April 6, Stone Mountain, Ga. — Eleven-year-old Jaheem Herrera commits suicide, claiming that he could not take any more of the harassment from peers in his fifth-grade classroom.
We live in a world that's driven by a desire to conquer and cure whatever threatens our human existence. We live in a country that prides itself as the superpower, innovator and leader of the Free World. So why is it that for so many people, young and old, this basic human need is not met?
There continues to be a lack of awareness and support to stop the bullying,harassment,discrimination and victimization that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people face every day. Whether it's in our schools, places of business, places of worship,in the media or simply walking down our streets, there's little to no presence of positive images or inspiring role models for the GLBT community. In fact, in many situations GLBT individuals continue to receive only negative messages about who they are based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. And the consequences of these messages are tragic.
April 16, Hoover, Mass. — Eleven-year-old Carl Joseph Walker hangs himself with an extension cord while his mother prepares dinner downstairs. His mother says he was relentlessly bullied based on his perceived sexual orientation despite her requests for help from the school.
While this tragic story and others speak of youth outside Virginia, that's not because they don't exist here. I believe it's more likely because throughout the state this conversation continues to be one that people are uncomfortable having.
But I don't share this message without a sense of hope and without the belief that if we embrace and support the diverse community in which we live, we can and will conquer and cure this threat to the lives and well-being of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Virginia is making great strides thanks to several individuals and organizations dedicated to supporting a more positive future for GLBT Virginians.
Two individuals, Allison Weinstein and Ivan Jecklin, recently were named as the Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth's 2009 Catalyst Award winners for dedicating immeasurable support to the important work of Equality Virginia and other GLBT community organizations.
Organizations such as the Gay Community Center of Richmond, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Mothers and Others of Virginia and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network of Richmond help build and foster support for the GLBT community.
And ROSMY's recent Corporate Catalyst award-winner, Capital One, has contributed countless volunteer hours to helping keep ROSMY's youth support hotline available 24/7.
The current economic reality has created one of the most challenging climates in the history of the nonprofit sector. More organizations are responding to greater demands, with higher-than-ever expectations to demonstrate their value.
In the face of such demands I've repeatedly found myself asking the question, What is ROSMY's value to the community? What does it mean to be the only source of safety and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Virginia?
As corporations, foundations and individuals are forced to make tough choices with their time, talent and financial resources, I've frequently heard the statement “We must focus on basic human needs.”
In response, I would say that there's no greater human need than that of individuals to live freely, safely and honestly as the people they are. And this is the mission of ROSMY's work. Through our youth support groups, 24/7 youth support hotline, online support and professional Institute for Equality training, Virginia's youth are able to safely, honestly and openly be themselves.
Feb. 12, 2008, Oxnard, Calif. — At 8:15 a.m., eighth-grade pupil Brandon McInerney walked into a computer class where he shot his classmate Lawrence “Larry” King twice in the head. A doctor pronounced King, the 15-year-old victim of school bullying and homophobia, brain dead at the scene. He died two days later, the victim of a hate crime.
There's a message on a bumper sticker I've often read when biking through the Fan: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Each time I read it I interpret it a bit differently based on the circumstances of the day or the given challenges I'm trying to work through. But regardless, the message is always the same: The best solution to any challenge can be reached by embracing the simplest values of love, integrity and respect for all people.
With this in mind I challenge you to ask yourself: What if the solution to ensuring that we meet what I believe is the most important basic human need of all people able to live freely, safely and honestly? Could it be to simply provide love, support and respect for one another?
John Dougherty is the executive director of the Richmond Organization for Sexual Minority Youth, a source of support, education and advocacy dedicated to ensuring gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth an equal opportunity for success.
Opinions in First Person are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Richmond Giving.