When Words Can Kill: 'That's So Gay'

Anti-Gay Taunts in School Lead to 11-Year-Olds Suicide and Rising Calls for Change

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover was 11-- hardly old enough to know his sexuality and yet distraught enough to hang himself last week after school bullies repeatedly called him "gay."

The Springfield, Mass., football player and Boy Scout was ruthlessly teased, despite his mother's pleas to the New Leadership Charter School to address the problem.

Sirdeaner L. Walker, 43, found Carl hanging by an extension cord on the second floor of the family's home April 6, just minutes before she was going to a meeting to confront school authorities again.

VIDEO: The Torture of Anit-Gay Bullying

"I am brokenhearted," she told ABCNews.com. "We worry about the economy and about Iraq, but we need to be worried about our schools."

Walker, who works as a director of homeless programs, said Carl -- a slight child who loved his schoolwork -- had endured endless taunts since he started sixth grade in September.

School officials did not return numerous calls for comment from ABCNews.com.

The boy had been active in his church, taking communion on the recent Palm Sunday and playing a wise man in the Christmas play. He helped the needy and a black history program.

"That's the type of kid he was," Walker said. "You could rely and count on him."

Video: 11-year-old commits suicide after being bullied.

Bullies Worse Than Breast Cancer

Walker said her son's 11-year-old tormentors were worse than the breast cancer she had survived four years ago.

In an ironic twist, the boy would have turned 12 on April 17 -- the same day students in thousands of schools across the country will participate in the annual Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-gay harassment in schools.

"There was no reason for the mother to believe he was gay," said Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network spokesman Daryl Presgraves. "It just happens he was someone his peers targeted, calling him, 'girlie,' 'gay' and 'fag.' According to the mother, it was a daily occurrence."

Middle School Suicides

Carl's suicide comes about a year after California eighth-grader Lawrence King was shot and killed by a fellow student in his classroom for supposedly being gay.

In response, GLSEN has launched a multipronged education campaign to fight the use of anti-gay language and bullying.

Its annual Day of Silence, started at the University of Virginia in 1996 with 150 students, has now grown to more than 7,500 middle and high schools nationwide. Participants draw attention to LGBT issues by not speaking for a day.

Since October, GLSEN has aired thousands of public service messages, "Think Before You Speak," to reduce the use of the slur, "That's so gay."

"When you are in elementary school, one of the first things you learn is the feeling of hurt when you are called 'gay' or 'fag,'" said Presgraves. "It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight. The term 'gay' has become synonymous with "uncool."

"The expression 'That's so gay' is one of the most heard in school, and students recognize it as derogatory," he said.

Lawsuit Against School for Anti-Gay Bullying

Just last week Bill and Janis Mohat filed suit against Ohio's Mentor High School, alleging their son, who, like Carl, did not identify himself as gay, shot himself after being tortured with homophobic slurs.

In a 2005 survey -- "From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America" -- students said their peers were most often bullied because of their appearance, but the next top reason was because of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.

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