Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

login / register  arrows

The Answer Blog

Remember Carl and Jaheem

After writing “Remember Larry” in December 2008, I fervently hoped that I would not have to return to this subject: the suicide of a young person caused by homophobic bullying at school.

My post suggested that parents and teachers read “Young, Gay and Murdered,” the Newsweek cover story about the tragic killing of a 15-year-old gay student by his 14-year-old classmate in a junior high school in Oxnard, CA, with a teacher and other students looking on.

Surely, this story would not have a sequel, I thought.

But another tale so close to the first one that it could be its relative surfaced recently. This story has many of the same features as the Newsweek cover story, particularly the core point: children die because of the homophobic behavior of other children with whom they attend school.

In this second story, two African-American children—both 11 years old and living in different areas of the country—committed suicide because they had been bullied, taunted and called homophobic names by their classmates. Let me give you the details: Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who lived in Massachusetts, wrapped an extension cord around his neck and hanged himself because of the “relentless taunts of his classmates,” and Jaheem Herrera, who lived in Georgia, hanged himself with an extension cord and died because of the “relentless homophobic taunting of his classmates.”

You can learn more about Carl and hear about the increase in school homophobia from this ABC World News segment:

You might also want to get a copy of the report From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America, which was commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. The report’s bottom line is that “students are more likely to be subject to homophobic bullying than any bullying for most other reasons.”

But it wasn’t until this past Saturday when I was watching a rerun of a Barbra Streisand concert on CBS that I felt the full weight of the horror of the deaths of the two little children. Streisand sang two songs whose messages spoke directly to where and from whom our many young children may be learning how to bully, how to taunt and how to be homophobic: in their own homes and from their own parents.

The first song Streisand sang was the tender “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific. Although the focus of the song is on racism, the message is about teaching about hate in all forms to children:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Then Streisand sang the haunting “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods. This is the song’s refrain:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen.

As a memorial to Larry, Carl and Jaheem, I would like to suggest that elementary and middle schools invite the parents of students to view and discuss It’s Elementary. This is a 37-minute highly honored educational film designed for PTA meetings on how to address lesbian and gay issues with children in positive, age-appropriate ways.

The film, directed by Academy Award winner Debra Chasnoff, goes inside first- through eighth-grade classrooms to hear what young students have to say about a topic that either leaves their parents mute or permits them to pass on ugly messages and language for which they have never been corrected.

To order, click here.

Perhaps at the end of the film and discussion, parents might sing or read the lyrics to “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” and “Children Will Listen.”

Add This

Post a Comment

Comments are limited to 500 characters and will be reviewed by staff before they are posted. We do not accept comments that include personal identifying information, abusive language, or solicitations.

You must be a site member to leave comments. If you are already a member, please log in. If not, please click here to become a member.