A Moment of Silence
“It gets better” was the main message of the LGBT Resource Center’s Candlelight Vigil last Wednesday, Oct. 20. Over one hundred students decked in purple crowded the stairs at the flagpoles underneath an overcast sky. The vigil, part of National Ally Week at campuses across the country, was held to remember the recent suicides of gay, or perceived-to-be-gay, teens.
“Let’s not judge ourselves,” said a somber David Bishop, director of the LGBT Resource Center. “There’s nothing wrong with being LGBT; we’re human beings … every straight person wants to live a good life, unscathed as possible. We’re no different … If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, you’re not alone.”
Bishop also spoke out against hate crimes outside of the LBGT community, condemning acts of hatred such as the Compton Cookout and nooses hung in the library at UC San Diego last February and swastikas carved on doors.
Ryan Lombardini, a UCI alumnus and representative of the Trevor Project, took the podium after Bishop, speaking about the Trevor Project’s role in preventing suicides. Lombardini recounted an incident where a gay student who had attempted suicide before called in, saying he had taken three sleeping pills and he was ready to take more in order to die because the fraternity he was rushing rejected him.
“He thought it was because he was a fag,” Lombardi said.
Early in the phone call, members from the Trevor Project sent emergency services to the student’s room, convincing him to stop. The next day, the Trevor Project members made another call to the student, who thanked them.
As the night progressed, it became clear that suicide is an ever-present problem in the LGBT community. A local police officer hammered this point home when he related his experience of stopping a lesbian college student from hanging herself.
“She had just broken up with her girlfriend,” the officer explained, “and she had fallen out with her family and church. She was ready to die … Saving that girl’s life is the proudest moment of my career, and we’re still friends to this day.”
In one of the most emotional moments of the vigil, Student Regent and fifth-year UCI student Jesse Cheng came out as bisexual and shared his own experience with the crowd.
“I was going to say, ‘I like you,’ but it came out, ‘I like men.’ We weren’t there just yet,” Cheng explained as his smile disappeared. “So then he said to me, ‘It’s a good thing we can beat that out of you. What would your mother think?’… I said to him, ‘Yeah’… So I met with him and two guys behind a [restaurant] a couple hours later, and they beat the shit out of me.”
Several times, Cheng fought back tears as he continued telling his story. When his mother found out he had attended a gay pride parade, Cheng, a self-described “momma’s boy,” vehemently denied it and ran upstairs to his room.
“I took out a razor and looked at it for a good while,” Cheng said, his voice shaking. “And I thought about it, you know?”
His mind changed when his father, whom he was not close with, walked in with a rainbow flag Cheng’s mother had found in his backpack, and said to him, “I told her it was mine. I thought it was pretty.”
At one point, Bishop asked the crowd, “Who here has been touched by suicide, attempted it or thought about it?”
Out of a crowd of over one hundred students, nearly every hand was raised into the air.
The end of the vigil left time for students to approach the microphone and share their thoughts and stories. Again and again, many LGBT students spoke about a dark and hopeless period in their lives when they felt alone and rejected and gave serious consideration to suicide; some had even attempted it. But it was always a small or inconsequential token of affection from a friend or loved one that convinced them to keep living.
“My friend detected something was wrong the next day [after I tried to hang myself],” one student said on the verge of tears. “So she took me aside and told me, ‘I love you so much. Let’s have a marriage ceremony’ … She probably didn’t think too much about it, but she saved my life that day.”
Another student shared about how, when he was considering suicide, he decided not to kill himself after finding a Post-it note in his locker from one of his friends.
“All it said was, ‘Hi – You are beautiful,’” the student said.
“Small things like that can make the difference if someone stays or goes,” Bishop explained after the event. “That’s how you save someone who needs support. We often forget to tell the people around us what they mean to us.”
Bishop expressed his sadness at the recent string of suicides and the hate crimes targeting not just LGBT students, but students of all backgrounds that have occurred on UC campuses over the past couple of years.
“Growing up, I’ve had friends who attempted suicide,” Bishop said. “I’ve known people who have died. I contemplated suicide, like many LGBT youth do … Just knowing that half the people at the vigil weren’t gay, that meant so much to us. It really resonated in the gay community to know how many people care about us.”
“Reach out,” Bishop answered when asked what LGBT youths struggling with suicide or dark thoughts can do. “If you feel like there’s no one you can tell about your identity, there are places where you can call anonymously. The Trevor Project, people on campus, the counseling center, national anonymous hotlines. You’re not alone. Know that. Even if it feels like you are, you’re not.”
The Trevor Project offers support for the LGBT community in times of crisis. Their suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 866-4U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).