Bullying’s grim consequences continue

Gabriel Taye at age 6. (Courtesy of Jennifer L. Branch)

Samantha Schmidt Reports at WaPo:

Security camera footage captured the scene in a Cincinnati elementary school bathroom on Jan. 24. But as the school has so far declined to release the video, precisely what it shows is in dispute.

What is not in dispute, however, is the fact that one of the boys in the video, 8-year-old Gabriel Taye, was found unconscious in that bathroom and that he took his own life two days later.

“How does an 8-year-old become so hopeless?” asks the attorney for Gabriel’s family.

GLAA President Guillaume Bagal writes, “So many heartbreaking things about this story. RIP Gabriel. Speak up against bullying, and teach your children to do the same.”

As I read this latest heartbreaking story about a child who (it certainly appears) couldn’t overcome bullying, and couldn’t tell his mother about it, I think back on my own childhood, and the amount of energy I had to spend avoiding bullies. I was lucky, partly because I could run fast, because I managed to handle the bullies (allowing some of them to copy my homework), and because of my strong innate independent-mindedness. I knew I was gay from an early age, and while I knew I would get in trouble if anyone found out, I never thought there was anything wrong with me. Some of the bullying back then was by nuns at school, not on the playground or in bathrooms but through intimidation in the classroom. My outrage at that abuse of authority probably helped me avoid despair, and eventually fueled my activism. Many other children were not so lucky.

Thinking of the tragic loss of this sweet child who seemed so full of light and possibility, I cannot do better than a pair of columns I wrote eight years ago, “Strange Fruit” and “Captive Audience,” written after similar suicides driven by bullying. In the second piece, I quoted a then-upcoming play by D.C. playwright Alan Sharpe, a winner of GLAA’s Distinguished Service Award for his dozens of plays about the black gay experience. The play he wrote for the 2009 Black Pride weekend, “Play Ball,” was inspired by a black gay child’s bullying-driven suicide. He was generous enough to share with me a draft of the play for my column.

All these years later, the tragedy keeps happening. The visiting high school students from the Bronx I met with recently wanted to know how to stop bullying. I talked about D.C.’s Bullying Prevention Act, but I also talked about how hard bullying is to deal with. I am afraid we are leaving terrible unfinished business to the next generation.

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