A string of suicides by gay teens has brought national attention to the issue of sexual orientation harrassment in schools. Young people in Vermont say they too have been bullied because they're lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
According to Outright Vermont, a local advocacy group, young people struggling with their sexual orientation in Vermont are eight times more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. That's why on Monday night UVM and Outright Vermont hosted a candlelight vigil to remember victims and shed light on this issue.
In the past three weeks at least five young adults have committed suicide after being bullied over their sexual orientation. On Monday night a few hundred gathered on UVM's green to mourn those young lives lost to ignorance.
Their candles lit up the green. Some brought signs of hope. Others came to cope with these suicides that hit all too close to home.
Many who attended the vigil said they could identify, on some level, with the isolation those five young men experienced and have felt that same fear of bullying and marginalization.
"Feeling like you don't have anyone it's a horrible place to be and I entirely understand what those kids are going through," said Lindsey Lauble who attends Champlain College.
Dan Merril spoke at Monday's vigil.
"I feel like I am a strong and happy person, well adjusted prepared for the future," he said, "Which is exactly what I was not when I was younger and dealing with the pressure of being gay and having no one in the world know about it but me. I felt like for years and years if anyone ever knew my secret it would just be the end of the world."
Merril, and others who spoke out at Monday's vigil, came to lend their support and understanding. They want to let others in the LGBT community know that they are not alone.
"When you finally are able to be who you truly are it's not the ending," said Merril, "It's just the beginning."
"You really just need to find that one person in your life that's going to love you no matter what," said Lauble.
Vigil organizers say they hope the somber gathering will allow this community to cope as well as shed light on the dire consequences of bullying.
"The vigil tonight is another way that we can come together and mourn the loss and honor the lives of these youth and try to do something about it so the world is a little safer for queer youth," said Melissa Murray, Outright Vermont's executive director.
"Bullying is not okay and it does hurt people. It kills people," Lauble said.
Outright Vermont has been an advocacy group for youth in the LGBT community since 1989. The organization offers programming, support groups and other resources in communities and schools throughout Vermont. For more information about the group click on their website.