GV hosts vigil to honor LGBT youth

Students gather to honor and remember 6 LGBT students who have recently committed suicide due to harassment they have received.

Matthew Raupp

Students gather to honor and remember 6 LGBT students who have recently committed suicide due to harassment they have received.

Hope Cronkright

About 400 people gathered around the Cook Carillion tower for a Candlelight Vigil Tuesday night to memorialize the seven lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth suicides in the past two weeks.

Those in attendance honored the lives of the seven youth suicides with a silent walk around campus with candles in hand, symbolizing a recommitment to promoting awareness and acceptance of the LGBT and other marginalized communities.

GVSU counsel Tom Butcher spoke on President Thomas Haas’ and Vice President JeAnne Arnold’s behalf saying, “Our institutional mission is to educate students to shape their lives… and diversity must be valued as an integral part of that education.”

“The message is clear from the President’s office down and reflected in our policies.” said Colette Seguin Beighley, assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center at GVSU. “I can say that Grand Valley State University is committed to inclusion of ALL our students — including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.”

GVSU student Ryan Cronk agreed with Beighley.

“I am very glad that as a university we are able to step up and say we are here for you, we support you,” he said.

Recent studies show that LGBT persons are four times more likely to commit suicide than other teenagers. Eight out of 10 LGBT teenagers have reported being bullied.

“The role of bystanders is a paramount,” Beighley said. “It is the responsibility of every member of our Grand Valley community to challenge bias when they see or hear it. By doing so, we all work to make Grand Valley a place that welcomes all.”

The Consortium of Higher Ed LGBT Resource Professionals stated those who fail to intervene when they see this type of harassment are perpetuating the violence.

“We see this kind of targeting every day when politicians such as Carl Paladino, gubernatorial candidate for New York, blame acts of hate on the victims rather than the perpetrators as he did this weekend,” Beighley said. “That kind of public devaluing of the experience of another sends a toxic message to LGBT youth that there is a price to be paid simply for being who you are.”

The vigil was in memorium of the lives of 13-year-old Seth Walsh, who passed after he spent nine days on life support after trying to hang himself from a tree in his backyard on Sept. 28; Raymond Chase, who hung himself on Sept. 29 in his dorm in Rhode Island; Asher Brown from Hamilton Middle School in Houston who died after a self-inflicted gunshot wound; Billy Lucas from Greensburg, Ind.; Nick Hughes, who had been tormented with accusations of being gay for years; Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a New York bridge after discovering his roommate secretly filmed an encounter with another male student and streamed it live on the Internet; and Justin Aaberg, who was found dead after the combination of a bad break-up and being bullied by his peers pushed him to suicide.

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