More than 200 people gathered in the Pit on Thursday for a candle-lit vigil to honor the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens who recently committed suicide.
The vigil, hosted by UNC’s Gay Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance and multicultural sorority Theta Nu Xi, drew attendees from both the University and the surrounding communities.
Attendees embraced and comforted one another as the names and circumstances of the victims, including former Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, were read aloud.
They also lit candles and sang the hymn “We Shall Overcome,” followed by a moment of silence for the lives lost.
“It allows us a chance to publicly be visible and to share a moment to support one another and to call each other to action,” said Terri Phoenix, director of UNC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt stressed the need to continue working toward acceptance and praised Chapel Hill’s tolerance of LGBT individuals.
“We can be proud of the community we’ve built in Chapel Hill,” he said.
Kleinschmidt is the fifth openly-gay state official elected in North Carolina.
“I’m never going to forget what it was like not to be out,” he added.
“I know that I was very lucky to be in this community when I came out,” he said.
Speakers at the vigil cited the 2009 National School Climate Survey, which states that 84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
“I think in general, because of this culture where it’s assumed that everyone is heterosexual until stated otherwise, that this bullying and harassment is prevalent,” said Danny DePuy, assistant director of UNC’s LGBTQ Center.
“I don’t think that these suicides are exceptional, just now being reported in the news,” she added.
Though the suicides did not occur within the campus community, attendees said they felt the effects.
“I just started kind of crying,” said freshman Cary Simpson. “I always think of my best friend and what would happen if he killed himself because he was harassed.”
“It’s made everyone really realize the need for acceptance. Made the gay community on campus a little louder on the need for unity.”
Attendees embraced and comforted one another as the names and circumstances of the victims were read aloud.
“It’s not about the people that were here,” said Jeff DeLuca, co-president of GLBTSA. “It’s about the people who wanted to be here but couldn’t because they were afraid.
“I just really hope that someone heard us singing tonight and feels a sense of encouragement that they didn’t have before.”
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