Originally published: Oct. 10, 2010, 10:45 a.m.
Updated: Oct. 12, 2010, 12:38 p.m.
Inspired by the recent suicides of several gay youth ranging in age from 13 to 19, a dozen Charlotte organizations gathered at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church last night to tell struggling LGBT youth to hold on.
John Quillin, artistic director of Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, helped to organize the event. His chorus and One Voice Chorus sang at the end of the program. Held in remembrance of those teenagers who had taken their lives, Quillin said the event was also important for young people still struggling, many of them right here in Charlotte.
The It Gets Better Charlotte vigil was inspired by Dan Savage’s grassroots YouTube campaign in which community members and celebrities across the country have filmed short clips telling young people that “It Gets Better.”
“Dan Savage’s project is about grabbing people by the shoulders and saying ‘don’t do this awful thing to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t kill yourself, because it really does get better,’” Quillin said.
LGBT youth and community leaders addressed the nearly 500 people at the vigil with poignant messages on youth safety, equality and inclusion. Among the speakers were Elke Kennedy, mother of Sean Kennedy who was killed in 2007 by a gay basher and County Commissioners Jennifer Roberts and Harold Cogdell.
Ean Woods, a young gay person who helped organize and spoke at the vigil, asked that adults take action.
“We need the adults to step up and stop living cushy little lives and actually do something for the youth, not just let us sit by and think we’re the only gay person in the world,” Woods said.
Dr. Erica Lennon, staff psychologist at UNC-Charlotte, said adults need to be aware and make an effort to reach out to young people who might be near suicide. She also asked for unity.
“I’m telling you that even though you live in a world where you are constantly told to mind your own business, to do your own thing — forget it,” she said. “Pull together, grab the hand of the person next to you and unite as a community. This is what it is going to start to change things.”
Although attendees agreed on the need for more inclusion and safety for the LGBT community, some had differing views on how to achieve it and some said things aren’t getting better.
Community advocate Roberta Dunn, who serves on the Mecklenburg Gay & Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) steering committee, said anti-gay elected officials are part of what continues to stand in the way of progress.
“The bullying and the hatred and the anger that is here now, it’s worse than it ever was,” she said. “Instead of getting better, it’s encouraged by the politicians.” Dunn was referring to state Rep. Larry Brown (R-Forsyth) who recently called gays “queers” and “fruitloops” in an email to 60 of his House Republican colleagues. He’s yet to apologize for his use of the slurs.
Numerous straight allies also attended the vigil. Two, husband and wife David and Tay, said they came to support LGBT young people. “You’re not alone; you’re loved,” they said.
Local groups presenting the vigil included Campus Pride, Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte, One Voice Chorus, PRIDE JWU Charlotte, Queer Rising QC, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Sean’s Last Wish, Time Out Youth and UNC-Charlotte PRIDE.
The local attention on anti-LGBT bullying has picked up steam since September’s rash of reported gay teen suicides. Although Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools passed a comprehensive anti-bullying policy in 2008 and state legislators passed the School Violence Prevention Act last year, advocates say harassment and discrimination continue to be a concern. A 2009 national study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) showed 9 out of 10 LGBT middle and high school students face anti-gay bullying or harassment in school daily. A similar national study, released in mid-September, by Charlotte-based Campus Pride found LGBT college students, faculty and staff also face greater harassment and discrimination when compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
Other community groups plan on continuing the conversation this weekend. Crossroads Charlotte, Time Out Youth and Temple Beth El will host a panel discussion — “Bullied Until Broken: The Impact of Bullying on LGBT Youth in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Community Responses” — on Sunday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center, 5007 Providence Rd.
“Crossroads Charlotte is in a unique position to respond to these types of community issues in collaboration with partnering organizations,” Crossroads Charlotte executive director Tracy Russ said in a release. “Our mission is to build trust across lines of difference, and through partnerships with organizations like Temple Beth El and Time Out Youth, we’re able to offer safe forums where difficult issues can be discussed as a first step to understanding.”
The Crossroads discussion will include opening remarks by Rabbi Judy Schindler, followed by remarks from a panel including LGBT youth, Time Out Youth executive director Steve Bentley and anti-bullying experts. Audience members will also be allowed to participate in the conversation.
more: See videos from the It Gets Better Charlotte vigil and view community resources at itgetsbettercharlotte.org. For more information on the Crossroads Charlotte panel discussion, see the event’s page at Facebook.
— Matt Comer contributed to this report.