A candle-lit crescent shone in front of the Sherrod Library on the night of Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, commemorating departed friends and celebrating diversity. The candlelight vigil, organized by the Department of Multicultural Affairs in cooperation with ETSU’s LGBTies and several other groups, honored individuals who had faced adversity or death for their sexual orientation.
“In the past three weeks there have been five suicides related to homosexuality,” LGBTies co-president Kendall Standridge said. “Those are just the ones that have made the news.
“Beyond that there have been several people like Matthew Shephard and Brandon Tina, a sort of martyr in the gay community, who have died for their orientations.”
Shephard’s and Tina’s names were mentioned several times from the podium during the event, as well as the names of others who have died.
After that, the crowd was encouraged to call out the names of loved ones who had died due to orientation/gender discrimination.
Individuals were named, heads were bowed and candle flames danced brilliantly as an honorary moment of silence ensued.
Though heartrending, the ceremony was not without smiles and good times. A Johnson City band, The Squash Blossoms, kicked the activity off with an acoustic jam that included Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel, and an after-party of sorts convened at the Presbyterian campus house.
Carly Manning, president of ETSU’s American Society for Microbiology student chapter, attended with members of her club who were taking up donations for the support of HIV/AIDS patients.
“Dr. Powers, our faculty adviser, is also the president of HIV Network, the organization I was responsible for collecting donations for,” Manning said.
Manning collaborated with Standridge to set up a booth informing participants about HIV/AIDS.
“HIV/AIDS is extremely prevalent among the homosexual population,” Manning explained. “Not only were we there to collect donations, but also to raise awareness.”
Standridge also explained the purpose of LGBTies.
“LGBTies is a gay-straight alliance on campus,” Standridge said. “We serve as a safe haven for students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, as well as anyone questioning their sexual orientation. We are an open-minded group who want to be about more than just sexual orientation and gender identity.”
When asked about the relationship between the heterosexual and non-heterosexual populations on campus, Standridge stated that the biggest issue between the two was “a simple gap in understanding.” Without mentioning names, she referenced some straight acquaintances who avoided situations with gay individuals because they were afraid of offending them.
However, she assured that she would answer any questions anyone might have to help bring about a better understanding of who she is.
“Any exposure helps us show the straight community that we aren’t entirely different from them, and that is the goal.