Day Of Silence 2009: I Almost Took my Life in High School

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by Jon Winkleman

April 17, 2009 is the National Day of Silence to bring attention to anti LGBT bullying in our schools. Today would also have been the 12th birthday of Carl Walker Hoover. Carl was bullied and called “gay” in school. Even though his mother pleaded with Carl’s teachers and the school administrators to take action, they allowed the bulling to continue. Last week at age 11, a week from his birthday, Carl Walker-Hoover tied a noose out of an extension cord and hung himself. The bullying finally stopped. Carl may not have been gay but he was bullied and called the same names I was at his age. This makes him my brother.

During my sophomore year at Pilgrim High School in 1983 girl had invited me to the Junior Prom. This was one year before I came out to myself. At the time I was too afraid to even consider naming the feelings I had buried deep inside. I was terrified that if I ever did identify as gay there was no going back and I would forever be an outcast. I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. I was occasionally taunted and bullied. I was called “gay” and “fag.” I was always picked last for teams during gym class. The worst was when someone snuck behind me between classes to spill the books, notes and paper in my hands all over the floor. I still remember the humiliation of getting down on my knees to pick up a 15-foot swath of paper and books. Humiliated, as every other student paraded to his or her next class and knowing that I was the weak one. I was a lamb to be sacrificed at the altar of adolescent anxieties. Telling my mom would have been even more humiliating. How do you tell the one person who thought I was the smartest most special person in the world that she was wrong? I was lucky to have been invited by a girl who was sweet and pretty but too tall and also not one of the popular kids in her class. It should have been the most special day of my sophomore year.

The principle let everyone with prom tickets out early to pick up tuxes, dresses and flowers. When I got home I didn’t feel excited about the magic night ahead. I sat alone feeling especially alienated and cut off from all of my classmates. The thought running through my head wasn’t a defined thought of “I want to kill myself.” Instead it was a strong and vivid image of me fastening a noose out of the white cotton clothesline bundled up in the kitchen hardware draw. Then I would tie the noose to a rafter and put my head in it. This very graphic image scared the crap out of me and I dialed a local suicide prevention hotline. I don’t know how long I talked to the volunteer at the other end. It seemed like more than an hour. My thoughts were racing around erratically. Everything felt “out of time.”

More than anything else, what got me to pick up the phone and talk to someone was the thought of my mom calling up my date to say “Jon killed himself an hour before the date.” I cared more about ruining her life than saving my own. After that weekend, the whole experience shook me up enough that I then began a yearlong process of trying to look at my buried feelings and deal with them.

I never mentioned the buried gay feeling to the hotline volunteer. If I had hung myself there would have been no note mentioning that I was gay or bullied. What angers me the most is I know that my classmates would have been clueless as to why I killed myself. None would have made a connection to spilling my books or calling me “fag” in the hall and me hanging myself. Both students and teachers would have told the press that this was a terrible tragedy and said they didn’t know why such a nice kid would take their own life. None would acknowledge the daily humiliation and torture that bullied children go through every day. Even today when the rare victim become a shooter instead of a simple suicide, how many pundits talk about video games and rock music and dismiss any reports of bullying? Many of the teachers I had tolerated bullying. Some teachers participate.

Sticks and stones may break kid’s bones but words wound much more deeply.

Act Now

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If you live in New York, call your state senator (click here to find out who they are) to tell them the importance of supporting the Dignity for All Students Act. It has passed the Assembly every year for the last seven years. Let’s make sure it becomes law. For children like Carl.

Sign the petition to amend the Civil Rights Act to include LGBT people.

Join us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/reqs.php#/pages/The-Power/73711392696?ref=ts

Learn about the Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network.

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5 Responses to “Day Of Silence 2009: I Almost Took my Life in High School”

  1. Michele Mulholland France Says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I have 2 beautiful sons – one of whom experienced some very rough bullying in grade school. He’s doing better now – but it is always your worst fear. All the best to you.

  2. jeffbhall Says:

    For those of you on Twitter, you can follow The Power @ThePowerOnline. Use the hashtag #pwraction to share your Tweets with the rest of The Power community around the world.

  3. I blame hate crimes committed against LGBTs on certain right-wing & “church” leaders who spread deceitful anti-gay propaganda nationwide. Such anti-gay propaganda has been incessant for decades, but it seems to have picked up with the progress GLBTs have made on gay marriage. Let those leaders who run these anti-gay campaigns bear responsibility for the effects their campaigns have in generating bullying & violence against GLBTs–and in generating the despair that leads to LGBT suicides.

    While many religions, clergy & congregants do support GLBT rights, some religions, like the Mormon Church, recently used hate & bias to attempt to ban gay marriage in CA. Honest people of faith should know that what certain churches & right-wing orgs did on Prop 8, and continue to do in other places, is not Christian, ethical, or moral. Rather, it is a despicable display of discrimination & hate mongering against GLBTs.

    The incessant propaganda campaigns against GLBTs deny them their status as equal members of the human quilt of diversity that is part of God’s creation. Surprisingly, many church & right-wing leaders speak out against gay rights (including anti-hate-crime laws & gay marriage), but they are largely silent on the subjects of bullying, psychological torture, and physical harm against GLBTs.

    Which are the greater sins against God’s commandments: expressions of love between two gay people and their families — or inducement of hatred, violence, and psychological abuse against GLBTs? Why can’t anti-gay church leaders see the absurdity of their actions and inactions? Why won’t more church members challenge their leaders’ priorities? Many church-going people are obligated to do just that under the principles of their religions, let alone under the principles of general human rights and morality.

  4. No more tragic endings like Carl Walker Hoover’s. Let’s put our religious beliefs aside – as well as political ideals, race, ethnicity, and socio economic levels – to join hands in the fight to end and abolish all types of school bullying, and eliminate it from our society completely. A young boy should NOT have to end his life in order to stop the bullying at his school – witnessed by so many teachers – and shamefully didn’t do ANYTHING to stop it. Sad to see that intelligent, mature and responsible human beings, reacted in such an inhuman and indifferent manner. How could they? What were they thinking? Carl’s mother made many attempts, requesting their action and attention, to stop the bullying to his son… and NOTHING was done. NOTHING. How can they face her now and apoligise for their inability to prevent such tragedy? I hope they are the first to start signing petitions to all politicians, asking for their support to end all bullying at shools NOW! It may not bring Carl back to us, but will ensure his life was not in vain and no more kids follow his footsteps…

  5. @bigolpoofter Says:

    John,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. So many of us LGBTQ people have gone through the same contemplation of suicide, but few of us take out the experience later in life to use as a motivator when fighting injustice. Still, understanding the depths of our psychological injury might help our heterosexual peers end the propagation of torment and cruelty to the next generation.

    In my case, a four-year bout with suicidal thought came in the wake of breaking up with my first boyfriend at 14, followed by a life-threatening illness. Fear of failing with suicide and winding up in a persistent vegetative state kept me from trying anything dramtic. Instead, I embraced a variety of risk to attempt to escape the pain, which I have found is the most common reaction to homophobia and hate.

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