LGBT vigil honors lives, inspires change

LGBT+vigil+honors+lives%2C+inspires+change

Denton Zhou

During the month of September, at least six individuals under the age of 20 committed suicide in part because of homophobic bullying. Last Monday’s candlelight vigil was held to both honor their memory and raise awareness of LGBT issues.

Tyler Hoffman, Staff Reporter

“We stand here tonight to speak out against what is really the unspeakable,” associate

provost Lynn Singer proclaimed to a crowd of students, faculty, and community members at the

anti-LGBT bullying candlelight vigil on Monday, Oct. 11. Uniting straight allies, concerned

individuals, and members of the LGBT community, Monday night’s event, which took place on

the KSL oval, inspired personal reflection and calls for change.

 

The ceremony brought together not only the CWRU campus, but it incorporated and

attracted people from across Cleveland and the state of Ohio. A collaboration with LGBT

Cleveland State University Student Services, the vigil received valuable support at the CWRU

level from numerous campus offices, organizations, and student groups. Multiple members of

university administration were present, including vice president for inclusion, diversity and equal

opportunity Marilyn Mobley, among others. Bon Appétit management company also aided the

event through a donation of apple cider.

 

University faculty members, including LGBT Center interim program coordinator Liz

Roccoforte, coordinator of first year education Vicky Wright, and assistant director of affinity

programs Emily Cole, played key roles in making this program a reality.

 

A proactive reaction to the six known LGBT suicides that plagued the month

of September, Monday’s vigil brought unparalleled awareness to the unwarranted and

discriminatory treatment of those who identify themselves as LGBT. Raymond Chase,19, Cody

J. Barker, 17, Billy (William) Lucas, 15, Seth Walsh, 13, Tyler Clementi, 18, and Asher Brown,

13, each committed suicide in September partially as a consequence of the bullying and tormenting they

sustained because of their actual or socially-perceived sexual orientations.

 

“We gather to honor their lives and stand in solidarity against the hate toward LGBT,”

Roccoforte said to a crowd of solemn onlookers. While a lighting of candles symbolized the

lives lost, addresses by undergraduate student government president Minh-Tri Nguyen and RHA

president Lillian Zamecnik demanded action.

 

Illuminating the need for people to pause and work to prevent these bullying events in

the future, Nguyen conveyed the words of a gay rights activist who encouraged LGBT teenagers

to refrain from suicide and realize that their situation will improve after high school. “ We can

speak to victims of hate crimes and tell them it will get better after high school, but then what

do you do and what do you say to students that also have this concern in college?,” Nguyen

asked. “Why should anyone wait that long to feel the same confidence and support that others

seem to be born with?,” he added.

 

Supporting the university dedication to inclusion and diversity, Nguyen encouraged the

campus to maintain a sense of openness and to participate in the national conversation on gay

bullying. “Tonight we make it evident that while we are students of varying profiles, we stand

together to abate the hate crimes that hinder our advancements as educated individuals,” he

concluded. “Methods of bullying have changed. Our obligation as supporting members of the

overall community will not.”

 

In order to reinforce the concept of a tolerant and supportive community, RHA president

Zamecnik presented valuable definitions of this ideal as it pertains to the situation at hand. “In a

community, every member is important and unique and contributes something to the mix like no

one else,” Zamecnik explained.

 

Given that CWRU is working to construct an inclusive and compassionate environment,

Zamecnik articulated student responsibility to ensuring the health and vitality of the CWRU

campus. “The hate, intolerance, and bullying that lead to the tragic deaths of these young men

have no place at our university,” she stressed.

 

Following the speeches of Nguyen and Zamecnik, Eris Dyson, from the Diversity Center

for Northeast Ohio, read an emotional poem entitled An Elegy for Six. Addressing each of the

six victims by name, it begged forgiveness for the lack of understanding and overwhelming

bigotry that plagued these youth and others just like them.

 

The vigil proceeded with multiple artistic performances and informational speeches. To honor Tyler

Clementi, an accomplished violin player, and the other young men, Case Western Reserve

University’s own Renee Blackburn played a selection from Bach on the violin. Also, Reverend

Colin Bossen, representing the Unitarian Universalist Church, informed the audience that there

are multiple religious outlets for those seeking support and acceptance. “Everyone is part of

the same human family and together we are stronger when we love each other than when we

succumb to fear,” he said.

 

In accordance with the overall theme of reflection, a second poem was recited by

Fatima Espiritu, a CWRU senior. “I think we’re giving so much silence and so much thought

and so much light to these people,” she said prior to reciting her poem. “They’re much more

undiluted than words. They’re much more undiluted than these things we use to hurt one

another.” Espiritu entitled her poem, It Won’t Be a Very Happy Poem, for this was her first

expression when she was asked to write the piece.

 

“I hope as you walk away tonight you take these words to heart…and don’t forget what

you learned,” Roccoforte said in conclusion. “The LGBT Center opened at the beginning of the

school year and it’s there for anyone: faculty, staff, or students who need support, want questions

answered, or need resources. Also, the counseling center is open to everyone on campus,” she

noted.

 

A vigil that combined sorrowful information with tangible information, the event ended

on a musical note of hope with a performance by singer/songwriter Brynna Fish. Performing

the lesbian anthem, she inspired the crowd through her lyrics and encouragement of audience

participation.

 

Fish had been in Youngstown, OH at a similar LGBT rally earlier that day and noted

a drastic difference between the two events. “There was not quite as much energy there as

there was here,” she explained. She notes that there were only approximately 30 people at the

Youngstown rally, which, per capita, she believes is on par with the attendance at the CWRU

vigil.

 

“Here there is a sense of pride and solidarity in wanting to make sure that we are both

speaking out and honoring the people that took their own lives,” Fish articulated. It is this

quality that Fish hopes will prevent more similar tragedies from occurring in the future. For

someone that is struggling with anti-LGBT bullying, Fish recommends that he or she call a hot-

line or reach out to the LGBT center on campus.

 

In attendance at the vigil were not only CWRU students and faculty members, but

Cleveland locals. Mark Jefferson, an alumnus of Cleveland State University, viewed the vigil as

another example of a necessary safe place for LGBT. He stresses the importance of teaching

heterosexual individuals the importance of becoming allies for the LGBT cause. “I think one

of the key things is teaching straight people how to be allies and educate them on what an

ally is,” Jefferson said. “However, it is equally important that a gay, bisexual, or transgender

person doesn’t undermine their own self-determination and resilience in the process,” he added.

 

Celena Kopinsky, a CWRU undergraduate, also attended the vigil. “Anyone can be

involved in a positive way,” Kopinsky said. “People need to stop being fearful and speak out

when they here someone use an anti-LGBT slur or make a derogatory remark in public, even

if someone says it without realizing the weight of its meaning….this is how CWRU can continue

changing its community for the better.”