April 14th, 2009
10:03 PM ET

Remembering Carl

Program Note: Tune in tonight for Randi Kaye's full report on AC360 at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/01/16/school.bus.cuts/art.school.bus.cuts.afp.gi.jpg caption="Many students experience bullying at school."]

Daryl Presgraves

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students call out for safer schools - without so much as saying a word. But this year, their silent statement will also be about Carl. Carl Walker-Hoover would have turned 12 on Friday.

That's the same day that students across the country will take some form of a vow of silence as part of the 13th annual National Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) name-calling, bullying and harassment in school. But Carl won't be able to join them.

After enduring constant bullying, including an avalanche of anti-gay taunts in person and on the Internet that he was gay, Carl took his own life last week. He hung himself while his mother was downstairs cooking for him. And Carl didn’t even identify as gay.

Carl’s story is a tragic reminder that you do not have to be gay to be called anti-gay names. Words like “sissy” and “fag” are two of the first hurtful taunts we learn on the playground. In fact, two of the top three reasons middle and high school students said their classmates are most often bullied are their actual or perceived sexual orientation and how they express their gender, according to From Teasing to Torment, a 2005 GLSEN/Harris Interactive study.

For students who actually identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender, bullying is the norm. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students said they have experienced harassment in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey of more than 6,000 LGBT youth.

Three out of five LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. As pervasive as the problem is, many schools still fail to address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Only seven states (CA, IA, MD, ME, MN, NJ, VT) and the District of Columbia specifically protect LGBT students from bullying and harassment.

So students across the country every year take part in the Day of Silence to illustrate the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on LGBT students and those perceived to be LGBT. Carl's life - and death - give special meaning to our silence this year, reminding us that we must do more to make sure all of our students are safe in school. And sometimes the simplest things can be the most powerful.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Gay & Lesbian Issues
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