But children have no voice, and they rely upon adults and the systems supposedly in place to protect them. So when we read the incredibly tragic story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old who committed suicide after continual bullying for being perceived as "gay," we were not only saddened, but angered. Despite anti-bullying programs in place at the school, his torment continued without intervention. Yes, children get bullied all the time -- for looking different, for acting different, for not being part of the "cool crowd." It happens. Most get over it, and life goes on.
But the particular virulence and hatred reserved for tormenting those perceived to be gay is unique and ferocious. In high school, we were teased for being perennially un-cool and also for being perceived as gay -- and at an age when we didn't really fully understand what "gay" meant, and sure as hell hadn't yet acted upon it. And we can tell you firsthand that, while being teased for being dorky wasn't fun, it wasn't scary or intimidating or something that made life seem unbearable.
Being the victim of homophobic taunts was.
Going way beyond the superficial name-calling and teasing that most, if not all, kids endure, a homophobic school atmosphere is something we can only liken to a surreal, nightmarish hell. If we close our eyes, we can still feel the ice-cold terror of being circled by so many predators, and the word "faggot" being hurled at us with the kind of venom and bile we've, thankfully, never heard again.
Say the words "dork" or "nerd" out loud. Then say "faggot" (or, "nigger," or any other truly hateful label). The difference is clear. The intent isn't just to make fun; it's to cause actual harm.
Somehow, we made it through: made it through the ostracism, the acts of violence and intimidation, the death threats taped to the lockers, the feeling of not wanting to get up in the morning and face another day. For whatever reason, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover couldn't make it through. Can we honestly place full blame for his death on his bullies and tormentors? Perhaps not. But we can, and must, take steps to eradicate the root cause of this bullying: the perception -- available and acceptable to kids who aren't even out of puberty yet! -- that being gay is the worst thing you can possibly be, and to be labeled as such is a fate worse than death.
Whether he was gay or not (and it doesn't matter), we wish we could have told Carl that's not the case. And someone needs to give Carl's tormentors, and every other would-be homophobe of any age, the same exact message.
CARL JOSEPH WALKER-HOOVER
April 17, 1997 - April 6, 2009
Thanks to VINTAGE A GO-GO for bringing this to our attention.