Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Please: Can We Stop Already?

I find it incredibly sad as a human being on this tiny planet of ours that so many of us show extreme intolerance and hatred for people of colour and people of other sexual orientations.

These views are inevitably passed on to the children in our care, who then turn around and start harassing classmates at school.

The child of 11 that you see above was the victim of endless, daily bullying and anti-gay taunts.

He chose the final way out. He killed himself. His 10 year old sister found him.
His family had moved to Atlanta only last year.

The suicide of Jaheem comes just after the death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a sixth-grader in Springfield, Mass., who hanged himself after relentless antigay bullying.

I grieve these innocent children and their suffering families.

This rings very close to home for me as I have a nephew who was bullied and insulted with gay epithets every day of his school life.

I wrote a post a while back about 2 dear gay friends of mine who have become immune to the endless catcalling.

When on earth is it going to stop? When will sexual orientation and skin colour and gender be totally irrelevant to our lives?


  1. The only answer is for all of us to have open minds and open hearts and to affirm other people's lives rather than undermining them. But there are too many damaged individuals out there who just want to damage others in their turn. A vulnerable kid like Jaheem should have been moved to a more loving community where his identity would be respected.

  2. Nick:
    I agree on open minds and hearts. However, I have tremendous trouble always with opinions that place the solution on victims and their families.
    The solution to me is being more aware of this type of horrific bullying and making the bullies completely accountable even if that is suspension or juvenile detention. Bullies should be moved away. Not the victims.

  3. In theory I think you're absolutely right, the ideal solution is to challenge the bullies. But if a bullying culture is endemic and those in authority turn a blind eye to it (often the case in British schools), the only response is to get out fast.

  4. And what a contrast.

    An ocean away from your heartbreaking story is another young boy, aged 12, whose story is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

    What a world we live in when you get such 2 extremes.

  5. I read the stories of Jaheem and Carl Joseph with a sick heart. My son is gay; he came out of the closet to us when he was only 12 or so. He has always seemed to me to be unfazed by most of the drivel we read about. His friends were a mixture of gay and straight, and when we asked him if he was getting any crap from the bullies in school in school, his answer was "no, but that's because they know I don't give a rat's ass what they think."

    While at university, he listened to some gay students talking in class about their experiences, at school and especially at home, and it was a huge revelation to him. He told us he felt as though he had grown up on another planet, because their lives had been so different from his.

    I guess our experiences, as the parents of a gay child, were very different, too. He never saw being gay as anything he should be ashamed of, it was just how he was born. If I warned him to be careful, or suggested he not flaunt a rainbow decal on his car in case he drew some redneck on himself, his response was always that he refused to live his life in fear, and I had to learn to do the same. Which I have done, although stories like those you mention make me wonder how we were so lucky.

  6. Nick:
    And go to where? A system can keep this kind of behaviour completely hidden. I think it needs to be tackled where it festers by involving police, social workers and politicians.
    One of my kids was bullied and I went to the principal and he immediately called the police. It needs to be nipped fast and furiously where it exists.
    (As an aside - I was bullied and lived in fear for a year and told to stand up for myself. Right. Me and what army?)
    Canada is becoming more aware with posters everywhere about reporting it.

  7. Rossa:
    Lovely YouTube on this young kid. No doubt he was never bullied as he seems so confident.

  8. Tessa:
    It hits home with me on many levels too as I also am the mother of a gay child and the aunt of children of colour.
    Your son's story is wonderfully validating for a child of gay positive parents.
    I understand your fear, I've been there as there is so much intolerance out there. I think of that young man Matthew, who was tortured to death and so many more like him.
    Will the day ever come when this stuff doesn't warrant even a comment?

  9. The problem with bullying goes far beyond gender and color: we are all bullied by powerful people who receive gigantic bonuses after tanking our economy. We are bullied by a culture that blames the victim - in fact, by a culture that must blame instead of taking responsibility.

    I believe we each have a responsibility to speak up, speak out, and model integrity for our children. I also believe we know deep down what it means to act in integrity even if we don't see it in our leaders.

    To not speak is to be complicit in the bullying.

    Thank you for this thoughtful thread, Mary.

  10. Verna:
    How true, it does start at the top and filter its way into every aspect of our lives. Starting with the politicians who pay more attention to the lobbyists than they do to the electorate.
    Speaking up. We all need to do it and often.

  11. it is so deeply troubling and tragic I hardly know what to think to be honest... how do you change such ingrained evils in society?

  12. Conor:
    I think by writing about it, talking about it, speaking up when slurs are cast in conversation, lobbying, protesting.
    Floodlighting intolerance.

  13. This type of thing makes a red mist come down....wasted lives...
    we must look to religion as well as politics for much of this.
    But difference will always be an excuse...I know a child who is clever(and I mean clever),red haired, has sticky out ears and wears glasses...suffers from Asperger's and has a very quick temper...he suffers and so do his parents...
    In our hunter gatherer days it might have served some purpose to turn on those that were different...but now?

    Nick...what about those schools that do not have an anti-bullying policy "because we do not have any bullying"? Sickening self-deceivers!

  14. Hi, Webwisewoman,

    I come here via Grannymar's wonderful blog, where I have just now left a comment in response to your comment on her post on the blonde joke.

    I can feel your angst and sadness and relate to you.

    I too have a nephew who is gay. When my nephew came out of the closet and announced that he was gay, I had written to him that God has decided to make his life more difficult than for the others but, he would always have his family solidly behind him and extend him all the protection that he would need.

    Five years later, he got married to his partner and both came to spend some time with us. The first thing that he told me was how touched he was with that letter and how he considered it a privilege to be my nephew.

    Despite having such first hand experience and knowledge, I still crack jokes about gays and enjoy jokes cracked at their expense. Humour is a way of expressing our sense of difference from others and as long as we are able to develop a sense of humour we can grin and bear it.

    I have recently been blogging about our taking ourselves too seriously and losing our sense of humour with all these developments around us. I have been the butt of jokes and ridicule for my 'otherness' and obesity as well as my hobble. I have been called a Paki in Britain and made fun of by hooligans. If I let that affect my equilibrium, I too will commit suicide. I decide to treat is as humour.

    What families and friends should do is to provide proper support and backing and more importantly, training to handle such othernesses.

    Prejudice, bias, fear of the other etc, are all part of our human psyche. I do not expect that to change in the foreseeable future. What I can do about it, I shall but where I cannot, I grin and bear it like your two dear gay friends.


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