old students and I live in Mass.
I am lucky since I am a private music teacher we don't ever put up with any of that here and I don't ever hide who I am.
A lot of the kids come out here where they know that it is safe.

Every day. Every single day around the country whether they make the headlines or not.

And most of them just don't care about us.

My son is 7.

He's Intersexed.

Need I say more?

Citizens Lobby against Bullying in Michigan Schools,

Already this year, five students/youth in the United States have died due to bullying. Every school day many children are bullied, many are hurt. It is time to put an end to this violence in our schools so that all our children can be safe. Please join us for the All American Lobby Day to end bullying against all youth in Michigan! Young students in school are getting bulled and hurt because of who they are. Help us to stop it. We need your support/endorsement for the Lobbying Day, May 13th.

We also need your help in getting the word out to others. Please work with us to mobilize people to be apart of the Lobbying Day. Please join us Wednesday, May 13, 2009, at 9 am at Teamsters Hall (local 580), located at 5800 Executive Drive, Lansing. We will lobby for SB 0159, a law to protect all Michigan youth from bullying and to make our schools safe! Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer will train participants that morning on how to lobby most effectively. We will hold a press conference at midday. Please tell your friends, neighbors and others about this lobby day.

For more information or to RSVP, please contact our Chair Phil Volk [email protected] or (734) 340-4868, or Vice Chair Adam Taylor at [email protected], 810-479-6897. Sponsoring and endorsing organizations include Michigan Democratic Party LGBT and Allies Caucus, Michigan Equality, Project Light, Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center, PFLAG of Southwest Michigan and many more. If you are willing to endorse this lobby event in writing, please send an email to me and Jen Chapin-Smith at [email protected]
Volunteers Needed. We need volunteers before hand, if your on the East Side of Michigan each Tuesday starting April 14 until Lobbying Day we will have a work parties in Ann Arbor at 7:00 pm in the lower level of Starbucks at State St. and Liberty St. If you are in the West Michigan, contact we will be meeting at the Kalamazoo County Dems Headquarters located at 3254 S. Westnedge Ave, Kalamazoo Mi 49008 every Wednesday starting at 7:00pmon April 15th until lobby Day. The times may move for West Michigan hours of volunteers.

We will need everyone's help to mobilize the entire state. Help get in on spreading the word by personalize letters, spreading materials, getting trained, donations, gain endorsements, by emailing Phil Volk (Chair) at [email protected], or Adam Taylor (Vice Chair and West Michigan Office Coordinator) at [email protected] 810-479-6897.