Several hundred people turned out on a rainy Tuesday night-October 5th-blanketing the sidewalks in front of the Massachusetts State House in a memorial for the multiple recent gay teen suicides that have shaken the nation’s LGBT community to a degree not seen since the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. A total of ten lives (see list below) have been cut short because of homophobia and anti-gay bullying, a longtime scourge that has exploded into public view over the past month. Join the Impact MA organized the vigil to pay tribute to the victims, denounce the homophobia that made life unbearable for them, and provide a venue where members of the Massachusetts LGBT community could console each other over the tragedies.
The rally began with music-Emcee David Mailloux, Co-Chair of the Join the Impact MA led the crowd in a sing-a-long of Christina Aguilera’s affirmational anthem Beautiful. Speaker after speaker called for community solidarity in the face of the homophobia that drives LGBT youth to their deaths. The Rev. Jack Lewis of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Wellesley declared that no LGBT person need feel alone-we’ve come together in unity in response to the hatred against us and we need to watch each other’s backs. Gunner Scott of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition decried the lack of legal protection for transgender youth in Massachusetts, and introduced two trans youth who told personal stories of being bullied and beaten for their gender identity.
Several speakers demanded action on federal anti-bullying legislation to augment the state protections enacted in Massachusetts earlier this year. Sue Hyde of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Mass Equality noted that the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth made recommendations 16 years ago to create safer schools for LGBT youth in Massachusetts, and yet Carl Walker-Hoover killed himself in 2009 after being mercilessly bullied. She demanded budgetary support for the Massachusetts LGBT Youth Commission to help it prioritize implementation of the state’s new anti-bullying law and ensure that LGBT youth are protected. Chris Mason, a co-founder of JTIMA, urged attendees to follow the MBTA’s advice-if you see something, say something-and reach out to our brothers and sisters in trouble.
JTIMA activist Amirah Goldberg described anti-LGBT bullying and suicide as inevitable outcomes of governmental policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that treat LGBT people as second class citizens. She urged the crowd to get involved with JTIMA in a new initiative to increase resources and support for homeless queer youth. Speakers Adora Asala of Queer Women of Color and Jim Reef of JTIMA both talked about having attempted suicide as teens. Adora spoke of the shame she still felt, while Jim credited the Boston Alliance of LGBT Youth for saving his life. Daunasia Yancy of BAGLY stressed that there is much to be done to improve the lives of vulnerable youth, and each of us has a responsibility to make it happen. Keegan O’Brien, a student at UMass/Boston told the crowd that we can have an impact by protesting, marching, sitting-in, and chaining ourselves to the White House fence. An open microphone speak-out followed, in which individuals were invited to share personal stories of surviving homophobia and bullying.
Join the Impact MA www.jointheimpactma.com is a local grassroots organization that traces its origins to the historic wave of community organizing that followed on passage of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, dubbed “Stonewall 2.0″ by the New York Times. JTIMA participated in the multi-organizational coalition that led the successful fight for comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in Massachusetts. The group has confronted homophobia in a series of actions over the past 2 years, with the ex-gay movement a particular target for its dissemination of negative attitudes about homosexuality.
In September, 2010, 9 gay teens killed themselves over a span of 22 days. Here is the list of names of recent victims whose suicides were related to homophobia and anti-gay bullying:
Justin Aaberg (15) July 9, 2010, Minnesota
Billy Lucas (15) September 9, 2010. Indiana
Cody J. Barker (17) September 13, 2010. Wisconsin
Seth Walsh (13) September 19, 2010. California
Tyler Clementi (18) September 22, 2010. New Jersey
Asher Brown (13) September 23, 2010. Texas
Harrison Chase Brown (15) September, 25 2010. Colorado
Raymond Chase (19) September 29, 2010. Rhode Island
Felix Sacco (17) September 29, 2010. Massachusetts
Caleb Nolt (14) September 30, 2010. Indiana
Don Gorton for Join the Impact MA