Hundreds of people traded umbrellas for candles last night as they stood in the rain to commemorate the lives lost to suicide due to anti-LGBT bullying and discrimination.
The LGBT activist group Join the Impact Massachusetts teamed up with other organizations to hold the candlelight vigil at the Massachusetts State House and issue a call to action to stop the trend of bullying in schools.
Between Sept. 9 and Sept. 30, nine men—spanning the ages of 13 to 19 and representing a range of backgrounds—chose to end their lives rather than face continued harassment based on their sexuality. Two lesbian women, aged 17 and 21, were added to the death toll yesterday morning.
“This problem has been going on for so long, but it’s only in the last few weeks that we have realized its severity,” said David Mailloux, a co-chair of Join the Impact Massachusetts and lead vigil organizer. “We’re here to make people stop and think about how we can start making change in perceptions of LGBT people so that events like this do not continue.”
The vigil was organized to coincide with National Safe Schools Day, which recognizes the dual needs of building community and creating awareness about bullying in schools.
“This day of action brings to light that LGBT or perceived LGBT youth have allies in the community,” said Shannon Cuttle of the Safe Schools Action Network. “This signals the start of a campaign and movement building this school year to empower students, teachers and communities to create inclusive safe schools.”
As the vigil began, a sign stating “Equality For All—Join the Impact” was unfurled as the song “Lean on Me” played over the loudspeakers.
After Mailloux welcomed the vigil’s attendees with a plea for solidarity and a call to action, an array of speakers—including Gunner Scott of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and two transgender youths who discussed their own experiences with harassment—stood on the concrete ledge in front of the State House to speak out against violence and demand action to prevent it in the future.
Susan J. Hyde of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said that although Massachusetts is the first state to have legalized same-sex marriage and to have an anti-bullying law on the books, implementation of the law is neither funded nor staffed. She called on attendees to demand the enforcement of anti-bullying laws and to speak out against homophobia, from the words of some politicians and religious leaders condemning LGBT people as “morally bankrupt” to the frequent schoolyard insult, “that’s so gay.”
“With this kind of inflammatory rhetoric,” she said, “It should be no surprise that kids are still bullied and sometimes buried. We should be outraged.”
While outrage was a rallying sentiment of attendees and speakers, others emphasized hope for change.
“We will be silent no longer,” said Reverend Jack P. Lewis of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley, Mass., at the end of the moment of silence that began the vigil. “We will stand united as a community and say to these youth, you are not alone. You don’t need to live in your closet, and you certainly don’t need your closet to become your coffin.”
Ryan A. Hanley ’12, a co-founder of Join the Impact Massachusetts, said that the number of people who showed up to the vigil highlighted not only the tragedy of the recent weeks’ suicides, but the drive to change the status quo.
“Not only are we paying tribute to the people who have died,” he said. “We’re also standing in solidarity with the people who are still alive and face this culture of homophobia every day.” —Staff writer Alice E.M. Underwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.