As part of Monday’s National Coming Out Day, the Yale LGBTQ Cooperative held a vigil on Cross Campus in memory of Tyler Clemente, an 18-year old Rutgers University student who committed suicide on Sept. 22.
Roughly 40 students participated in the vigil for Clemente, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate streamed videos of Clemente having sex with another male student. Organizers from the Co-op and the Peer Liaisons program distributed candles and asked for a moment of silence, followed by group song. The vigil also honored 10 other queer teenagers who committed suicide in the past several weeks and whose stories have seized national media attention.
“Unfortunately, Tyler Clemente is not an anomaly,” said Kiki Fehling ’10, a peer liaison. “There’s an epidemic at hand, and we felt compelled to hold an event like this.”
While the vigil was marked by solemnity and silence, the Yale Women’s Center hosted a forum for students to discuss the event and the queer-related suicides immediately following the vigil. At the forum, about 15 students shared anecdotes and opinions about issues facing members of the LGBTQ community at Yale and at home.
“I think part of the reason so many kids commit suicide isn’t just that kids feel animosity around them,” said Amalia Skilton ’13 during a small-group discussion. “But I think it’s also the uncertainty that they don’t have any idea what they are going to do in the future.”
While Fehling and Maria Trumpler, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, said they thought the event was powerful, some were dissatisfied with the vigil’s low turnout.
Colin Weil ’88, a development director with the Slifka Center, said the event should have been more prominent on campus and questioned why other campus groups did not take part in the event.
“I was very disappointed in the turnout at the vigil, and I think it speaks to the comfort of being gay at ‘The Gay Ivy,’” Weil said. “We have to recognize that Yale is about creating leaders, and campus leaders need to recognize how different life in the larger world is.”
Weil pointed back to campus activism in the 1980s, saying that much of that activism was more pronounced and the lack of rapid, worldwide Internet communication required rallies to be far louder to get noticed.
Throughout the day, volunteers from the Co-op and the Peer Liaisons program distributed rainbow flag stickers and fliers with information about the vigil, invitingstudents to “come out” through a pink door placed on the grass. This year marked the first time that the Co-op and the Peer Liaisons collaborated on National Coming Out Day programming at Yale, Fehling said.