As the rain fell on Parc de L’Espoir this past Wednesday, Montreal’s gay and lesbian community came together for a candlelight vigil in memory of teens who committed suicide after being bullied for their sexual orientation.
About 50 people, including representatives of local gay rights groups, attended the vigil held in the Gay Village despite the cold and wet weather. It was only one of dozens held across North America in response to the suicide of Tyler Clementi and a number of other teens.
Clementi, an 18-year-old student studying at Rutgers, committed suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge after he was unknowingly filmed engaging in a gay sexual encounter, which was then posted and streamed on the Internet by his roommate.
Jean-Pierre Roussain, the Montreal vigil organizer, reminded the crowd that Clementi wasn’t the only one to take his life this past September. Roussain read from a list of names, all of whom had committed suicide after being bullied. Some were as young as 13. Roussain then asked for a moment of silence to honour the memories and lives of the victims.
Roussain was inspired to organize the vigil after he saw the number of cities planning to hold a similar event and felt that Montreal should be represented. After reading some of the stories of teens being bullied, Roussain was reminded of his own experience growing up.
While the night was in memory of the victims of bullying, there was a clear message that there was not enough being done to support gay and lesbian teens.
“It shouldn’t be like this. As a society we are supposed to be more evolved. We have the Charter of Rights in Canada and the Constitution in America,” said Roussain. “But we still permit this to happen in our schools.”
Steve Foster, president of the Quebec Council of Gays and Lesbians, explained that teens aren’t aware of the support that is offered to them since almost 50 per cent of schools do not print helpline phone numbers in agendas. Foster also knows firsthand how damaging bullying can be.
“We need to be together to remember that suicide affects everyone in society. What makes me angry is that 25 years ago I attempted suicide,” Foster said. “Now 25 years later it’s still the same problem.”
The vigil also was a show of community for Montreal’s Gay Village. “It’s important to show people that we do care that these events happen, to remind people what can be done to help prevent these sad events, and to show that there is a sense of community,” said Pierre-Olivier LalibertÃ©, a volunteer for GRIS-Montreal, an organization that raises awareness and promotes the integration of the gay community. “There is support, it can get better.”