Students and Administrators Light Candles of Hope for LGBT Community

The steps of Memorial Church shone with over 200 candles at last night’s Queer and Allied Candlelight Vigil, where members of the Harvard community gathered to reflect on anti-LGBT sentiment and inspire the people huddled on the steps to action.

The vigil was planned to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was tortured to death in Laramie, Wyoming.

“Despite everything Matthew faced, he found a way to be exactly who he was,” said Susan B. Marine, Assistant Dean of Student Life and Director of the Harvard College Women’s Center.

Marine emphasized the importance of being able to “love ourselves” in the face of homophobia, but added that “it’s not enough to love ourselves—we have to love each other too.”

Other speakers included Ian K. Lekus, a lecturer in the History and Literature Department, Lowell House Masters Dorothy A. Austin and Diana L. Eck, five BGLTS tutors and proctors, and several others.

“All the people gathered here are evidence of the fact that you are loved deeply by people you hardly know,” said Eliot House Tutor Michael C. McGaghie ’01, asking resident tutors, deans, and faculty to raise their hands. Sixty or more hands went into the air. “We value you, and don’t forget that,” he said.

Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson added that while Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds was unable to attend last night’s vigil, she had expressed her deep care for the LGBT community.

“Our commitment to justice and nonviolence is a way to create better understanding,” Nelson said.

That sentiment was further conveyed by Matthew P. Cavedon ’11, vice president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Association.

“We disagree on many things,” he said, “but every one of you is my brother and my sister and I hope to give you the kind of love I wish those no longer with us could have known.”

Messages of hope were mixed with recollections of recent and past violence. Sara Kimmel, a psychologist at Harvard University Health Services, recalled a violent homophobic attack early in her Harvard career, and noted the recent incidents of bias on Harvard campus.

“Homophobia and heterosexism exist outside, but they’re here at Harvard too,” Kimmel said, adding that the entire Harvard community is responsible for creating a safe environment on campus.

“We urge anyone in this community who is at risk or contemplating suicide to reach out.

We are here for each other and stand together in total solidarity,” Austin said, leading the assembly in lifting their candles skyward.

As the candles burned down to their wicks, QSA Co-Chair Emma Q. Wang ’12 called on faculty to increase resources for the LGBT community.

“We don’t want this to end with the end of this vigil,” she said. “This is a small space but the world is big, and we need to take our vigilance, our words, and our action beyond these steps and out into that world.”

—Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at aeunderw@fas.harvard.edu.

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