22 July 2010

For Carl Walker-Hoover and Evelyn Hernandez

For the past two days, I was busy with the end of the course I've been teaching.  The nice thing about summer classes, especially the ones in the evening, are the students that take them.  The bad thing is that they're so rushed, especially at the end.

OK, so now I've given you an excuse about why I haven't posted during the last couple of days.  But there's another reason why I haven't posted:  I simply haven't thought much about the sorts of things I write in my posts, at least for this blog.

Today, though, I noticed some news coverage about a girl who'd been bullied and committed suicide.  You've probably heard about Phoebe Prince by now.  Of course, the suicide of any young person, or anyone is tragic and devastating to the people they leave behind. (Trust me, I know:  Two friends and three friendly acquaintances of mine ended their own lives.) But, I have to ask this question:  Why has her death garnered so much attention while comparatively few people have heard about Carl Walker-Hoover?

He lived not far from Phoebe Prince, and he was only eleven years old.  But, for starters, Phoebe looked like the sort of girl that anyone in "flyover country" would want as a daughter, sister, cousin, niece or pupil.  Not only was she pretty, she was--according to whom you believe--bullied for "taking" the boyfriends of other girls in her school.  And, on top of being straight, she was--although an immigrant--white.

On the other hand, Carl was taunted by other kids who perceived him as gay.  What many people forget is one doesn't have to be gay, lesbian or transgendered in order to suffer from bigotry and violence; rather, one only has to be perceived as non-heterosexual or non- cisgendred.   On top of his perceived identity, he had the cross of actually being part of another stigmatized group:  He was black.

The disparity between the amount of attention paid to the suicides of Phoebe Prince and Carl Walker-Hoover reminds me of a similar disparity between the coverage of the murders of Laci Peterson and Evelyn Hernandez, which occured only a few miles and months apart.  Both women were killed while pregnant; their bodies later washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay.  But, while Ms. Peterson was a pretty white (actually, mixed-race, but her facial features were Caucasian) woman who, as a teenager, had been a cheerleader in an upscale San Francisco suburb, Ms. Hernandez was a Salvadorean immigrant who lived and worked in the Outer Mission.

When I think of Carl Walker-Hoover and Evelyn Hernandez, I can't help but to think of just about any non-cisgendered person who was murdered or who, like one friend and one friendly acquaintance of mine, committed suicide over their gender identities.  One almost never hears about them outside of Transgender Day of Remembrance events.  And, too often, when LGBT people--or immigrants from Third-World countries or African-Americans-- are killed, many people believe they "had it coming to them" simply for being who they are--or being perceived as what they're not.  They do not get the sort of sympathy or generate the kind of outrage that Phoebe Prince and Laci Peterson did with their tragic deaths.  

Evelyn Peterson was just as much someone's wife and mother as Laci Peterson was.  Just as Phoebe Prince was someone's beloved child, so was Carl Walker-Hoover.  And so am I and so, I hope, are you.