Students and Community members alike light candles in memory of young adults who have commited suicide after anti-LGBTQ bullying and prejudice. Photo by Molly Solomon.

“I have a friend who just died of an intentional overdose. I wish I had known. When you are struggling, talk, just talk …”

As the survivor of a brutal anti-queer hate crime, UCSC alumna Lex, knows all too well the harsh reality of bullying and harassment facing many queer youth today.

Two and a half years ago, Lex and four friends were assaulted outside a San Francisco club, and recently Lex suffered the loss of a close friend.

For that reason Lex, who goes by her first name, speaks out at events across Santa Cruz county, such as Tuesday night’s campus HEAL event, for queer acceptance.

UCSC hosted the Honoring, Educating, Activating, Living Queer (HEAL) memorial event to honor young queer people who have died from suicide or violence from anti-queer hate crimes. The group comprises queer and ally members of the Santa Cruz community.

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after classmates outed him, by posting a video online of Clementi having sex.

At least six teenagers — Raymond Chase, 19, Cody J. Barker, 17, Seth Walsh, 13, Asher Brown, 13, and Billy Lucas, 15, and Aiyisha Hassan, 19 — have committed suicide since September after struggling with their sexual orientation or anti-gay bullying.

Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was among those honored. Shepard’s 1998 murder brought national attention to hate crime legislation. He was tortured and murdered near Laramie, Wyo.

“It’s important to me to tell my own story and makes the stories real — to give a voice to those who have lost but also those who are losing,” Lex said. “These are real people we are talking about.”

The event, sponsored by the Cantú GLBTI Resource Center, Student Affairs and the Dean of Students, brought students and campus administrators together for a discussion of the tough issues of hate, bias, bullying and suicide.

Bill Ladusaw, interim humanities dean, participated in the event sharing his personal experiences with the group, encouraging those who are struggling to seek help from campus resources.

“The major importance of events like these is that we have this opportunity to be seen,” Ladusaw said. “We want to say to people who are struggling, ‘Reach out — we love you.’”

The Trevor Project, a national organization that aims to end suicide among LGBTQ youth, provides resources and a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses, according to studies cited on the Trevor Project website. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. More than one third have attempted suicide.

The accompanying teach-in was co-facilitated by Cantú Center programs coordinator Tam Welsh and College Eight programs coordinator, Mike Kittredge. It focused on building communication skills, becoming better allies and discussing modes of bullying and harassment.

“Be committed to having an inclusive environment here at UCSC,” Kittredge said. “Be aware of the various identities that exist within the community … Learn as much as you can and be aware of yourself and the privileges you might have if you identify as straight. Work towards equity for all folks in our society, educating yourself and others.”

Sixty members of the campus and Santa Cruz community then participated in a candle­light vigil, which ended in the Quarry Plaza, where participants shared their personal stories and words of encouragement.

Fourth-year community studies major Xochixlquetzal was among the dozens who spoke up to share their stories with the crowd. Like Lex, she goes by her first name.

As a young child, Xochixlquetzal was teased and ridiculed for acting and dressing in a way that was atypical of her gender. Her response was to bully others.

“It turned into name calling against people who, really, were like me,” she said.

Xochixlquetzal was able to come out many years later as queer and transgender and asked for the forgiveness of the young woman she had made fun of.

“[I bullied] a beautiful trans woman and we called her ‘he-she’ and ‘shim,’ names I am now sometimes called,” Xochixlquetzal said. “Having come full circle, it still shames me that I ever said those things. In high school my response to these issues was rage, anger. Now my answer is love and understanding.”

HEAL organizers aimed to educate members of our campus community on hate and prejudice.

“We need to work to foster a community that promotes a culture that does not foster hate,” Kittredge said. “If there is an act of hate, we need to act quickly to condemn it. It only takes one small act to make an entire group of people feel uncomfortable, unsafe or unwelcomed.”