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By Sirdeaner Walker
I came to know about an organization called GLSEN–the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network–about a year and a half ago in the midst of the most difficult time of my life. My 11-year-old son Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover had just taken his life after enduring anti-gay bullying in school. His school had not taken the bullying seriously enough. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s executive director, offered her support.
I am a single mother and a devout Christian who had never been involved in advocacy work or politics. After my son died, and GLSEN reached out to me, some of my friends and family members expressed concern about the organization’s work to address anti-gay bullying in school. They voiced religious opposition to GLSEN. Thanks to Tony Perkins’ On Faith piece published yesterday, I don’t have to repeat the arguments. Perkins’ lays them all out practically word for word.
And they’re all wrong.
Mr. Perkins’ tactic, and that of others like him, is to use faith and religion to divide us. They seek to thwart efforts to deal with a problem at the heart of this current crisis–anti-gay bullying and harassment.
But Perkins goes further–his “facts” are taken out of context and are, frankly, untrue. He says:
“There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society’s general disapproval of homosexual conduct.”
But the very next sentence of the study that Perkins’ cites reports that “discrimination may help fuel these higher rates.”
This is a serious omission–in fact, it’s a gross distortion of the truth.
If schools perceive addressing anti-gay bullying as a controversial issue, then they’ll continue the status quo of putting their heads in the sand and hoping the issue takes care of itself.
It won’t. And we need to be clear on one thing – addressing anti-gay bullying is not a controversial issue. If you move through the smoke screen organizations like Family Research Council try to create, you realize addressing anti-gay bullying is simply the right thing to do if we care about all of our young people.
Students who are perceived to be or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are victimized at much higher rates. My son was bullied with anti-gay remarks. Those kids at his school called him those names because they were probably the most hurtful things they could think of to say. And they hit their mark.
Homophobic bullying and harassment is all too common. And too often school officials do not recognize this kind of bullying and harassment as unacceptable.
We need to ensure that all of our children are protected. I know that the only way to achieve this goal is to find common ground. We need to teach our children the simple message of respect for all. And we must do it now.
I know all too well that if schools and society are unwilling to name the specific types of bullying that occur most frequently, we will never get a handle on this problem.
I could not be more grateful to my friends at GLSEN for their unwavering support, and I marvel at their determination. They do not allow themselves to be discouraged by the attacks of their crucial work, God’s work, by people like Perkins. And I am proud of where my own journey has taken me from devastated and grieving mother to a still-grieving but effective advocate and member of GLSEN’s national board of directors.
Sirdeaner Walker is a board member at GLSEN.