In the wake of the recent series of suicides by gay teens and college students, the Cornell LGBT community is making an effort to demonstrate a unified front and reach out to at-risk students.
Starting at 282 Caldwell Hall on Sunday, members of the Gay-Straight Alliance filmed their way across campus, stopping at iconic Cornell locations to tape individuals expressing their messages of hope and optimism to the greater LGBT community. The footage will contribute to the popular “It Gets Better” series on Youtube, an initiative started by sex advice columnist Dan Savage in response to the recent gay suicides across the nation.
Savage posted the inaugural Youtube campaign video on Sept. 21, explaining the trials he endured growing up and telling any struggling member of the LGBT community that “it gets better.” The campaign prompted individuals to join the cause by posting their own videos on Youtube.
Vatsav Raman grad wanted to take part in the GSA’s contribution to the “It Gets Better” campaign “to let people know that suicide is definitely not the answer.” Raman said that members of the LGBT community face discrimination on a regular basis, saying “there’s huge potential for everyone to face that kind of adversity.”
Several thousand individuals within the LGBT community have posted their own video messages to the “It Gets Better” campaign in an attempt to try and avert possible future suicides within the community. The Cornell video is expected to be posted on Youtube within the next couple weeks and will be available on the Cornell LGBT Facebook group.
The Cornell LGBT community is also taking steps to fight against bullying and foster an open, caring environment on campus.
Matt Danzer ’12, the Student Assembly’s LGBTQ representative-at-large, introduced Resolution 19 to the S.A. on Oct. 7, condemning homophobic bullying. The resolution acknowledged the loss of members of the national LGBT community who recently committed suicide and denounced “bullying of any individual or group for any reason.” The resolution is still awaiting approval from President David Skorton, although Danzer said Skorton did “signal support for the basic premise” when he attended last week’s S.A. meeting.
According to Matthew Carcella, associate dean of students and director of the LGBT Resource Center, the Resource Center is partnering with the Ithaca College LGBT Resource Center to bring in Kate Bornstein — author of Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws — to lead a workshop at Cornell on Nov. 8 in Flora Rose House. Additionally, Carcella said the LGBT Resource Center is planning to host a community forum toward the end of the semester.
Carcella said he saw a similarity between the recent “cluster” of suicides within the national LGBT community and the suicides at Cornell last spring. While many communities on college campuses are holding vigils for the victims and participating in “Spirit Day” by wearing purple on Oct. 20, Carcella encouraged “more mental health awareness and suicide prevention” initiatives at Cornell.
Carcella also noted an e-mail sent by Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 to the student body before fall break. Murphy’s e-mail referred to the tragic deaths of the members within the LGBT community and reminded students of the mental health services the University provides — including counseling and psychological services and the LGBT Resource Center.
In reference to Murphy’s e-mail, Danzer pointed out how the University is improving its outreach to the LGBT community. Danzer said the University has to acknowledge the diversity on campus and that having one general University mental health and suicide prevention initiative is not sufficient for maximizing the assistance each distinct group on campus requires.
Eugene Hunter ’12, president of Haven, the LGBTQ Student Union, echoed this sentiment. He said that while certain initiatives, like the new fences, help everyone, there needs to be more help geared specifically to the LGBT community.
“There’s more work to be done,” Hunter said.
Prof. Ritch Savin-Williams, developmental psychology, who is director of Cornell University’s Sex & Gender Lab, said in a recent statement that there is “absolutely no scientific evidence of an ‘epidemic of gay youth suicide.’” However, Carcella noted that members of the LGBT community do have higher rates of suicide than other demographics. He said there is a preponderance of hetero-normative expectations in American society and that there are “expectations that people conform to the dominant culture’s norms.”
Hunter said Cornell’s LGBT community is “trying to start a dialogue on creating” an open community on campus.
While explaining that not all publicity is necessarily good publicity, Carcella acknowledged that having so much media attention on issues affecting the LGBT community, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” does help spur dialogue. Danzer, the S.A. representative, said that while the media attention does raise awareness, the coverage typically “doesn’t take into account the personal aspect” of the issues.
“When you remove the personal aspect, you lose sight of how important the issue is,” Danzer said.