I've put off blogging about this story because it's so tragic. In case you haven't heard, last Friday sixth grader Carl Walker-Hoover committed suicide after months of relentless bullying by classmates.
"Sirdeaner L. Walker found her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of her Springfield home on Monday night. Walker said Carl, a sixth-grade student at the New Leadership Charter School, had been taunted and threatened by classmates for weeks before he killed himself. She said that she contacted the school repeatedly over the last six months to ask teachers to intervene after learning her son had been targeted by students. Walker said her son’s classmates called him gay on a daily basis, made fun of his clothes and threatened to harm him, according to the Springfield Republican."
Walker, who would have turned 12 on April 17th, played football, baseball, was a Boy Scout and was active in church and volunteer work. Mrs. Walker said the bullying that lead to her son's suicide is larger than homophobia:
"It's not just a gay issue," Walker said. "It’s bigger. He was 11 years old, and he wasn't aware of his sexuality. These homophobic people attach derogatory terms to a child who’s 11 years old, who goes to church, school, and the library, and he becomes confused. He thinks, Maybe I'm like this. Maybe I'm not. What do I do?"
The issue is bigger than homophobia. Many of us guys, whether gay or straight, can recall being called or calling someone else a punk, faggot or gay, or have accused or been accused of 'acting like a bitch' in school if our pants were a little too tight (or actually fit) we didn't dress like thugs, listened to music outside of rap and R&B, or had interests (dance, fashion, poetry etc.) that didn't the standard of hypermasculinity so often held in high esteem in the black community. Homophobic teasing does more than just drive gay kids deeper into the closet; it causes both gay and straight boys to constantly monitor their behavior, suppressing any personal interests or mannerisms that could be perceived as gay and lashing out against those who step outside the boundaries.
The result of homophobia can not only result in tragic physical deaths, such as Carl Walker-Hoover's, but in spiritual death as well. I know this has been true in my own life, having spent much of my adolesence sacrificing my identity and policing my behavior--from the way I talked, walked, gestured, dressed and so on--to fit what others in my community wanted and expected. And I've seen it the lives of other men, who fully believe their sexuality is a choice and they're going to burn in hell, or others who wield flamboyance like a shield to hide their insecurities, and only see their lives as revolving around sex, men, and material goods.
We've all either been the victims of or perpetrators of bullying or teasing, and questioning someone's sexuality is right at the top of the list of ways to hurt someone. A story like Carl Walker's shows that this must stop. You can read The Advocate's feature about the tragedy here.