Bullying Abroad: Swedish Boy, 6, Attacked for Wearing Pink

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Feb 14, 2011

The plight of GLBT youth has come into the spotlight in the United States due to a wave of suicides last fall. But the problem is international in scope--as was evidenced by an incident in Sweden in which a 6-year-old boy was stabbed in the neck by a classmate because he liked pink clothing and dance, AOL News reported on Feb. 11.

The child, who was identified in the article by the named Oskar, had previously told his parents that classmates taunted him, calling him gay and saying that he was a girl because of his love of pink clothing and nail polish. Oskar also liked ballet, the article said.

The attacker used a blunt knife in the attack, but the stabbing blow to Oskar's neck still resulted in an injury, albeit a minor one, according to Swedish newspaper Jönköpings-Posten. English language news resource the Local reported that the stabbing attack was viewed as "a small incident" by the school's personnel. Oskar's parents disagreed: They pulled their son from the school.

"I don't want to have my child at a school which considers a stab with a knife to be a 'small incident,' " the mother of the young boy told the press. The parents have gone to the government with a complaint against the school.

The stabbing took place at a school in in Jönköping, a town in central Sweden, the Local reported. Oskar had been a target for "regular bullying," including a previous incident of violence in the schoolyard.

Among reader comments at the Local's site was one remark blaming the child's parents for allowing him to wear pink and therefore be a target for bullying. Another responded by writing, "Granted, most of us wouldn't let our kids do that because of the bullying that could happen--but that doesn't make parents who DO let their kids [dress in pink] stupid. Rather it makes the perpetrators of the bullying the ones at fault. In this day & age we should live and let live, and it's OTHER people's problem (i.e the bullies) if it's not what they like to look at."

Added the respondent, "I've NEVER known a small boy have pink painted nails. Oh, I tell a lie. I met a young boy who was into that stuff. And you know what? He WAS gay, his parents knew that too."

"All boys go through this kind of phase if they have older sisters or a mother that wear feminine clothes and make up," opined another reader, going on to speculate that, "perhaps it is a reflection that gender stereotyping and discrimination is rife in Sweden and being propagated through our very small vulnerable members of society via their own parents who campaign for less discrimination."

"Poor boy," wrote another. "Destined to become a famous fashion designer. In 50 years we'll read this incident in his best-selling biography."

The response in America to last fall's wave of reports on youth suicides spurred new anti-bullying legislation and a popular online campaign, called "It Gets Better," in which video messages encourage desperate GLBT youths not to kill themselves because they will one day grow into happy adults. The campaign has also spawned a forthcoming book, also titled It Gets Better, which collects a number of essays recounting early life struggles with sexual orientation and social acceptance. The book is scheduled for release next month.

Media attention to the issue reached a peak following the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who leapt to his death last Sept. 22 from the George Washington Bridge, which connects Northern New Jersey with New York City.

GLBT equality groups responded with outrage, citing not only Clementi's suicide, but also those of the others. "Today, as we heard news of the fourth apparent teenage suicide in recent weeks, following antigay bullying and harassment, we felt overwhelming grief and anger," a statement from Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg read. The statement was emailed to recipients on Sept. 29, 2010.

"Losing one young person because of bigotry and hate is too much," Gorenberg's statement continued, "but two, three, four? Each person and story is unique and tragic, but taken together, they deliver a powerful and painful message: We must act urgently and do everything in our power to end the prejudice and protect our youth.

"Our hearts and sympathies are with the families and loved ones of the four young people who took their lives," added Gorenberg. "Seth Walsh, 13 years old, of Tehachapi CA, who hanged himself; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Indiana, who also hanged himself; Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, who shot himself in the head; and Tyler Clementi, a college freshman in New Jersey who apparently jumped off the George Washington Bridge after classmates allegedly violated his privacy and web cast live images of him in a sexual encounter.

"But sympathy is not enough--we all have a responsibility to take action, and to keep working until all young people are safe and respected, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity," Gorenberg added. "We must push for laws on the federal level and in every state that prohibit bullying and discrimination. We must hold people accountable, and use the courts when necessary. And most importantly, we must love and teach all our children to be their best selves and to respect and support others to do the same."

Young Victims, Ongoing Violence

Nationally, children as young as 11 have committed suicide in recent years, after having endured relentless bullying at school. The bullying often takes the form of anti-gay taunts and harassment, even when the children being bullied are not gay. Groups such as the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) seek to provide educational materials in order to promote a safe learning environment in the schools, but some schools have policies in place that deny students classroom learning about human sexual diversity.

In two separate incidents in different parts of the country, two youths, both 15 years old, hanged themselves after enduring anti-gay bullying at school. Justin Aaberg, a student in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota who had come out as gay two years earlier and endured anti-gay harassment at school ever since, hanged himself last summer. Media reports said that the Anoka-Hennepin district had seen a "record number" of suicides among students, with most of the youths who took their own lives being gay.

"I actually thought he had the perfect life," said Aaberg's mother, Tammy Aaberg, who discovered her son's dead body on July 9, 2010. "I thought out of anybody I knew that he had the perfect life. But I guess he didn't think so."

On Sept. 9--two months to the day after Tammy Aaberg found her son dead in his bedroom--a mother in Indiana found her 15-year-old son, Billy Lucas, dead in the family's barn, where he had hanged himself. Billy had suffered ongoing--and worsening--anti-gay harassment, even though he never said he was gay. But other students assumed that he was, and taunted him for it, news reports said.

"People would call him 'fag' and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he's different basically," said Dillen Swingo, a fellow student at Greensburg High School. "They said stuff like 'you're like a piece of crap' and 'you don't deserve to live.' Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever."

Some students reportedly told the Billy to kill himself on the day he hanged himself, media reports said. Moreover, whereas the school's administration claimed ignorance about the harassment Billy faced, the students all seemed to know about it. "We were not aware of that situation," Principal Phil Chappel told a local news station.

In Texas, Asher Brown, 13, was bullied at two different schools before he shot himself with his stepfather's gun on Sept. 23, 2010. His parents said that despite their efforts to get school administrators to intervene, their son suffered "relentless" bullying because he dressed differently. Asher's parents said that he came out to them as gay shortly before he killed himself.

California youth Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself from a tree in his family's back yard on Sept. 19, 2010. He was taken to the hospital where he spent over a week in intensive care before dying on Sept. 27. According to his friends, Seth had been targeted for bullying and harassment because he was gay. The boy's friends also told the news channel that the school's staff and administration had not intervened on behalf of the boy.

An earlier spate of youth suicides claimed victims as young as eleven in 2009. Georgia fifth-grader Jeheem Herrera hanged himself in April of 2009 after enduring anti-gay abuse at school. Herrera's mother told the media that when she asked a friend of her son's about the suicide, the friend said to her, "He told me that he's tired of everybody always messing with him in school." The friend added, "He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself."

Herrera's death followed the April 6, 2009, hanging death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in Massachusetts. Walker-Hoover suffered anti-gay taunts at school despite his mother's reported "weekly" attempts to get the school's administration to intervene.

The rate of suicides among teenagers is higher for GLBT youths, according to a U. S. Department of Health and Human Services website.

GLBT youths face violence at the hands of schoolmates far more often than they kill themselves, but sometimes the violence that others inflict can be just as deadly. Lawrence King, 15, was shot in the head by Brandon McInerney, 14, on Feb. 12, 2008, at E. O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California. King had reportedly been harassed and bullied by his classmates over a long period of time, and had begun to strike back by flirting with his tormentors. McInerney was reportedly enraged by King's flirtations, and shot him twice in the head as the school's students were taking their homeroom seats.

Media stories cited King's friends as recounting that anti-gay taunts and harassment targeting King had been ongoing by other students, and said that the school's teachers had been aware of what was going on.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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