Candlelit vigil in remembrance of gay students
The darkened windows of Subway reflected a sea of individual candle flames and the shadowy figures holding them. Bowles Plaza was filled to capacity, and for a long moment, not a sound cut across the night.
Students gathered Thursday night for the Vigil for Awakening in remembrance of the recent suicides of students who had been bullied for being gay. The vigil was also in support of all of the LGBTQIA youth affected by anti-gay prejudice. Members of the LGBT community and a large number of allies attended the vigil, as well as several community members.
“It was powerful seeing so many people here,” said junior Allison Reed, a co-president of Safe Zones, a student group of LGBT peer educators. “It was good to see so many faces and so many groups.”
The number of suicides related to sexual orientation—at least seven this past month—has captured media attention, and Pride Alliance, Safe Zones and Open, a group that helps students come out, all came together to put on the vigil in hopes of bringing this national issue home to Washington University.
“Numbers and blurbs cannot capture the truths of this quietly raging epidemic,” Reed said of the bullying and depression of gay youths.
“Bullying is an issue for a lot of students, but it can be so much worse for an LGBT student when they’re struggling with identity issues,” said junior Sienna Malik, Pride Alliance secretary
After a moment of silence to remember all those who have committed suicide or have been bullied based on their sexuality, Stereotypes a cappella group sang “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel.
“It was taking a moment to reflect on people who face hardships I don’t have to face, so it was bittersweet,” said senior Ayla Karamustafa, a co-president of Safe Zones.
Poets from WU-SLam also performed at the event.
LGBTQIA leaders hope that the vigil raises awareness of LGBT issues and creates a dialogue on campus.
“We just wanted to show that Wash. U. is a supportive place and that there are allies on this campus.,” said Saida Bonifield, the coordinator for LGBT student involvement and leadership.
“Everyone has a right to feel safe, respected and validated,” said James McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “We cannot assume the tragedies from distant places have nothing to do with us. We are here tonight to say we are one with them.”
Many LGBT students find that while Washington University is an open, safe place, areas off campus are less welcoming.
“I feel like a lot of people at Wash. U. have an unrealistic idea of how the LGBT community is accepted in the real world,” said senior Taylor Martin, a Pride Alliance member.
Junior Evan Wilson, the co-president of Pride Alliance, found an accepting atmosphere at the University.
“The LGBT atmosphere here at Washington University is actually pretty nice compared to other communities, even [the] local [ones]. We have it pretty good here,” he said.
Wilson, however, does wish that people were more aware of LGBT issues.
“We could make people more aware of issues that are going on and still more accepting,” Wilson said.
Campuspride.org, a website devoted to LGBTQIA issues, gave Wash. U. five out of five stars in a campus climate review, but the LGBT community still wants to do more to raise awareness and acceptance of LGBT youth.
“Things do not just get better. We must work to make them better,” Reid said.