Gay Suicide sparks vigil Oct. 28
To 47-year-old Mark Rasdorf, coming out was trying enough.
"I came out in 1982, so we didn't have 'Will and Grace' back then," he said.
He was in college when he told his family and friends he was gay and, while it was a life-changing event, most of the reaction was positive.
"I mean, back then, anyone who was gay was called [the 'F' word] but for the most part I wasn't that harassed," he said.
Not so for Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi. The 18-year-old, allegedly teased by his roommate about his sexual preference, jumped off the George Washington bridge in September, ending his life.
It's an image that sticks with Rasdorf, a graduate student in the counseling department at Appalachian State University. After all, it's a bridge he used to drive across all the time when he lived in New York.
"To think that that kid was so upset that he walked onto a bridge and jumped off; I'm surprised I can talk about that without crying," Rasdorf said.
And it's not just Clementi. Justin Aeberg. Billy Lucas. Asher Brown. Seth Walsh. Raymond Chase. Zach Harrington.
All these teenagers in recent months took their own lives after alleged bullying.
Something has to be done.
Rasdorf isn't the only one saying that. Across the country, candlelight vigils have been happening in memory of the seven teenagers. Columnist Dan Savage, even started an "It Gets Better" website (itgetsbetter.com), with messages of hope for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) teens.
Celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Adam Lambert have submitted videos urging kids not to take drastic measures, and that their lives truly will get better.
"I think being different is always going to be a tough climb," Lambert said in his video. "There's always going to be people that are scared of it. But at the end of the day, if you give those bullies and those people that are so ignorant and fearful of your lifestyle, if you give them the power to affect you, you're letting them win. And they don't deserve that."
It's a message Rasdorf wants to spread here in the High Country, and he hopes a planned Thursday vigil will help alert the community to what he calls "an American crisis."
"I organized all this because I didn't see anything happening," he said. "I was about to lose my mind over what was going on in this country."
But Rasdorf knows it will take more than candles to prevent tragedy from striking again.
"For kids that are in such dark places that they could make choices like these ... we as a society need to work with a little more vigor to help those kids," he said. "We each have a responsibility, so this community can send out a message of hope that will resonate locally, nationally and internationally. I do think there's power in collective thought."
The ironic thing? In this tragedy, Rasdorf feels he may have found his true calling, as a counselor to teens struggling with LGBT issues.
"I'm open to where I go with this," he said.
An Appalachian State University "It gets better" campaign with testimonials from the local LGBT community is also being planned.
The vigil, sponsored by the LGBT Center, Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) and TransAction, happens Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. at Sanford Mall on the Appalachian State University campus.