When a group of NYU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) student leaders first planned a small vigil at Washington Square Park on Sunday night, they had no idea that New York Governor David Paterson would end up attending. “Tonight was just going to be ten people chalking for the You-Are-Loved chalk project,” said Zaneta M. Rago, who organized the event and works for NYU’s Office of LGBT Student Services. “Honestly, I made the Facebook group at 3am on Wednesday night, and by today we were up to 3,000 people . . . I’m still in a little bit of shock.”
The vigil was organized in honor of the numerous teenagers who have committed suicide lately after being harassed for being gay. It became a national issue when Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers student, jumped off a bridge after his roommate broadcast online an intimate encounter he had with another man.
Even the persistently bad weather wasn’t enough to disperse the large crowd that assembled between the park’s fountain and the Arch. Students and citizens alike stood under the rain to listen to the speakers— Governor Paterson among them— advocate the need for tolerance and understanding.
“I am no stranger to bullying,” said Paterson. “I know how it is when you are singled out for prosecution for being no more than what you were born as.”
He added that, though he was there as one of many supporters, he also represented a strong political force in support of LGBTQ rights. “I came here as a governor to tell you that the laws of the state of New York will be behind you,” said Paterson, referring to tougher cyber-bullying laws that he said he’d push for in Albany. City Councilman Daniel Drum was present among the crowd, as well as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who spoke against homophobia and those who bully members of the LGBTQ community.
“We are here to tell them that they are in fact the minority,” she said.
At around 9:25pm, the crowd broke their glow sticks (the park has a strict no candle policy) and raised them in the air for a minute of silence. Afterwards, 30 Rock and Glee actor Cheyenne Jackson led the audience in a rendering of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” while the audience was given chalk to write messages of hope all over the park.
The chalk messages honored the annual tradition of the You-Are-Loved Chalk Message Project, a campaign that began at Drew University in New Jersey and subsequently spread throughout the United States. Jen Dugan, who started the project in 2005, was present at the vigil. “Zaneta and the NYU kids organized the chalking session and they completely organized the vigil tonight,” she said. “All I did was come and speak and be here.”
Dugan said about the You-Are-Loved campaign:
On the Monday before National Coming Out Day, universities and suicide prevention groups across the nation go out and chalk messages, they organize suicide prevention like lectures and workshops, or they just go out and congregate, and it’ll be happening nationwide tomorrow.
National Coming Out Day is on October 11th.
If you are an LGBTQ youth and you’d like to talk to someone, reach out to the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-TREVOR, and always remember that you are loved.
Photos by Lauren Monaco.