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SAN DIEGO – Lawrence “Larry” King was a 15-year-old youth coming to terms with his sexuality and being open and honest with his classmates when he was murdered by a 14-year-old boy in a classroom in Oxnard, Calif.
Seth Walsh was a 13-year-old boy who faced a daily gantlet of bullying at his school in Tehachapi, Calif. His mother, through a veil of tears, explains how her son was constantly taunted and harassed even outside the school – and how she found him hanging from a tree in the family’s backyard. Seth would die days later after life-support measures proved unsuccessful.
These are just two of numerous stories of anti-gay bullying, and how it can have grave consequences for the victims.
Gary Takesian, director of the acclaimed anti-bullying documentary “Teach Your Children Well,” told an audience Monday night at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Hillcrest that anti-gay bullying is the worst form of bullying.
He explained that anti-gay bullying is quite different, saying that kids who are bullied for their ethnic background, for example, can often go home and share their stories with their families who share the same ethnicity. Many gay kids, however, do not have the support of their families, multiplying feelings of isolation, helplessness and hopelessness, and generating suicidal thoughts.
Takesian believes America’s problem is bigger than just bullying.
“What we’re really dealing with here is homophobia,” Takesian said, recommending that society needs to look inward at the roots of prejudice toward minority communities, including LGBT Americans.
“Prejudice is learned,” he said. “Children are born innocent,” so they learn bias from their parents and from the people who surround them. “We should be encouraging our children to express themselves … We shouldn’t be judgmental.”
The documentary describes the epidemic of bully and suicide as “bullycide,” and ends somberly by showing listing some of the gay teens who chose death rather than face another day of bullying.
The audience numbering more than 60 people also heard from the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Foundation; Robin Voss, another filmmaker involved in “Teach Your Children Well” documentary; Vincent Pompei, chair of the Center For Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership at San Diego State University; Colin Pearce, co-chair of GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) San Diego; and Armando Ruiz, an openly gay senior and GLSEN member at Santana High School in Santee.
Armando, who showed great poise and confidence as a public speaker, said he came out during his sophomore year and has remarkably never faced any bullying at his school. He said he knew his story was the exception, not the rule.
“When I was in the closet, I felt rather hopeless,” Armando said. He added that after he came out, he felt relief and that a burden was lifted. Looking at several other teenagers in the audience who said they had experienced intense bullying at a local Catholic high school, Armando paraphrased a quote from gay civil rights hero Harvey Milk: “You gotta give ‘em hope.”
Armando encouraged parents to teach their children well and to support safe schools for all students.
Pearce, also from GLSEN San Diego, cited sobering statistics about how gay kids face way more bullying than their straight classmates. He said GLSEN’s mission is fourfold: focus on changing school policy on bullying; train and educate students, teachers and staff; supporting the local gay-straight clubs; advocating for inclusive curriculum, which California’s FAIR Education Act has mandated.
Ogle showed a clip from the new documentary “Call Me Kuchu,” made by Malika Zouhali-Worrell and Katy F. Wright, about the remarkable life and mysterious murder of Uganda’s leading gay civil rights hero David Kato. Ogle and St. Paul's hope to show "Call Me Kuchu" in San Diego later this year.
The event at St. Paul’s Cathedral was tied around International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which will be on Thursday, May 17.
How to find help if you feel suicidal
If you or a young person you care about needs support, call The Trevor Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7. Learn more at TheTrevorProject.org.
-- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
-- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: save.org.
-- Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org
-- Every county operates immediate mental health crisis response services. For information, contact your local county human services agency.