The following is an open letter sent from GLSEN Board Member Sirdeaner Walker to Focus on the Family Education Analyst Candi Cushman in response to recent media comments by Ms. Cushman about GLSEN's work to ensure that all students are safe in school.
Dear Ms. Cushman,
I am Sirdeaner Walker, a church-going Christian and mother of four. In many ways, I am probably very much like you. I felt compelled to write to you after seeing you on Anderson Cooper 360 speaking out against something near and dear to my heart -- federal anti-bullying legislation known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act.
You may recognize my name from the footage Anderson used to introduce the segment. One of my beautiful children, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, took his life a year and a half ago after being bullied at school. He was 11 years old.
Carl's classmates tormented him with anti-gay slurs. As I've learned through my work with GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, this is one of the most common forms of bullying, and, as in my son's case, schools rarely do anything about it. That's why it's so important to actually name the problems when we talk about this public health crisis.
There are still good days and bad days for me and my family. Monday was one of the hardest.
I should have been picking Carl up on his first day of school. Instead, I found myself meeting with the US Secretary of Education to talk about Carl's life and death and what we can do to try to make schools safer and better for our children.
After the meeting, I went to Carl's grave and just cried.
I can't explain it but I know that God has put me on this journey for a reason. I think of all the hardships I've been through and survived by the grace of God, and I know He was preparing me for this most difficult challenge.
With that in mind, let me get to the point of this letter.
I want to extend an invitation to talk. I want to share Carl's story with Focus on the Family. I want to tell you how much Carl loved God and how he looked forward to Sunday school and especially to our Christmas and Easter plays.
I want to share with you the power of God's love and how Carl did not deserve to go to school every day in an unsafe environment where staff did not address anti-gay remarks. This language is what children hear from their parents, media and religious organizations instead of lessons about God's love for all sinners including themselves.
I am extremely grateful that I have these opportunities to make change, and to all of my friends at GLSEN who have given me the support I have so desperately needed over the past 18 months. I want to share all of this with you because my faith compels me to and because I believe Carl would have wanted me to. We must find common ground on this very clear and righteous purpose, and I invite you to join me in working toward real solutions that work.
You can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to your response.
Mother and GLSEN Board Member