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Five hundred attend Vancouver vigil for queer youth suicide

Speakers call on community to get involved

"It gets better," vigil organizer Ryan Clayton assured a crowd of about 500 queers and allies who gathered in Vancouver to respond to the recent spate of reported queer suicides. Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

“I believed all the shitty things that people had said about me and I wanted to die.”

High school in Sault Ste Marie. For Jeremy Dias, it was a daily exercise in homophobia, the word “faggot” trailing after him wherever he went.

Dias still remembers the day he had to scrub graffiti off his own locker, the school janitor unwilling to lend a hand.

He still remembers the taunting in the hallways, the humiliation in the classroom.

“I saw nothing there to defend,” Dias told a crowd of about 500 queers and allies who gathered in Vancouver’s Emery Barnes Park on Oct 20 to light a candle for struggling and suicidal queer youth.

“I believed all the shitty things that people had said about me and I wanted to die” — until a classmate suddenly, finally intervened.

“I was shocked,” Dias said. “Never in my life had anyone stood up for me.”

When he asked her why she did it — why she stood up for him when he saw no reason to defend himself — she said he seemed like a nice guy.

“Not all of us have Jessicas in our life,” he noted.

Today Dias tours the country, sharing his own story of strength, survival and protest, and urging other queer youth to share theirs as well.

“I don’t want your hope and your well-wishes and your purple T-shirts,” he told Wednesday’s crowd. “I want each and every one of you to get involved.

“Our community has become apathetic and it is an embarrassment.”

Gay youth are committing suicide, he said. In the last six weeks, there have been 600 suicides, not six.

“That is unacceptable,” he said.

“Shame on us for not doing enough.

“Shame on us for thinking gay marriage was the end of our battle — because it’s only the beginning.”

The gay community has been defined by its willingness to demand change, to create movement, he said.

“As we reshape the world in our image, there will be no suicide,” Dias said. “There will be no hate. There will be the love that we feel for each other right now.”

Other speakers echoed Dias’s call to action.

Empress Raye Sunshine, speaking as her male alter ego, Steve, called on the community to actively support its youth.

The youth are our future, Steve said. But they’re also our now.

“They’re here now. Pay attention.”

“I believe we change the world by sharing ourselves with others,” Out in Schools’ Jen Sung told the crowd.

And the world is changing, she said. “Please live long enough to see it.”