Addressing anti-LGBT bullying: something all Christians can support

By Sirdeaner Walker I came to know about an organization called GLSEN–the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network–about a year … Continued

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.

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  • FarnazMansouri2

    Ms. Sirdeaner Walker,I am so deeply sorry that I do not know what to say. I very much want to thank you for your essay. Maybe some of those whose hearts have been hardened by Christianity will awaken to the murderous consequences of their hateful rhetoric. Human is a marvelous creature. S/he can change and grow, particularly when s/he encounters people like you.Farnaz

  • fenrox

    Thank you.

  • t_parker16

    Great statement. I’m so sorry for your loss.Its unfortunate that people like Tony Perkins are personally responsible for turning so many gay and lesbian people away from religion. His brand of Neanderthal Christianity is so deeply offensive to so many people. If only you had that kind of visibility, Mrs. Walker … and not merely as balance to yesterday’s hateful trash.

  • bionarydata

    Thank you so much for this essay. Mr. Perkin’s claims have been weighing on my mind since I read his essay, and I greatly appreciate your willingness to share your personal story and call attention to Mr. Perkin’s shameful manipulation of evidence to support his erroneous claims about homosexuality.

  • areyousaying

    Thank you.May God bless Tony Perkins with a gay child or grandchild to open his cold, closed heart and let’s pray the child doesn’t get bullied at school by one of Perkin’s “Christian” followers.

  • filkertom

    Ms. Walker, I am so sorry for your loss. And I thank you for your courage and grace in posting this commentary here. The politest thing I have to say about Mr. Perkins is that he doesn’t even know why he’s so very wrong.

  • jamestog3434

    You should not have to be the editor of the Washington Post “Faith” section in addition to being an advocate for gay youth. But I thank you for doing the work that Sally Quinn and John Meecham — or whoever really edits the page while they are out doing TV appearances and promoting themselves — by pointing to Tony Perkins’ lies.WASH POST EDITORS: Tony Perkins is a liar and snake who will always twist the studies and the facts in a serious manner because there are no studies backing up his claims. He’s a religious zealot using religion to back bias. Religion was once used in this country to defend racism. But you won’t print racist bile in your paper will you? It’s time to DROP TONY PERKINS FOR GOOD.

  • olandp

    I am so sorry Mrs Walker for your loss and for what your son had to endure. I know exactly what he went through. It is small consolation that Tony Perkins will one day be caught up in a gay scandal of his own, because he is a closet case if ever there was one. Trust me, it really does take one to know one, and I know.

  • haveaheart

    I’d like to second jamestog3434’s comments. The Perkins essay printed Monday in “On Faith” is the kind of hateful propaganda that goes way beyond the reasonable debate of personal opinions and positions.It is entirely within his rights for a person like Perkins to write the passive-aggressive essays that seem to be his specialty; it’s not, however, his right to have them published.Newspapers, magazines, and Internet blogs make choices all the time about which pieces they accept and which they reject. The Post was under no legal, moral, or ethical obligation to print Perkins’s essay. That it chose to do so reveals the absence of responsible leadership.

  • thebuckguy

    The Post had the nerve to publish Perkins’ piece on “National Coming Out Day” and allowed him to appropriate “Christianity” in the way that high profile evangelicals often are given a free pass to do. This rejoinder is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t undo the rank insensitivity (not to mention lack of empirical or theological rigor) of the original. My concern is that all this will do is encourage more of the kind of lazy “he said, she said” false equivalence that passes for good journalism at the Post.

  • ChrisBaker1

    These Christians also need to remember that this anti-gay bullying also happens not just to gay kids, but to kids who are -perceived- to be gay–whether they are gay or not. Kids can’t always change the way they talk or walk or act–of if they are interested in art or sports or computers or whatever. There is no way a kid can prove he/she is straight so these attacks by calling a kid ‘gay’ can be additionally frustrating to kids who already feel different because they might not have the same interests as the other kids.

  • Continuum

    WaPo completely failed yesterday, when its religious editor gave Tony Perkins space to broadcast his hatred and bigotry.This Mom’s response is a good first step in WaPo apologizing for its previous callousness in allowing Perkins to vent his vile words.

  • brimadison

    Thank you, Ms. Walker, for your common-sense, level-headed response to Tony Perkins’ ridiculous anti-gay propaganda piece. Keep up the excellent work — this country needs calm, steadfast advocates like you.

  • Secular

    Ms. Sirdeaner Walker, very sorry for your intolerable loss. Your response to that bigot Tony Perkins, while very eloquent, was very subdued, for a good reason. In order to avoid such tragedies as yours it is imperative that we humans should get rid of all religion, period. All these religious bigots seek refuge in their scripture, as though it should absolve them of any personal responsibility for their putrid actions and proclamations. Those must old vile tomes were written by the most ignorant of people by the 21st century standards. They had no clue about nature, psychology, natural or social sciences, morality and ethics. That is reflected by passages that promote racism, out-group hostility, in-group nepotism, and plain superstition when it comes to their pronouncements about how the nature works. I hope lack of religious knowledge amongst religious as reported by the Pew, is really a silver lining that these books are loosing out, in terms of the faithful following them.

  • Soundboy_Jeff

    Thank you Ms. Walker for setting the record straight from a perspective that tony perkins can never experience.There’s a bigger issue behind mr. perkins’ laying the blame somewhere else… in order for hate groups such as his to prosper (read: make money, influence politics), they need to have some group to marginalize.promoting acceptence of LGBTQ people is a threat to his group’s existence… without us as paraiahs, what purpose is there for the FRC/NOM/AFF etc? without those groups, where would he gain power and money??Accepting LGBTQ people has nothing to do with religion in my view, unless you don’t believe God created ALL people in his image… Accepting LGBTQ people DOES however pose a threat to a political base’s very existence.”They came first for the Communists,Then they came for the trade unionists,Then they came for the Jews,Then they came for me

  • rextrek1

    As another poster’s Tony Perkins and people of his Ilk, that for the last 10yrs – I have been totally TURNED OFF to any religion….I see how’s it’s been USED/Perverted to Demonize LGBT people, or even those perceived to be LGBT….its Perkins and people like him who will stop at nothing to prevent any kind of LGBT recognition when it comes to Basic CIVIL RIGHTS, or even Protecting our Nations children with Anti-Bullying Legislation

  • bEEarCUB

    Thank you for the essay, and thank you WaPost for giving her and others a voice.

  • MaggieWhitestone

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s such a shame your beautiful boy had to suffer and die the way he did. Having faith and being religious is fine if you use that to guide your own life. When you start using your faith and beliefs as a weapon against others, and as a means to control others, it can be deadly. We have had more than a dozen examples in the last month of how deadly it can be. Jesus never said word one about homosexuality. It’s despicable how some proclaim themselves God’s warriors in this world and choose to inflict so much pain on the innocent. They should be worrying about the moats in their own eyes instead of bothering with the splinters in the eyes of others.

  • djoh1226

    Mr. Perkins is entitled to his opinions as anyone else in this country; however, we have to tone down the hateful and violent tone by which most homophobic ministers rant their position.Enclosed is an article which hit the Internet this morning concerning Bishop Eddie Long and the rumbling that’s going on in his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church over allegations he had sex with four young men in his church. Bishop Eddie Long Scandal Takes Toll on Church Members:

  • lees2002

    How dare she put forth the pedophile talking point that chilren’s sexual identity is decided at 11 or younger

  • gbblank

    @lees2002 Thank you, but the 1940’s called and they would like their talking points back. In 21st century we have this lovely thing call “science.” I would recommend you look into it at some time. Since then we have learned that sexual preference is determined in the womb and homosexuality is no more a mental condition then your willful ignorance. Also, if you would like to have discussion on causes and ways to reduce bulling/suicide it would be wonderful, but blaming the victim is usually a poor way to start.

  • DougDinsdale

    LEES2002, the proper question would be, how dare No one can

  • SportinLife

    @lees2002 & @gbblankNevermind that Ms. Walker made no claims whatsoever regarding her son’s sexual identity, and doesn’t say whether or not he ever expressed one to her either directly or indirectly.Her main argument, in fact, would seem to be that lees2002’s point (to the extent he has one) is irrelevant to the question of whether or not anti-bullying programs should explicitly address anti-gay bias….BTW, I hope all readers note how casually lees2002 vents homophobic bitterness at, of all people, a mother who lost her child to suicide. As the problem of bullying is discussed, no one should doubt the complicity of adults in driving gay and lesbian young people to despair.Perhaps not too many would attack a child as publicly and as boldly (though some adults certainly do). But the victim-blaming and bully-defending that kids are sometimes subject to after the fact–by authority figures–can be as devastating as the bullying itself, or even moreso.

  • MichaelT3

    Dear Ms. Walker:I am so very sorry for your loss–I can only imagine how difficult it must be to lose a child. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for your calm and eloquent opinion piece. I’m sorry for Tony Perkins’ hate-filled piece, and I still hold the Washington Post accountable for giving him a soapbox when his long record of distortions and lies is already well-documented. I hope we will soon see a day when Christians are more concerned about true compassion and love for all.

  • malloryestes1

    Thank you Ms. Walker for your personal story and please accept my condolences.No parent should have to endure such a loss.People like Mr Perkins and his sort-already coming from a privileged position-get a free pass and easy access to the legislative process too often. These tragedies are a part of the society that people like Perkins want to keep in place…the harmful part of the status quo-instead of moving to a more inclusive and less barbaric and predatory mentality. Perkins and those like him believe in class systems…they need to have a group to keep down. It is time to stop listening to wingnuts and bring the US into the modern world or fall behind into a dark ages that these type of people desire for all of us.

  • larissajo

    Ms. Walker, My heart goes out to you. I can understand the anguish that plagued your son because I too withstood the bullies as I grew up in the 50s. I had hoped that the coming out of millions of us would someday put an end to the hateful acts your son experienced.Apparently that day has not yet come. It has not come because of people like Tony Perkins forming pseudo-scientific organizations to promote hate.I can only hope that your efforts, my efforts and the efforts of all loving people eventually put an end to the violence.

  • ismaelibanez

    I still fail to understand why so many people are interested in spending so much time and resources to fight against gay people. There are just so many more pressing issues to deal with in this little blue planet. I sincerely think that this hate stuff is all part of a charade to keep us from paying attention to the REAL issues, such as pollution, corporate irresponsibility, abuse of power and many more. Dont let these people cloud your vision. P.S.: anyone who makes a statement regarding Ms Walker’s son should refrain from adding any personal feelings to that statement, since you can never really say how much one thing or another will affect people besides yourself.

  • Poimandres

    Christians do not believe in love if they act in ways so detrimental and alienating for the gay community. I cannot but regret the unnecessary deaths and all the energy and effort put to still say somthing negative and improductive amidst much pain and confusion. Let’s clear our mind. We are talking about people taking their lives because of homophobia not homosexuality. Let think of postitive otherness and human rights if our faith does not allow us to be purely human as it should. The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)is doing great work to improve the quality of living of many LGTB students. I live in Argentina and find all the information provided by this organization very much efficient and effective to do LGTB voluntary work in some teacher training colleges here. Let raise our voice to be heard. This must stop!

  • Justadad1

    As a parent, the thought of losing a child because of hateful bullying and anti-gay discrimination literally makes me ill. Ms. Walker is clearly an extraordinary person who turned her grief into positive action that could save the lives of other children. Publishing her article, however, in no way makes up for the Post’s decision to publish Tony Perkins’ bigoted, hateful garbage.

  • mmartha61

    Ms. Walker has written a a wonderful essay.I am the mother of a gay child. There is no way of knowing whether Ms. Walker’s son was gay. He was only 11 years old. If he was gay, it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Those of us lucky enough to have gay sons and daughters know how how blessed we are to have them.For those who are homophobic and unrepenting, perhaps you should know that many students who are bullied for being “gay” are, in fact, straight. It isn’t Christianity that hardens peoples’ hearts. It’s hard-hearted people who profane the name of Christ. Tony Perkins is a bully.