Attendees at the Rise Above H8 vigil—to bring awareness to violence against LGBT Youth—at the Massachusetts Statehouse, June 29, 2012 (photo: Alan Tran)
By Alan Tran
On Friday, June 29, more than 50 people gathered at a “Rise Above H8” vigil in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse to draw attention to violence against LGBT youth. The vigil was one of 15 held across the country that day in response to the shooting of two lesbian teenagers in Texas the previous Saturday, one of whom died from her injuries.
While the tragedy in Texas has been a flashpoint in the national media, bringing attention to violence against LGBT youth amidst a month of Pride parades and celebrations, it is only one of several un- or underreported cases of which the vigil sought to raise awareness. Participants came to mourn for the victims of the shooting in Texas, but also to express their outrage and determination to fight against all instances of injustice and intolerance against LGBT youth.
Get Equal, a national LGBT advocacy organization, coordinated the vigil with Join the Impact, another advocacy group with a strong Boston presence. While the number of participants was modest, they represented a wide variety of community members, from advocates to allies to parents and LGBT youth, including members of the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition, GLAD, Boston GLASS, and the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth. A number of organization representatives gave speeches reacting to the violence and encouraging those attending to continue their efforts to fight homophobia.
“We wanted to broaden the scope of the vigil to include all of the LGBT youth violence that has been going on, said Co-State Lead of Get Equal Cathy Kristofferson. “The problem that we have in the country at the moment is that anti-gay vitriol is really pumping up,” as exemplified in events like North Carolina’s recently passed Amendment One and people booing when the gay soldier came on at the GOP debate. “That sort of environment inflames the homophobes in society and they take it out on the kids.”
The young lesbian couple in Texas had been together since mid-February. They were found with gunshot wounds to the head, lying in the tall grass in Violet Andrews Park in Portland by visitors Saturday morning. Mollie Judith Olgin, age 19, was pronounced dead at the scene. Mary Christine Chapa, age 18, was rushed to the hospital, where she is now in critical but stable condition.
“Even though we don’t know whether the shooting in Texas is a hate crime or not, we do know that unless people rise up and make a loud noise, it won’t even be investigated,” said Kristofferson.’
Fenway Health Program Associate Daniella Matthews-Trigg echoed that sentiment, saying that despite reports from police investigators that there was no clear evidence indicating the attack was a hate crime, “the fact that there has been a national outpouring of grief and anger over these attacks by the LGBT community speaks to the very real fears that we all have about being visible, being out and being safe.”
Bethany Allen, an ally and mother of queer-identifying children, said in a written statement although she came to the vigil with a personal investment in the issue, violence and intolerance was an issue “every decent person should care about.”
“I went to the Rise Above H8 vigil tonight because what happened in Texas horrified me—not just as a mother of queer-identifying kids, but as a mother, period,” Allen wrote. “This isn’t the first story of violence against LGBTQ youth that I’ve heard of and, sadly, it won’t be the last. ... If people can continue to be gunned down for simply daring to be who they are, none of us are safe, and we are all less free.”
At the vigil, a photo of the lesbian couple from Texas was displayed on the Statehouse gates. Below it was a photo of CeCe McDonald, a 24-year-old African-American transgender woman who killed a man in self-defense, and was sentenced to 41 months in jail in a male prison. Hers was one of many stories that Hope Freeman, Peer Education Coordinator at Boston GLASS, referred to in her speech at the vigil when speaking about the need to raise awareness of violence against young LGBT women.
“Giving faces and voices to disempowered communities is vital for our continued fight for justice, locally and globally,” said Freeman.
The importance of persistent dialogue was repeated by Massachusetts Commissioner on GLBT Youth Marc Jones, who urged participants to continue speaking up. “When we don’t show up, we don’t just lose the opportunity, we lose what we already had.”
Alan Tran is a freelance journalist who graduated from Brandeis University in May with a degree in English literature and a minor in journalism. He worked as a photo editor and columnist at his college newspaper and interned at the Improper Bostonian and Boston Spirit magazine. He's photographed weddings and club nights and would be hard pressed to say which is the better gig.
The author is solely responsible for the content.