STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE IN THE ADIRONDACK MOUNTAINS
On October 12th, the Adirondack Unitarian Universalist Community (AUUC) of Saranac Lake, New York sponsored a “Memorial and Tribute” to five teenagers who recently took their own lives following homophobic bullying and harassment. The idea for the service arose from an email correspondence between two friends who were deeply saddened as the news unfolded. One, Ann Mullen, is a member of the Board of the AUUC and the other, Phill Greenland, is a friend of the congregation and former music director. The videos from the “It Gets Better” project and those by Tim Gunn and Ellen DeGeneres sparked their desires to take action.
Ann and Phill asked the AUUC Board of Trustees for their support for a service, which they quickly received. There had been a bullying incident in the Saranac Lake school system the previous spring, so the topic of how to respond was already on the table. Many members of the congregation volunteered to help.
The AUUC publicized the service through an ad in the daily paper, by establishing a Face Book event page, and by contacting friends in the local lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender and environmental communities. The planners were elated when over sixty people turned out for the service, many coming a half hour before it was to begin. Those attending were a nice mixture of people of all ages: AUUC members and nonmembers, high school students, senior citizens, and people from the LGBT and Green Circle communities.
The service itself was focused on mourning the lost, but also on protecting our children in the future. Jason Brill, vice president of the AUUC, welcomed the attendees and told them “we must say no to bullying.” Then, those present remembered some of the lives lost. Members of the community read short biographies of each of them: Justin Aaberg, age 15, Minnesota; Billy Lucas, age 15, Indiana; Tyler Clementi, age 18, New Jersey; Seth Walsh, age 15, California; and Asher Brown, age 13, Texas, and lit candles in front of pictures of the boys.
They also lit a candle to focus attention on the unknown children and teenagers who have taken their own lives because of any kind of bullying, and those who are suffering because of it. They asked the folks present to pledge, as a community, to protect all children from bullying.
Sue Grimm played two haunting flute selections, and Phill played a piano piece he had written in memory of the lost teenagers. Then Phill spoke about his experiences as a high school teacher. He talked about how people can support GLBT youth in a quiet way. For example, he talked about a colleague who started a theater group in the high school because, as he said he saw all these gay and lesbian kids wandering the halls and he wanted to provide them with a place to go. Phill called this “shooting an arrow into the air. Ann Mullen closed the service with some thoughts about the need to model love for children, to provide guidance and teach children to value differences, but to look for the sameness, too.
For a congregation of forty members, the AUUC congregation was thrilled at the outcomes of the service. They were especially glad that the Saranac Lake school superintendent attended, and after the service was over, asked a member of the congregation how he could help. In addition, a parent asked the AUUC to take the lead in establishing a GLBT youth group in the community.