Anti-gay bullying claims a life in Atlanta

From the Washington Blade

Last Friday, students at dozens of schools in Georgia refrained from speaking, joining in the National Day of Silence to show how homophobia robs young people of their voices. The day was dedicated to the memory of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11 year old Massachusetts boy who hung himself with an electrical cord on April 6 after facing anti-gay harassment.

In an interview with Fox 5 Atlanta, the mother of Jaheem Herrera said her son faced relentless bullying, including being called gay. At the time, students here didn’t know that homophobic bullying had claimed a life much closer to home. Just the day before, Jaheem Herrera, an elementary school student in DeKalb County, hung himself with a belt in the closet of his bedroom.

The young boy, also only 11, apparently faced relentless bullying at his public school, Dunaire Elementary. In an interview with Fox 5 Atlanta, Herrera’s mother said that “gay” was among the taunts her son suffered. His stepfather told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the same thing for an article published this morning.

Herrera was also teased because of his accent — his family is from the Virgin Islands — and because he allegedly “looked different,” although it is hard to see anything but an adorable young boy in the photos his family has provided to the media.

In 2006, GLSEN released a national report, “From Teasing to Torment,” about harassment gay students face in schools, including a section about Georgia’s school climate. The national report surveyed over 3,400 students aged 13-18 and over 1,000 secondary school teachers.

Results in that study showed 75 percent of Georgia students reported hearing homophobic remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” as well as 82 percent saying they heard expressions “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other students.

As with Carl, we have no evidence at this point that Jaheem actually identified as gay, and in many ways, it doesn’t matter. Both tragic deaths show the power homophobic taunts continue to hold, and the unfortunate truth that written “anti-bullying” policies, no matter how well-intentioned, aren’t worth the paper they are printed on if enforcement doesn’t reach down to the classroom and schoolyard level.

Southern Voice is also reporting this story; visit today for updates on the case and impact of anti-gay bullying and suicide among young people who are gay or perceived to be gay. In the meantime, we mourn another life lost to the bullying too many of us still endure.

Posted by Laura Douglas-Brown, Editor for the Southern Voice | Apr. 21 at 9:09 AM | Permalink:

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