Remembering Matteo, a victim of homophobia at school

Article translated by Peter Luntz
In 2007, young Matteo took his own life following homophobic bullying by schoolmates. Gay Christians from Florence’s Kairos group were so shaken by this absurd tragedy that, as his funeral was being held, they launched the idea of planning regular vigils in memory of all victims of homophobia.
They asked themselves, “Our Catholic pastors are usually so vocal about anything to do with homosexuality. Why is it they have nothing to say about Matteo?”. This is the story of how ecumenical prayer vigils and worship services got started in 2007.
The aim of these yearly functions is to remember victims of homophobia all over Italy and in cities worldwide in the days leading up to the International Day Against Homophobia (17 May). Who is Matteo? Who was this boy whose suicide gave rise to these prayer vigils? What is his story?.

Turin Boy Kills Himself After School Bullying
Article by Vera Schiavazzi*, taken from Corriere Della Sera newspaper, April 5, 2007.

“You like guys, you’re gay…” Followed by crass jokes and harsh words. Perhaps his classmates didn’t realize how much their name-calling truly hurt this 16 year-old boy. Matteo was a student at a technical high school in Turin, Italy and a year and a half of bullying at school was just too much for him to handle.
On Tuesday, April 3, 2007, he decided to put an end to it. He stabbed himself in the chest first, and then jumped out a window of his family’s fourth floor apartment.

Doctors at the hospital spent hours doing their best to save him, but nothing could be done. Matteo died shortly thereafter. The prosecutor’s office closed their case, ruling the death a suicide. Further evidence was provided by a letter giving the details of his decision. It was full of all the sarcasm and bittersweet emotions of a teenager. And at the end of his letter was his sad conclusion, “I can’t take it anymore.”

Luisa, Matteo’s mother (these names are fictitious), came to Italy from the Philippines over twenty years ago. (…) Matteo was her second child and the one that did the best at school:
“The problems — his mother recounted in tears — started over a year ago during his first year of high school. My son was a sweet, sensitive boy who never raised his voice. He didn’t get involved in certain things and never fought with anyone. His classmates singled him out as someone to pick on … ».

Luisa didn’t just stand by and watch all this happen. She spoke to her son at length and listened to his stories of what was going on at school. Then she went to school and met with the school’s Vice-Principal, who was also Matteo’s teacher.

Things got better for a while; at least that’s what it seemed like. (…) The Principal recalls that thin, quiet and studious boy very well. “Matteo did very well at school. He made good marks and got a perfect mark in Conduct. Thinking back, his sensitivity could have been hiding a very fragile side, but here at school it mostly played out in his studies and his closely following the rules.
We are very upset and saddened by this. We have spoken with Matteo’s mother recently and we are ready to clarify any information that might help reconstruct the dynamics of this tragedy.”

Luisa lives just a few blocks away from the school and those her other two children attend. She cannot find peace after her loss and recalls the bullying that had started up again this year. “I would tell him: ‘Matteo, don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with you, try to make friends with your classmates, go out…
But he wasn’t able to follow my advice. After school, he would come home right away, play on his computer or watch DVDs.  Sometimes, he would cry, and then he’d say, ‘It’s nothing, Mom, everything’s ok.’ I would push him to get out of the house. I did get him to go to the swimming pool twice a week…”

On Monday morning, Matteo left home at 8 o’clock as usual, but then he changed his mind and came back home. He said, “Mom, I don’t want to go to school, I’m tired, I need to rest. “ He was such a good boy, his marks were so high, that Luisa wasn’t worried.
On Tuesday morning,  Matteo reassured his mother , “It’s ok, I’ll go over my lessons and then go to school. Go to work, don’t worry.” He waited until she left home, and then he killed himself. The letter he wrote, which is now in the police’s hands, was his last desperate accusation.