Gay suicides spark upset

Burlington students, faculty and community members filled the lawn of the Allen House on Oct. 4, marking the start of National Coming Out Week/Suicide Prevention Week. With candles and signs reading “STOP HATE” and “Silence is Deadly,” roughly 300 individuals walked from the lawn to the green for an 8 p.m. candlelight vigil. Outright Vermont, LGBTQA Center, Free2B and other UVM groups co-hosted the vigil to honor the lives and mourn the loss of youth that have committed suicide in the past month. “In answer to all the questions floating around about why six gay and two lesbian youth killed themselves this past month, just look around at most community institutions,” Director of LGBTQA Services Dot Brauer said.   “The organizations we trust to keep people safe and whole: schools, police, churches, local, state and national governments too often are the very places where intolerance originates,” Brauer said. Individuals including Asher Brown, age 13, from Texas; Billy Lucas, age 15, from Indiana; Seth Walsh, age 13, from California; and Tyler Clementi, age 18, from New Jersey were mourned at the vigil. All experienced bullying and harassment because they were either gay or perceived to be gay, Brauer said. In the case of Tyler Clementi, it started with a Twitter message on Sept. 19, according to The New YorkTimes. “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” Clementi’s roommate tweeted, according to The New York Times. That night, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet, authorities said.     Three days later, Clementi commited suicide, jumping from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. The vigil also honored the lives of youth lost to suicide that did not make national news. “We tell everyone, especially youth, to ‘be yourself,'” guest speaker and author Jan Donnely said. “We are here to say that ‘be yourself’ is not a lie we tell our children, each other and ourselves.” Voluntary speakers made comments addressing the recent suicides. “A lot of us have been through this, have had to deal with significant loss as a result of suicide,” Vice President of Free2B Rachel Koh said. “We all have a reason for being here.” “When I was too close, an angel threw me to the ground and held me there while I was kicking and screaming, pleading with them. Always take notice to other’s emotions; you could someday be the angel who saves a life,” Koh said.     UVM was one of the first schools in the country to recognize National Coming Out Day with campus programming to raise awareness about LGBTQA issues and identities. “What UVM students have to offer — support — is priceless. I wish these students had what I have found here, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here today,” junior Alex Lopez said. National Coming Out Week is about visibility. For LGBTQA, visibility is about saving lives. LGBTQA is currently celebrating 20 years of visibility at UVM, according to the LGBTQA website. “We are fortunate in Vermont that many more community institutions are LGBTQA affirming than in most places,” Brauer said. “And yet, even in Vermont LGBTQA youth are bullied, end up in foster care and resort to suicide far more often than their heterosexual peers.” For those who are suffering, many resources are available to give support, Brauer said. “Know that there are many people who support you. Reach out for help to Outright Vermont (865-9677), or the LGBTQA Center (656-8637) the Counseling Center (656-3340) at UVM, or the Trevor Project (1-866-4-U-TREVOR) for immediate help 24 hours a day,” she said in an e-mail. “No matter how bad it feels right now, pick up the phone and call. You will be so glad you did.”