I had a friend who used to counsel LGBT teenagers who were bullied and harassed because of their sexual orientation. We can minimize how a dumb taunt like “That’s so gay” it affects us as adults because our hides are a little thicker.
We brush it off as something dumb and ignorant and keep on steppin’.
What happens when your hide isn’t so thick and “That’s so gay” evolves into “dyke” and “faggot” and “punk’ and worse—much worse? Imagine what it’s like to go through the hell that high school can be and you’re hearing those words every damn day.
How would you deal with it?
One year to the day, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover dealt with the taunts in a particularly final way. He killed himself.
SPRINGFIELD – Two days after the worst day of her life, when she found her 11-year-old son had committed suicide by hanging himself, Sirdeaner L. Walker said on Wednesday she wants the bullying to stop.
She found Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of their 124 Northampton Ave. home Monday night after he had endured another day of taunting at New Leadership Charter School, where he was a sixth-grader, she said.
“I just want to help some other child. I know there are other kids being picked on, and it’s day in and day out,” said Walker, 43.
She spoke in her living room surrounded by family and friends. They had just returned from a church service.
Photos of a beaming Carl – he played football, basketball and was a Boy Scout – peered from the top of the television.
Walker went upstairs to check on him Monday night.
“It was the worst experience of my life, and I’m a breast cancer survivor. Four years, it was four years ago I had breast cancer,” Walker said.
She phoned the school repeatedly since Carl began attending in September but the bullying continued, she said.
Other students made him a target, daily calling him gay, making fun of how he dressed and threatening him, she said.
Carl had attended Alfred M. Glickman Elementary School up to fifth grade, but few of his friends accompanied him to New Leadership Charter School, she said.
Was Carl gay? Who knows and why would it make any difference? He was treated as if he was and he had to get away from the names and taunts and scorn. But 11-year-old kids shouldn’t have any reason to take their own lives. Particularly not due to the cruelty of other children.
Finding definitive statistics about Black teenagers who commit suicide aren’t easy (I spent minutes on hold with the local library answer line trying to find them), but according to the website of the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide (NOPCAS) :
Suicide among black youths, once uncommon, has increased sharply in recent years. The rate of black suicide for teens 15-19 more than doubled from 3.6 per 100,000 to 8.1 per 100,000 from 1980-1995. The latest statistics show that roughly 5.7 per 100,000 African American deaths are certified as suicide-a rate of 5 each day.
Simply: we don’t always think of Black people killing themselves unless they are celebrities such as Donny Hathaway and Phyllis Hyman.
Can anyone imagine the horror of finding the dead body of your son who took his life out of complete desperation and hopelessness? What kind of sick, twisted world have we made when death becomes preferable to a child instead of life?
Being bullied is more than just a rite of passage. It doesn’t make a kid tough to be picked on. It only damages and scars them in ways that aren’t always clear.
We must make it easier in the Black community for our kids to come out. I am not going to attack the role religion plays, but any religion that emphasizes punishment and condemnation over tolerance and forgiveness is a religion I have no usage for.
Coming out is never an easy thing to do, but Carl was only 11 years old! Who CARES what his sexual orientation was? He was just a kid. How could anyone know what his preferences were? I wonder how those kids that tormented him feel about themselves now? Guilt? Shame? Or do they even give a damn?
Maybe I don’t want to know. If I did the answer might sicken and disgust even more.
From the American Association of Suicidology fact sheet, there are steps that can be taken.
Things We Can Do to Help:
• Help remove the stigma and myths that suicide contradicts gender and cultural role expectations:
o Religious stigma of suicide as the “unforgivable sin”;
o African American men are macho and do not take their own lives;
o African American women are always strong and resilient and never crack under pressure.
• Remove barriers to treatment.
• Improve access to mental health treatment.
• Remove stigma associated with mental health treatment.
• Increase awareness in cultural differences in the expression of suicidal behaviors:
o African American are less likely to use drugs during a suicide crisis;
o Behavioral component of depression in African Americans is more pronounced;
o Some African Americans express little suicide intent or depressive symptoms during suicidal
• Develop liaisons with the faith community.
• Recognize warning signs and help a friend or family member get professional help.
No more Carl Joseph Walker-Hoovers. Not ever again.