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

In that report, by the GLSEN and Harris Interactive, students said teachers rarely interfered in cases of gay-related bullying, either because they are embarrassed or don't know what to do.

"The truly unfortunate thing is because of the societal atmosphere surrounding gay and lesbian life in the U.S., administrators are reluctant to act or fail to act," said Eliza Byard, GLSEN's executive director, who attended Carl's memorial service.

"The key is absolute, direct, even-handed, no-nonsense approach to all aspects of bullying," she told ABCNews.com."At this cultural moment, homophobic language is the ultimate weapon. We have to address the use of that language like any other forms of name-calling and harassment."

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center estimated that nearly 30 percent of American youth are either a bully or a target of bullying.

In addition, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, in a new review of studies from 13 countries, found signs of an apparent connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide.

GLSEN's own research indicates that LGB youth may be more likely to think about and attempt suicide than heterosexual teens.

According to a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, "The majority of the evidence is in favor of common causes for suicide that affect all youth, but which LGB youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience."

Suicide rates among children Carl's age are very low, according to Ann Haas, director of the Suicide Prevention Project at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, but they are anecdotally "creeping up."

"It's absolutely tragic," Haas said of Carl's suicide. "The really disturbing thing is the degree to which 'gay,' 'lesbian' and all pejorative terms are a cover for the bullying itself. The meaning of it is unclear."

Bullies Render Kids Helpless

"Anecdotal data is increasingly strong that bullying is a major factor in kids' lives," she told ABCNews.com. "The risk is very real and it underscores the fact that these kids are absolutely helpless in terms of having adults they can turn to and who can protect them."

"We need a much more institutional rather than individual approach," said Haas. "We need an across-the-board change in the way sexual orientation is integrated in the schools. This is not about teaching gay marriage. There are ways more subtle that the school can convey the basic dignity of all groups."

Gay students report that they are often scared to go to school because of the homophobic culture.

Such was the case with Conrad Honicker of Knoxville, Tenn., who came out as gay just before his freshman year in high school.

"Naturally, I got a lot of teasing, mostly verbal, but it got threatening at one point," Honicker told ABCNews.com. "Someone threw a large rock at me. They missed, but it landed in front of me."

He has survived verbal abuse that he described as "very graphic" and "like you would treat a woman in a bad, sexualized gratuitous way." Bullies also physically attacked him, "squeezing me and kissing my neck."

Honicker founded West High School's first gay-straight alliance, as well as eight other groups around the district. He believes these groups are a visible presence in schools that can thwart the bullying and encourage teachers to act.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Firefighters rescue a woman who got stuck in a chimney in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Ventura County Fire Department
PHOTO: Apple Pay is demonstrated at Apple headquarters on Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo
PHOTO: Up in Ash: Mount Sinabung Erupting
Tibt Nangin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
PHOTO: Defendant Jodi Arias testifies about killing Travis Alexander in 2008 during her murder trial in Phoenix, Feb. 20, 2013.
Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic/AP Photo
PHOTO: Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, their daughter North West and Delphine Arnault attend the Givenchy show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2015, Sept. 28, 2014 in Paris.
Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/French Select/Getty Images