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My heart sank when I heard the tragic news about Calvin Walker-Hoover, an 11-year old from Springfield, Mass., who committed suicide because he was bullied by classmates that called him gay. I felt for his mother who intervened and actively sought support from school administrators to stop the namecalling, but to no avail.

Now, no less than two weeks later, another 11-year old boy, Jaheem Herrera, in Atlanta has also committed suicide because he was taunted and bullied by his classmates who called him gay. This is absolutely absurd. What is going on in our schools and with young people today? Are we really a society that has spun out of control and become that insensitive toward our youth?

Honestly, I can’t blame the young people because many of them don’t know any better. They don’t understand the meaning of the words “gay'” and “fag” and are only emulating adults who throw these hurtful and sometimes harmful words around casually.

I remember when I was young, me and my friends used  those words to describe other boys. I never really understood what a fag or gay was because no one ever educated me. I heard adults whisper these verbal assaults about neighborhood men without explanation. As young boys we simply created our own definition of their meaning, which meant always followed the crowd. We agreed on everything and shared the same interests including Kung Fu, play fighting, baseball and basketball. If you didn’t share that in common with us yu were outed or possibly ousted from our clique.

Today, many young men preface their conversations with “No homo” as if to exonerate themselves of any guilty association with homosexuality. So, it’s customary for a young man to use extreme precaution when commenting on another’s personal style with a macho disclaimer:  “No homo, but I like your shoes.” Newsflash: admiring another man’s shoes or jeans does not make one homosexual.

When you look at the heart-wrenching stories of Calvin and Jaheem, these boys were harassed based on an assertion made because of their attacker’s miseducation. Calvin was called gay and teased because of his attire, attending church regularly with his mom and volunteering locally. In Jaheem’s case, he was deemed a snitch and gay, which his peers probably equated his snitching with being gay. We all know that in the ‘hood, there is an absurd and asinine notion that if you report or recount someone’s unfavorable or unlawful actions, you are indeed a bitch-ass weakling.

So, let’s evaluate Calvin’s situation. Can a young child be called gay because of the way he dresses? I am certain Calvin’s mom like many mothers worked hard to dress her child in clean clothes so her son would be presentable when he attended school. I seriously doubt that she was shopping in the girls section for to outfit him. And because a boy is raised by a loving mother who is a devoted Christian and wants him to be a productive citizen is he too a punk? Isn’t that what every parent wants: a child who is a law abiding citizen, respectful of others and makes a positive contributes to the world positively.

Unfortunately, we have failed our children by not educating them on what gay or LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) and helping them to understand the dangers of bullying, name-calling, and threatening others can prove harmful and in most cases is considered a hate crime. Yes people, calling someone gay and harassing them is a hate crime.

In the mortal words of Bill Cosby: “Come on people! We’ve got to do better.”
For the sake of our young boys and men, let’s redefine manhood, masculinity, and sexuality. Just because a young boy does not display mannerisms of grabbing his crotch, speaking in slang, wearing his pants low enough to expose his ass, and harassing young women he is not gay. I have lots of male friends who lhave been raised in a single-parent home by their mothers. Occassionally these males display effeminate mannerisms, but again, that doesn’t make them gay. It’s fairly normal for a child to mimic his or her parents because everything we do is learned behavior. Therefore, there’s a great chance that a young boy raised by his mom might inherit some of her characteristics.

And another thing, not every male is into sports. That’s a myth in our community that all boys want to showcase athletic prowess. We are a diverse people with equally diverse interests. If your son is creative, then support his creativity because you never know what brilliant genius you might be nurturing. And stop telling your sons that boys don’t cry because it’s a sign of weakness–translation he’s a punk, soft, or a sissy. Real men do cry. Young boys are taught not to emote feelings: suck it up and keep it moving. Can you imagine how stifling that is to us? Instead of allowing ourselves to feel, we internalize the pain and hurt because we are too afraid to express our innermost feelings. All those bottled-up emotions cause us to become angry, hostile, and weeventually shutdown. Congratulations you’ve now homegrown the guarded, emotionally detached and poor communicator of a man that  many women complain about.

If only their schools had intervened and had an open discussion and educated the student body, perhaps Calvin and Jahem would still be living life sharing laughs and not their silent tears and blood with their classmates. Let’s not let their deaths be in vain and work together for the sake of  the future of our children and community. Who cares who’s gay or not? It’s about teaching tolerance and  respecting one another despite our differences. Sure you don’t have to agree with someone’s lifestyle, sexual orientation, culture, or religious beliefs, however, we live in a diverse world with diverse people. If you want your child to be able to function, live, and be productive in this world then you must be willing to empower your child with proper information about the real world and life.

Again, if you are unclear about something investigate, research, and ask someone. Once you’re informed, show your child some love by sitting him or her down and educating them about how they can coexist in this diverse world without exercising hate and intolerance that might eventually cause the senseless harm or death of any human being.

Terrence Dean is the author of “Hiding in Hip Hop” and suggests the following sites to begin your education and he hopes tolerance: National Black Justice Coalition at www.nbjcoalition.org; Human Rights Campaign at www.hrc.org; or the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation at www.glaad.org.