A very good friend of mine sent me a message describing the bullying that he endured as a child. He is a straight white guy, who, as he put it, was called "gay" so often that it seemed like a nickname. He is sad that we remain a society that refuses to police bullying, that considers bullying to be a part of growing up, in spite of the damage it can do. He is also sad that so many boys are scared to death ever to be called "gay," the lowest of the low insults one could "suffer."
I was somewhat lucky. I wasn't really bullied for long; I was teased mostly because of the way I spoke. You see, young black boys who spoke standard English were often subjected to being called "gay" or "white." In the end, I think that my size saved me; I was both big and tall growing up, and when I took my head out of a book long enough to play some sport (though never varsity), I was not too bad. For whatever reason, my being the "smart brotha" was alright.
But, my heart goes out to the families of those two little boys, both 11 years old, who felt that they could not bear the burden of being teased anymore. I wish that someone, anyone, could have given the right words of comfort to Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera on the days that they decided to take their lives. Sometimes, I wish that the people who drove these boys to this point would have to look at their images for the rest of their lives, as a reminder of what they wrought. Sadly, I am confident that some of their tormentors had little or no remorse.
"Gay" is used as a weapon against people, because we continue to support the idea that being gay is wrong, dirty, an affliction, abhorent, shameful. We have no idea what sexual orientation either of these boys would have developed as they grew older, and it doesn't matter. We lost them. We will never know what they could have become. Maybe their deaths will help us turn the page on bullying. Maybe their deaths will help us move toward abandoning "gay" as a pejorative term used to hurt those who simply may be different.
There is so much more that could be said, but I just can't do it. May those boys rest in peace, and may their deaths help to trouble the waters and move us away from a place where children feel the need to do such things.