Vigil fosters dialogue on recent bullying

Speakers reflect on deaths of gay teens, discuss ways to stamp out intolerance

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University students and Charlottesville community members held a candlelight vigil in front of the Rotunda last night to pay tribute to those lost in a recent string of teen suicides related to bullying based on sexual orientation. The vigil was coordinated by All Charlottesville Caring For Every Person Together, a movement spawned by a community meeting held in direct responseto the suicides.

Following a remembrance of each life lost, University students and officials joined Charlottesville community leaders on stage to speak out against intolerance of individuals based on their sexual orientation.

"What happened is not removed from us by any degree," said fourth-year College student Sean Bugg, the target of an attack on the Corner last month believed to be motivated by his sexual orientation. "In light of my own victimization, and learning of the deaths of these young LGBT teens, I have lost my faith in humanity and am struggling to regain it. I am angry, furious and livid that our society would allow such terrible things to happen."

Charlottesville High School sophomore Logan Hall spoke about the issue of bullying at the high-school level.

"Homophobia is not something that always originates from fear. It can originate from simple misunderstanding," Hall said. "I think that the real problem is that this an issue that society is unsure how to handle."

University staff members urged students to embrace a caring community and encouraged students to seek help if necessary. Michael Mason, a counselor for Counseling and Psychological Services, stressed how important it is that individuals "find one another and embrace life together." Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, shared a similar sentiment.

"Bullying takes a false sense of power to destructive ends," Lampkin said. "Whether spoken and overt or unspoken and subtle, bullying has no place in a caring community. If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, please know that you have friends throughout the University."

Many local leaders also lent their voices to the vigil. Charlottesville City Council member Kristin Szakos addressed the local community's role in standing up to bullying.

"As a city, we can do a better job of communicating that we will not tolerate bigotry or harassment in any form, including against sexual minorities within our borders," she said.

Additionally, the Rev. James Richardson, rector of St. Paul's Memorial Church, stood on stage with a group of local church leaders and declared the church support for the cause.

Rachel Farr and her partner Laura Elizares created ACCEPT following an on-Grounds community action meeting Oct. 7. The group was formed to raise awareness of LGBTQ youth bullying, victimization and suicide and to organize a vigil to discuss these issues, said Jenna Krotke, president of the Queer Student Union.

Farr, a University graduate student and community organizer, said in an interview that the purpose of the vigil is two-fold, aiming both to honor the lives lost and to provide resources and offer ways to create positive change.

ACCEPT plans to work closely with school officials, Charlottesville city leaders and University officials to ensure equal protection for all students, Farr said.

"I hope that people aspire to make changes, to take individual steps," she said. "I think there's a lot of willingness out there, but people don't know what to do yet"

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