The Queer Student Union has planned a candlelight vigil tonight to commemorate recent suicides within the queer community.
Coming at a time when the nation is reeling from news of the nine homosexual teenage males who have taken their own lives since Sept. 9, the event aims to condemn homophobic bullying and memorialize the departed teens. Activities will commence with a rally at 6 p.m. in Storke Plaza and conclude with a candlelight walk through Isla Vista.
Despite UCSB’s reputation for tolerance, Queer Student Union treasurer Joel Mandujano, a third-year black and feminist studies major, said bullying and violence is widespread on campus.
“It’s a wake-up call for our campus,” Mandujano said. “There have been three widely talked about hate crimes on campus, two happening a couple summers ago. Fortunately, there have been no known suicides, but this is just a reality check. Even though we are a university in a safe place, there are realities of being queer on our campus or in our society.”
The issue recently made national headlines after Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide on Sept. 22 after a roommate broadcast a video of his sexual encounter with another male without his knowledge.
According to Hazel Putney, co-chair of the Associated Students Queer Commission and fourth-year sociology and feminist studies major, the recent events compromise universities’ statuses as safe spaces.
“A lot of us haven’t come out until college,” Putney said. “It is a new and exciting experience, but we waited to come out until college because of the harassment in high school. We just feel lucky we made it through those times.”
A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Doug Wagoner, a third-year history major, said the UCSB queer student community has also fallen victim to intolerance.
According to Wagoner, a hate crime was reported on campus following the Sept. 25 Welcome Back concert. Wagoner said a homosexual couple was approached and provoked by a group of men while walking near Manzanita Village. The altercation then progressed into a physical fight, causing a La Cumbre Rainbow House resident to sustain a punch while attempting to break up the scuffle.
Wagoner said the incident, which is part of a sobering series of similar episodes on campus, has shaken the tight-knit community.
“It’s really disturbing because this is just one of a string of hate instances that occurred in the last two weeks,” Wagoner said. “There were 36 hate crimes and instances reported to Judicial Affairs between 2001 and 2009 — and I would like to stress that those are only the ones reported.”
In an effort to communicate their unwavering support for the queer community, various groups on campus, including the A.S. Queer Commission and QSU, have recently become more vocal about these incidents of discrimination.
QSU Co-chair Abrahan Monzon, a third-year sociology and feminist studies major, said education is imperative to promoting awareness and deterring future hate crimes.
“The Queer Commission and Resource Center for Sexual Diversity has a ‘queer 101’ presentation used to educate people,” Monzon said. “I don’t mean to generalize, but most of the apathy has come from environments like greek life and sports, especially because of alcohol. Having more education would be helpful to make everyone feel more comfortable.”
Students are also encouraged to wear purple, which represents spirit in the queer community, on Oct. 20 to honor victims of homophobic abuse.