Michael Hamar

A Bullying Suicide Close to Home

Filed By Michael Hamar | November 14, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: anti-gay bigotry, bullying, Focus on the Family, GLSEN, teen suicide, The Family Foundation, Virginia

On November 9, 2010, I wrote on my blog Michael-in-Norfolktaylor.jpgabout the bullying induced suicide of Christian Taylor, a student at Grafton High School in Yorktown, Virginia (pictured at left).

The story hit home with me because two of my nephews had attended the school involved and because like so many victims of bullying victim induced suicide, Christian's mother sought to have school officials intervene in a meaningful way and protect her son to no effect. Sadly, as seems to be the norm in these cases, school officials did nothing.

To my amazement, Christian's mother left comments on the post and her phone number which lead us to have a conversation yesterday. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the story is that even after her son's death, the principal bully in the sad story remains in school having faced zero consequences.

How can this be?

Because in Virginia there is no anti-bulling statute that requires real and severe consequences for bullies or indifferent school officials. In fact, the existing law bends over backwards to protect teachers and administrators from liability. Here's the basically worthless anti-bullying statute provisions§ found in 22.1-279.6. Code of Virginia of 1950, as amended:

Each school board shall include, in its code of student conduct, prohibitions against bullying, hazing, and profane or obscene language or conduct. School boards shall also cite, in their codes of student conduct, the provisions of § 18.2-56, which defines and prohibits hazing and imposes a Class 1 misdemeanor penalty for violations, i.e., confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.

Unfortunately, Sec. 18.2-56 only pertains to hazing in the context of clubs and fraternities and, therefore, there is no criminal penalty for bullying no matter how severe or how horrific the results. As for school officials, § 8.01-220.1:2. of the Code of Virginia provides in part as follows:

A. Any teacher employed by a local school board in the Commonwealth shall not be liable for any civil damages for any acts or omissions resulting from the supervision, care or discipline of students when such acts or omissions are within such teacher's scope of employment and are taken in good faith in the course of supervision, care or discipline of students, unless such acts or omissions were the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

B. No school employee or school volunteer shall be liable for any civil damages arising from the prompt good faith reporting of alleged acts of bullying or crimes against others to the appropriate school official in compliance with specified procedures.

Under this language, all a negligent and indifferent school official need to claim is that they acted in good faith. To say that this situation is outrageous is a hugeunderstatement. Christian Taylor's mother is on a mission to create change (she is launching a foundation) and I hope Virginia readers will begin demanding that something be done to change the existing in adequate laws. Here are highlights from one event where ChristianTaylor's mother, Lisa Williams was speaking out:

The keynote speaker was Lisa Williams, a Yorktown, Va., mother whose son, Christian Taylor, committed suicide May 31 after being bullied. Mrs. Williams has founded a nonprofit foundation in her son's honor aimed at stopping bullying. She's also working with a Virginia lawmaker to strengthen that state's anti-bullying law. The law has been named Christian's Law.

"I don't want any parent to feel what I've gone through," she said. "Schools need to protect our kids. Parents shouldn't have to send their kids to school afraid if they're going to be OK." Mrs. Williams said a business has also given, at a low cost, a car to her foundation. She plans to have names of children who have committed suicide because of bullying since May 2009 printed on the car.

Mrs. Williams said she's angry about what happened to her son, but wanted to use that anger to do something positive.

To effect real change in Virginia it will be necessary to take on one of the most insidious and toxic organizations in Virginia: The Family Foundation ("TFF"), the Virginia affiliate of Focus on the Family. TFF has consistently opposed efforts to enact a comprehensive anti-bully statute that would impose serious consequences on both bullies and school administrators who fail to protect students from bullies. Why? Because TFF basically wants bullies to have carte blanche when it comes to targeting LGBT students. Moreover, TFF doesn't want school officials to be forced to stop homophobic bullying. According to TFF, the current statute is just fine. Here's some of the bullshit TFF was disseminating this past summer:

Efforts to increasingly sexualize our children will be at an all time high this fall. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national organization, recently selected its Richmond Chapter to conduct a pilot program to promote the homosexual agenda in 60 Central Virginia middle schools.

Bullying, no matter the content and no matter the target, is not tolerated in Virginia public schools, making GLSEN's middle school initiative that much more inappropriate and unnecessary. GLSEN's materials regularly undermine both parental authority and religious teaching. They seek to separate children from their families and from their faith upbringing.

While no child should be bullied, the fact is that GLSEN and other pro-homosexual groups are using harassment as a way to promote a dangerous lifestyle and attack the values taught by families across our commonwealth.

It's the typical wink and a nod that Christianists take when it comes to bullying: they claim to oppose it, but are the principal obstacle in passage of truly effective anti-bullying statutes. We need legislation that has teeth and will (1) hold school officials liable for their failure to protect students, (2) not only lead to the expulsion of students who bully others, but can impose jail time, and (3) make the parents financially liable for the consequences of their child's bullying.

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Hi this is Christian's mom
there is one direct misquote, The dealer is selling the foundation a 2010 Dodge Challenger where they have discounted it alot, it was Christians dream car and I am pretty much having to lose hope since every way I have tried to raise money for the foundation gets turned down, there are a few groups as well who are frustrated also, We feel that people aren't serious about this, I am in contact with alot of the parents of kids who have died from bullycide, We all have those days we want to wake up and see our kids,and I know that if I DON'T start this foundation and work to save other children and parents from this pain it will get continually worse and each time I hear of another bully-cide its like my heart get ripped out all over again and it happens again.
Christian's 17th BD came and went on Nov 5th, We did celebrate it because I couldnt not he is still my sweet son who left here way before his due and the punks who bullied him continue to laugh and joke in school and dont realize that his brother Gregg is a senior as well as his cousin Christina(they were born 6 months apart) who is also graduating this year and they have to keep their mouth shut and act like nothing happened at all and my thought on that is WHY should THEY have to do that???
Thank you Micheal for honoring Christian I dont want his story to die, I want people to realize this is a serious problem and IS a NATIONAL CRISIS!
Forever Christian's Mom

Susanna Iris Astarte | November 15, 2010 1:59 AM

Dear Lisa - I am so sorry about your son.
It IS a national crisis. Kids are bullied if they are gay or trans- or PERCEIVED as such as well.
I am glad you are fighting back - Virginia may be a tough nut to crack but I'm sure you can do it.
The school districts, counselors and staff really ought to have a program in place that will educate them. There's a new film out called "BULLIED" and I got a copy for the local LGBT community center here in Phoenix. Check out the website for Southern Poverty Law Center (Teaching Tolerance) and see if you can't get a copy yourself- if you don't have one already.
You are NOT alone and we stand with you and your family. - Susanna (activist)

Jane Johnson | November 19, 2010 8:29 PM

I think bullying is a terribly tragic case. However having read about Christian being bullied in Texas my concern is that the implication that he was bullied to death over a 4 month period at Grafton High School is misleading. Surely we need to make an effort to educate parents on how to help their children who have to deal with lots of issues rather then just trying to place the blame firmly on others.

I AM an ARMY WIFE, I GAVE UP MY CAREER to raise My kids and SK, You NEED NOT educate me, I AM a hands on MOM, I MOVED from texas and just 4 months AFTER my husband came home from IRAQ MOVED because of the physical bullying Chris endured at fort hood,I sen HIM to Korea for TWO YEARS next time your so quick to judge, realize that having a husband deployed ALL the time and raising SEVEN KIDS on my OWN and being an ACTIVE parent.....I will DO what I HAVE too to protect them...