Vigil for society’s casualties


NYU LGBT and Delta Lambda Phi host “Glowlight Vigil”

(New York, NY) – For the families of the five young men who committed suicide, September 2010 is a month and a year they would not likely ever forget. These families and others around the nation were rudely awakened to the stark reality of the effects of how vicious and callous homophobia, hatred and bullying was to their sons. By their deaths, these young men have become present day martyrs, expressing through their still, lifeless bodies, what they couldn’t say alive: giving their lives to remove the pain raging in their minds, wanting to let the hurt, rejection, and loneliness stop and drawing attention to the suffering many others endure for who they are. By their deaths, they screamed to the world that young male and gay between the ages of 13 and 20 are the most vulnerable members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Their deaths have roused many to the perils of those who are young and struggling with their sexual identity and acceptance in today’s society.

A New York University LGBT organization and Delta Lambda Phi plan to host a “Glowlight Vigil” in Washington Square Park at 9:00pm on Sunday, Oct 3.

Below is a listing of six young men who felt powerless and so devoid of hope that the only choice they felt existed was to remove themselves from this life. A common theme in all the stories surrounding the reasons why they killed themselves is focused on bullying, name-calling, homophobia and other derogatory comments against young men who were at their most fragile; their sexual identity, like a chrysalis emerging from the protection of the cocoon.

Justin Aaberg, 15, Anoka, Minnesota – Hung himself

Justin Aaberg

Justin was a talented and accomplished cellist, and a composer. On Friday, Jul 9, just weeks after completing freshman year at Anoka High, Justin hanged himself in this bedroom. His mother and two brothers found him. Tammy Aaberg said, “I touched him, because I just couldn’t believe it. I thought I was in a nightmare, and he was so cold and I just screamed and ran out and called 911.” Justin’s mother said she knew for about a year that he was gay, and feared for his safety. But, when he died, she began to hear from other students of how he was harassed and bullied at the school. Justin’s death was part of a series of seven suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in the past year, where some of the students who killed themselves were gay. There are concerns that bullying at the school pushed many over the edge.

Billy Lucas

Billy Lucas, 15, Greensburg, Indiana – Hung himself

According to WXIN Fox 59, on Thursday, Sept 9, Billy’s mother found him hanging in the family’s barn. To many, it seemed as though he didn’t quite fit in. Some of his classmates said he was bullied for being different, but even though he never told anyone he was gay, he was picked on because the other students thought he was. Students told reporters that the bullying against Billy had become worse, and on the same day he died, some students had told him to “kill” himself. One student, Dillen Swango said, “They said stuff like ‘you’re like a piece of crap’ and ‘you don’t deserve to live.’ Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever.” School principal, Phil Chapple doesn’t deny that students are bullied in the high school, but he said he didn’t know Billy was one of the victims. A Facebook page dedicated as a memorial to Billy, with close to 6,000 followers included some who acknowledged that they knew he was bullied, “everyone made fun of him.” Bullying at Greensburg High School is a practice with a long history, and according to the principal, “We’re discussing where we are going. Where we are looking to establish a committee.” One former student, who did not want to be identified, said that he was bullied several times because he is gay, “I was gay. I was called f**, queer. [i] was thrown up against lockers. I would tell the school officials about it and they would dismiss it. I can’t help but take it personally because when all of this was happening to me I was the same age he was. I also attempted to commit suicide.”

Asher Brown, 13, Cypress, Texas – Shot himself

Asher Brown

According to the Houston Chronicle, on Thursday, Sept 21 at about 4:30 pm Asher used his stepfather’s 9mm Bereta and shot himself in the head, leaving a note. The family said that in the morning he told his stepfather that he was gay. But the family said that Asher was constantly harassed by four students at the Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, he was “bullied to death” — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. His mother and stepfather said that while some of the kids accused him of being gay, others performed mock gay acts on him in his physical education class. The parents said they complained to school officials who did nothing. School officials said that they had not received any complaints, which angered Asher’s parents, who called for justice and suggested a cover up to protect the four students who constantly bullied their son. But comments from other parents and students on a Website for a local television station, KRIV-TV Channel 26, said that Asher had been bullied for several years with school officials doing nothing to stop it. The day before his death, Asher reported to his parents that another student tripped him as he walked down a flight of stairs at the school, and when he hit the stairway landing and went to retrieve his book bag, the other student kicked his books out of reach and then kicked Asher down the remaining flight of stairs.

Seth Walsh

Seth Walsh, 13, Tehachapi, California – Hung himself

Seth loved to sing and dance, swim, and perhaps most of all, laugh, The Bakersfield Californian reported. He also had big plans, together with his best friend, Jamie Elaine Phillips, they were going to travel to France when they were adults. CBS News Crimesider reported that on Sunday, Sept 19, Seth hanged himself from a tree in the back yard of his home. He was discovered unconscious, cut down and rushed to hospital where he remained on life support for eight days, finally succumbing to his injuries in the afternoon of Monday, Sept 27. Friends told NBC affiliate KGET that Seth had been picked on for years because he was gay. Some of the young people who taunted Seth the day he hanged himself said that they did not think their actions constituted a crime. “Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears,” Jeff Kermode, Tehachapi Police Chief, said. “They had never expected an outcome such as this.” While reports state that on the day he hung himself, he had encountered a group of teens in a park; details of what transpired remain unclear. Seth’s grandparents confirmed Thursday that their grandson was gay, and had known he was gay since he was in the third grade. Kermode said an ongoing investigation has determined Seth was bullied for at least the past two years. While bullying itself is not a crime, police are looking at any underlying crimes that may have occurred, such as assault, vandalism or criminal threats. According to TehachapiNews.com, Seth’s mother, Judy Walsh said, “He was different. He knew he was different. He was a very loving boy, very kind. He had a beautiful smile. He liked fashion, his friends, talking on the phone. He was artistic and very bright.” She hopes her son’s death is a wake up call to the community to “develop more tolerance for different people.”

Tyler Clementi, 18, Ridgewood, New Jersey – Jumped off the George Washington Bridge, NYC

Tyler Clementi

Sometime on Wednesday, Sept 22, Tyler jumped from the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River, linking New York with New Jersey. When his body was recovered, according to the New York Daily News, the 18-year-old’s cause of death was suicide by drowning. Tyler’s final act came three days after another 18-year-old, with whom he shared a dorm room at Rutgers University. filmed and broadcasted live on the Internet Tyler having some type of sex with another man in his room. The roommate, Dharum Ravi and another student, 18-year-old Molly Wei, who were involved in the filming and broadcasting, was arrested and charged with invasion of privacy, but following the recovery of Tyler’s body, mention has been made of upgrading the charges to classify the action by Ravi and Wei as a hate crime. On his Facebook page, Tyler posted a note mentioning what he intended to do. Subsequent reports state that it wasn’t the first time this had happened and that Tyler had complained to university officials, and even to posted comments on a gay Website.

Raymond Chase

Raymond Chase, 19, Monticello, New York – Hung himself

Described as an energetic and lively young man, Raymond, an African-American 19-year-old college sophomore was discovered hanging in his dorm room on the campus of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. Raymond who was from Monticello, NY was studying culinary arts. Details about what led him to take his own life are as yet unavailable.

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About AntoineB

As an award-winning journalist and public speaker, Antoine B. Craigwell is currently writing a book about depression in Black gay men. Previously as a journalist he reported for several prominent business magazines, community-based newspapers, and online magazines. In 2008, he earned two awards from the New York Association of Black Journalists. Antoine graduated from Bernard M. Baruch College of the City University of New York with degrees in journalism and psychology. As a member of the New York Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Baruch College Alumni Association, Antoine is actively involved in giving back to his community. He often speaks at several different forums, participates in panel discussions, and in interviews, including with Laura Flanders of Grit TV discussing the violence and homophobia in the film, "Bruno."
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