Guest Author - Barbara Sharpe
Since 1996, the Day of Silence has been, ironically, the voice for creating safe schools for all students. It began with the University of Virginia and is now taking place in more than 8,000 schools – from middle schools to colleges and universities across the country and including hundreds of thousands of students. In 2001, GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) became the official organizational sponsor for the event.
Bullying in schools has always been a concern for any child who is outside of the school social norms. Bullying has been passed off as simply something children do and unavoidable. School systems frequently do not want to address bullying particularly when it involves LGBT people. According to a GLSEN study, 68% of schools have an anti-harassment policy but only 48% include LGBT students specifically.
A person does not have to be LGBT to be affected by bullying, however. Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old in Massachusetts, hung himself in early April 2009 because of bullying. Despite the fact that Carl did not identify as gay, he was teased daily. His mother’s pleas to school administrators fell on deaf ears. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN, says,. "As we mourn yet another tragedy involving bullying at school, we must heed Ms. Walker’s urgent call for real, systemic, effective responses to the endemic problem of bullying and harassment. Especially in this time of societal crisis, adults in schools must be alert to the heightened pressure children face, and take action to create safe learning environments for the students in their care. In order to do that effectively, as this case so tragically illustrates, schools must deal head-on with anti-gay language and behavior."
Please go read this article and see the picture of this young man. Carl is not just a name, he’s a real person, his mother is a real mother who tragically lost her son. It is my opinion that she lost her son because we, as a culture, still allow homophobia to go unchecked. Had that school dealt with the bullying, perhaps Carl would still be with us today.
Let’s not forget Lawrence King. Larry, as he was known, was a 13 year old boy who was murdered because he was gay. While it would be easy to brand his killer, classmate Brandon McInerney as a criminal, try him as an adult and lock him up, that doesn’t solve the problem. Some LGBT groups are saying that McInerney is as much a victim of homophobia as Larry.
We live in a society that both glorifies and demonizes sexuality. Advertisers use sex to sell everything from toothpaste to movies but, as a culture, we tend to harshly judge anyone whose sexual activity does not meet strict Puritanical guidelines. Add that to a country where the so-called “religious right” vocally condemns anything that remotely grants safety and full civil rights to LGBT people and you have an environment ripe for homophobia.
Remember, a person doesn’t have to be LGBT to be bullied. Kids are bullied for any number of reason and being or being perceived as LGBT is only one of them. Thirty-nine per cent of teens in a GLSEN study said that students are harassed based solely on their appearance, 33% because they are perceived to be LGBT. Perceived. That’s the key word, here. Carl Walker-Hoover was not gay. He was still bullied relentlessly and he is still dead.
The National Day of Silence is intended to call attention to this bullying and to encourage us all to find a way to put a stop to it. Bullying for absolutely any reason is completely unacceptable and we need to have an absolutely zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying.