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Amidst recent suicides, homosexual students recall experiences at SVC

by Elizabeth DeLyser, Copy Editor

During the Fall semester, students return to school in time to watch the leaves change colors and die, falling to the ground. Five gay teens have done the same this autumn, each taking their own lives from the constant bullying and harassment they faced.

On September 9, 15 year-old Billy Lucas hung himself in his family’s barn because his peers tormented him about being gay. On September 22, 18 year-old Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge because his roommate put a video of him having sex with another man on the Internet. Tyler posted his suicide note on his Facebook page just before he died: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” On September 23, eighth-grader Asher Brown shot himself from constant bullying about being gay. On September 28, 13 year-old Seth Walsh, having been pushed beyond his breaking point by constant harassment for being openly gay, hanged himself from a tree in his back yard. And on September 29, openly-gay 19 year-old Raymond Chase hanged himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales University.

In the space of short three weeks, five teens killed themselves, because classmates tortured them for being gay.

Harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens occurs frequently. According to a recent 2010 study by the Q Research Institute for Higher Education, “LGBT” students are almost twice as likely to experience harassment when compared with their heterosexual peers, and seven times more likely to have that harassment based on their sexual identity.

“It is important to allow young people to come out and to find support and to realize that once you do come out you’re not alone,” said Shane Windmeyer to ABC News. Windmeyer is the Executive Director of Campus Pride, an organization dedicated to making colleges and campuses safer and more open to LGBT students.

Discrimination based on sexuality has happened even at Saint Vincent College. Take the story of sophomore Roger Rose. An openly gay African-American student, he returned to his freshman pod in Saint Benedict Hall one day to find that his teddy bear had been stolen and lynched. He discovered his beloved teddy bear hanging from a noose attached to the ceiling, swaying in front of his door. Because he experienced such sexual ridicule and racism, Rose left SVC.

“I felt as if I lived on a campus where I was frowned upon and demeaned persistently,” Rose said. “I allowed myself to be part of a community where I was barely accepted.”

Rose not only felt discrimination from his peers, but also from college administration, in their punishment of the students who lynched his teddy bear.

“The issue with that was that it was handled as if it were a prank,” said Rose, “students were punished with a paper on lynchings and community service, while to my knowledge, students who were caught with illegal substances were expelled. I had several administrators try to convince me it was just a prank, and that frustrated me. I feel that any event like that is a hate crime, no matter what [the students’] initial intentions were.”

Senior Ryan Atkinson has had his share of trials as well.

“A lot of people I’ve known at SVC were fine with it,” he said, “it’s just a few of them didn’t feel comfortable talking about my relationships because it was odd for them. Discussing it felt kind of uncomfortable.”

Atkinson, too, experienced discrimination and negativity at SVC because of his homosexuality, but in a more subtle way.

“[There was] nothing physical, but there was a lot of emotional [negativity], like people discounting my opinion, or thinking that because I’m gay and Catholic I have a lot of issues, when I really don’t, or thinking I have conflicting issues,” Atkinson said. “They were okay with it, but it wasn’t something they wanted to talk about. There were people on my floor in Wimmer– it wasn’t that they weren’t comfortable with it, but they just didn’t include me in certain things. They would just ignore me.”

Homosexual discrimination isn’t just limited to male students; recent alumna Jonya Nicole struggled with her sexuality while at SVC as well.

“I had a problem coming out when I first realized because I had a Sexual Ethics class,” Nicole said, “I remember the professor saying ‘homosexuality is a sin, homosexuality is unnatural, and you’re going to hell if this is your lifestyle.’ That was the only thing that was difficult. When I came out to my friends, it was totally fine.”

“I think it’s a subject that’s ignored at SVC,” Nicole added. “It’s not really discussed freely, especially with teachers. I was a little embarrassed about it. That class impeded me coming out. That class was always in the back of my mind.”

Not every homosexual student has had a negative experience at SVC, however.

“I haven’t faced discrimination at all,” said sophomore Alex Molinari, “I try to be as friendly and outgoing as possible.”

Molinari did admit that he had experienced a few difficulties.

“During freshman year, I had a boy stay over, and my roommate woke up and threw a fit, even though it wasn’t that kind of sleep over,” Molinari said, “he was yelling ‘This isn’t San Francisco!’ I moved out the next day.”

“Honestly, [my sexuality] seemed like no big deal,” recent alumnus Zachary Luchetti said. “Granted, when I was first open, I felt unsure at times if I could try certain company to be respectful of my orientation, but I never felt unsafe.”

He reported that the counselors at the Wellness Center were very open and helpful whenever he felt conflicted.

Some current LGBT students feel that the environment at SVC towards non-heterosexual people is so negative that they refuse to come out while still attending SVC. One homosexual male student, who asked not to be identified, had this to say:

“I think the fact that I wish to not use my real name speaks for how I feel about the environment for GLBT students at Saint Vincent College. It’s not so much that the environment is so negative; it’s almost more like it’s not even an option to be GBLT at SVC,” he said. “I think the biggest obstacle to being out and open at SVC is the fact that it is a Catholic institution. When you attend a school that is backed by/ intimately connected with an establishment or church that says your sexual orientation is “objectively disordered” (Cathechism of the Catholic Church, Article 2358), it’s hard to feel good about it.”

“Alice” is bisexual, but opts to keep her identity a secret as well.

“There’s a sort of group at the school who has an invective against homosexuality,” she said. “Four or five people who are extremely Catholic, and anything that isn’t extremely Catholic, they don’t want to see or hear about.”

“Personally, I’ve been confused,” Alice admitted. “It certainly felt like it was a part of myself I had to deny to be a Catholic.”

Alice began to find her peace when she came to terms with her self-identity.

“I have realized that I will never follow the Catholic Church’s sexual ethics,” Alice said, shrugging, “So I ignore them.”

Despite the Catholic Church’s standpoint that homosexual activity is sinful (being a homosexual in itself is not considered sinful), many LGBT students feel SVC needs to be more proactive in addressing homosexual issues.

“One thing Slippery Rock University did was ‘safe training,’ which was open to professors and students,” said Nicole. “It was just how to go about how, if someone was to come out, how you should handle it.”

“I understand that it’s a Catholic school, and they can’t teach it’s an acceptable way to live, but it’d be nice,” added Nicole. “Like that [sexual ethics] class I had – I’d wish he’s skip the topic. It’s a very personal topic. I don’t think there’s a need for it to be discussed. I think there’s steps the college could take to get to a more neutral ground.”

“[SVC] needs to let [homosexual students] know that they’re welcome,” Luchetti said. “They need to let them know that SVC isn’t a clinic for closeted homos to be changed, but an institution of learning that accepts people based on their academic merits, artistic talents and potential to the greater good of the world.”

Fortunately, SVC has not had any gay suicides. Despite the trials non-heterosexual students may experience at SVC, alumni encourage current students to persevere.

“Be confident in who you are,” said Nicole, “if someone is your true friend, they’ll accept you and not a lie.”

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