LGBTQ community remembers lives lost with vigil

Amy Cooknick

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Standing together under bunches of rainbow-colored balloons, somber members of the Kent LGBTQ community and their allies contrasted sharply with the orbs floating around them Tuesday evening.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, students and staff at Risman Plaza held balloons to remember students who attempted or committed suicide after being bullied or harassed for their sexual orientation. Some balloons were marked with the names of campus organizations that promote LGBTQ rights, some with derogatory terms for LGBTQ individuals and some were left blank to signify allies.

The centerpiece of the ceremony was a group of 11 balloons weighted down to the plaza, each labeled with a single name.

These balloons featured the names of 11 LGBTQ teenagers who made national headlines in 2010 after committing suicide, said Chris Clevenger, programming director for PRIDE! Kent and student assistant for the LGBTQ Center.

Phoebe Prince, Josie Lou Ratley, Alexis Pilkington, Jon Carmichael, Christian Taylor, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Raymond Chase and Zachary Harrington all took their own lives after being bullied because of their sexual orientation. These teens are only a few of hundreds who have attempted or completed suicide this year, Clevenger said.

Aaron Rockhold, senior psychology major, said he heard about the vigil at a Gay Rights Revolutionaries meeting.

“Everybody getting together to remember those lives that were lost and to just acknowledge that in some way is a good idea,” Rockhold said. “The speeches were very moving. I liked the symbolic release of the balloons.”

After Clevenger read statistics on LGBTQ teen suicide, PRIDE! Kent secretary Greg Porter read a slam he called “Faggot Boy” addressing those who bully LGBTQ individuals or passively allow bullying to take place.

“If you say that words are harmless, that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you, then look at the children who died,” Porter said. “You may not have pulled the trigger, but your words are the finger on the trigger. If you knew of their pain and did nothing, you are the rusty dagger blade dragging across the skin or the hands pushing the boy off the Washington Bridge.”

The Rev. David Pattee, senior pastor at Kent United Church of Christ, followed Porter’s speech with a history of National Coming Out Day and commentary on Christianity’s response to the LGBTQ community.

“I don’t think it’s possible for me as a person of faith to come to a gathering like this, look at these balloons, and look at all of you and not be painfully aware and somewhat ashamed of all the lies that have been told and all the evil that has been done in the name of God,” Pattee said.

Pattee said the phrase “silence equals death” came out of the first National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, 1987 in Washington, D.C.

“It is important not to remain silent and to tell the truth that these people whom we would remember today were created in the image of God,” Pattee said.

After Pattee’s speech, the crowd released their balloons — LGBTQ students first, then allies — in a symbolic display of releasing the burden of harassment.

Courtney Thaman, freshman psychology major, said she was moved by the ceremony.

“Lives have been touched because of these people,” Thaman said. “It’s nice to remember the people that have taken their lives because of all the bullying.”

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].