Franklin James Cook

Children’s Deaths Cause Anti-Bullying Outcry

In Prevention, Stigma on April 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm

[Editor’s note: Several stories linked to in this post include  a brief description of a suicide.] ORIGINAL COMMENTARYMcClatchy-Tribune News Service on Friday published an op-ed by Charles Robbins, executive director of the Trevor Project, and Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), condemning the type of school bullying that has been linked to the recent deaths of two 11-year-old boys by suicide.

Neither Carl [Joseph Walker-Hoover] nor Jaheem [Herrera] identified as gay, yet their peers’ defamatory language and hurtful behaviors broke the barriers of sexual orientation and gender identity. Being taunted as “faggot,” “queer,” or “homo” by classmates is offensive and demeaning to any student -– straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning alike.

The writers point to research showing that homosexuality and intolerance toward sexual orientation are markers for increased risk of suicidal behavior among young people, including references to two studies previously covered by SPNAC:

  • A study by the Family Acceptance Project, which “showed that teens who experienced negative feedback were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide.”
  • A paper from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) reporting on “a variety of studies indicat[ing] that LGB youth are nearly one-and-a-half to three times more likely to have reported suicidal ideation than non-LGB youth. Research from several sources also revealed that LGB youth are nearly one-and-a-half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide”

While Robbins’ and Byard’s essay effectively focuses on bullying related to sexual orientation, they make the point that gay-bashing is a major theme in much of the bullying that seems rampant in U.S. schools.

Two of the top three reasons secondary school students said their peers were most often bullied at school were actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression, according to a 2005 report by GLSEN and Harris Interactive. In addition, the Trevor Project fields tens of thousands of calls from young people each year, both straight and LGBT-identified, with rejection and harassment by peers being one of the top five issues reported by callers.

In the same GLSEN and Harris report, more than a third of middle and high school students said that bullying, name-calling and harassment is a somewhat or very serious problem at their school. Furthermore, two-thirds of middle school students reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and only 41 percent said they felt safe at school.

When they write “Enough is enough,” they are obviously–and poignantly–issuing a call to action for putting a stop to all bullying perpetrated against all children.

It is our hope that in memory of Carl and Jaheem, and in honor of all young people who have completed suicide after enduring constant torment at school, we will be able to work together to promote school environments that celebrate diversity and encourage acceptance of all people. Only then will we be confident that our children are receiving the respect and education they deserve today in order to become the successful and equality-minded leaders of tomorrow.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/ChildrensDeaths .]

[Related SPNAC post: “Father Crusades against Cyberbullying after Son’s Suicide“]

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