Coming Out Week: Candlelight Vigil Honors LGBT Suicide Victims

About fifty people crowded into the peace circle outside Usdan Monday evening to light candles in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Suicide Prevention Day and the five known LGBT teen suicides reported in the past month.

“People think that Brandeis’ queer community ends at Triskelion, but as you can see today, there are so many people here,” said Tommy Arnott ‘11, who took part in the vigil. “There are people who never come to Trisk, there are graduate students, and there are so many allies here today to help show that solidarity in the face of this tragedy across the nation.”

Triskelion, Brandeis’s alliance for queer and allied students, organized the vigil with Alison Better, the Intercultural Center’s Program Coordinator for Sexual and Gender Diversity.

“We added it at the very last minute,” said Mary Dunn ‘12, Triskelion’s general coordinator, “because of an address that the Department of Education made to address the issue of bullying within schools, which was made last Friday.”

Before a moment of silence, Dunn read the names of September’s five LGBT suicide victims aloud:

  • Asher Brown, 13, from Cypress, Texas, shot himself on Sept. 23. His family said the school district ignored repeated complaints about homophobic bullying at school.
  • Seth Walsh, 13, from Tehachapi, Calif., died on Sept. 28 after spending nine days on life support. Police say the teenagers who harassed Walsh didn’t expect him to attempt suicide and once told the news they “burst into tears,” according to NBC affiliate KGET.
  • Billy Lucas, 15, from Greensberg, Ind., died Sept. 9. He hanged himself after enduring anti-gay bullying.
  • Tyler Clementi, from Rutgers University in N.J., was 18 years old and died Sept. 22. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River after his roommate recorded an intimate encounter with him and another man and posted it online.
  • Raymond Chase, 19, went to Johnson and Wales in Providence, R. I. and hanged himself on Sept. 29.

“I, for one, am so sad and disappointed that there’s so much of a problem with bullying, and people feeling unsafe in our country,” said Dunn, in an address to the group. “It’s wonderful for us to all come together like this and give this moment to remember those who have died whether we know their suicide was from queer related issues or [not].”

As participants helped each other light candles, members of Triskelion read a handful of statistics provided by The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization devoted to suicide prevention among young LGBT people.

Not only are LGBT youth up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual and cisgendered peers, more than one-third of LGBT youth have reported a suicide attempt. The transgendered also have the highest suicide rate than any other group, and nearly half have seriously thought about taking their lives.

Some attending the vigil spoke to the crowd about the issue. Simon Zahn ‘12 described two projects Brandeis groups are developing to address homophobia and bullying.

“A few groups with the ICC are working on the anti-discrimination project that will do outreach to local high schools… on any form of discrimination such as homophobia, queerphobia, racism, sexism, anything like that,” he said.

Zahn added the Intercultural Center and the Queer Resources Center are developing a program that will match LGBT mentors with local high school students.

Other speakers encouraged the gathering to contact either the University’s counseling resources or peer counseling groups on campus with questions or concerns regarding friends or themselves. These groups include the Queer Resources Center, Student Sexuality Information Services, Students Talking About Relationships, and Brandeis Six-Talk.

Hannah Cross ‘11, another participant in the vigil, said in an interview that the event is an important part of Coming Out Week, Triskelion’s annual celebration of LGBT identity and pride.

“We, especially at Brandeis, live in a bubble, as people say,” Cross said. “Many of us have a positive experience in coming out… and we’re priveleged to be here. But we need to remember there are still problems. People in this country and others may not have the privelage of a safe environment.”

As a part of Coming Out Week, Lissa Young, a U.S. veteran, is speaking about the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy next Monday. Triskelion is also encouraging allies and members of the queer community to fill out squares of a “Coming Out Quilt.”

“Coming Out Week has come to encompass a lot more things,” said Cross. “It’s really Coming-Out-Two-Weeks because there’s so many events that are going on.”