Two years ago today Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover took his life in his hometown of Springfield, Mass, after months of enduring anti-gay bullying in school. He played football, participated in the Boy Scouts, was active in his Church and wanted to be President. Although the school, principal and his teachers were asked to help put an end to the abuse, the education system had not taken the bullying seriously enough. Carl suffered because of what happened to him in his environment at school between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm--times that even the most involved parents are powerless to help.
While some of us think teasing is harmless and a natural part of childhood, bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up. It can be prevented. And for so many kids, there isn't a moment to lose.
School bullying is a national crisis, and we need a national solution to deal with it. Teachers, administrators and other school personnel need additional support and clear guidance about how to ensure that all kids feel safe in school. Policies that make it clear exactly what kind of behavior will not be tolerated. Policies that include training teachers and other school personnel to recognize bullying and harassment and enforce the rules with immediate, appropriate discipline. Policies that recognize that to prevent bullying, we have to teach young people to treat one another with respect. Congress can make sure they have that guidance and support by making anti-bullying policies mandatory in all of our nation's schools.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act would help achieve the protection all children deserve. The bill is supported by over 80 education, health, religious and other organizations that formed the National Safe Schools Partnership to address this terrible problem. We cannot afford to wait for another child to drop out of school, struggle academically or even worse.
Enumerating sexual orientation and gender identity, among other personal characteristics, in any legislation is essential to protecting all students from bullying and harassment. Including these specific categories underscores not only that ALL students are protected; but it also offers protection for those students who we know are the most likely to be bullied and harassed. History and the Supreme Court tell us that enumerating policies is necessary. Young women and girls would not have equal access to sports and our schools would not be integrated if policymakers and the courts had not specifically addressed these inequities by enumerating categories like sex and race in our laws.
And these policies work to create not only a safer, but a better learning environment. Studies show that schools that have these policies also have fewer reported incidents of bullying, and that students generally feel safer. All students. Every school should have one, and we shouldn't rest until they do.
Your son or daughter may have similar interests to Carl. But no matter what their hobbies or dreams or sexual orientation may be, all of our children deserve to learn in a safe place. Bullying is not a gay issue, or a straight issue. It's a safety issue. It's a respect issue. And it's an issue about allowing all of our children to grow and thrive, no matter who they are. It's about what kind of learning environments we want for our children and how far we're willing to go to protect and teach them.
No mother should have to go through the pain of a child suffering so much that they take their own life, particularly when we know how to help prevent some of that suffering. Today, we can honor Carl's memory by working together to make sure that all schools are safe for all kids. Congress passing, and the President signing, the Safe Schools Improvement Act will ensure all kids can find their own paths in a safe and healthy environment.
Sirdeaner Walker, Carl's Joseph Walker-Hoover's mother, is a board member at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network; GLSEN. Eliza Byard is GLSEN's Executive Director.
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