On this National Coming Out Day, there is a call to remember the six young people who took their own lives in recent weeks across the country due to gay bullying. Sunshine Cathedral and the Pride Center at Equality Park, Ft. Lauderdale, are among those holding prayer services tonight.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin, director of justice and media ministries at the cathedral, says nine out of 10 LGBT youth report being verbally harassed at school; 44 percent say they have been physically harassed; and 60 percent say it is useless to report abuse because they don't trust that anyone will actually help protect them.
"These are serious things that we're facing right now, because these are young people who are taking their lives. We don't need just political air given to it, we need political muscle put behind this, with people who can make our schools and our community a safer place."
Griffin says while bullying should not be tolerated in any case, it is especially prevalent against those perceived to be LGBT.
"They do feel like they're the only one, and if it's found that they are gay or lesbian or even questioning their sexuality, it can be outside what other kids are used to and it's difficult for them. There's a lot of pressures on kids in school to begin with, then this just becomes one added pressure."
The problem is getting attention nationwide. The cast of the television show, "Glee," announced last week they will showcase gay bullying in upcoming episodes, and journalist Dan Savage has started a You Tube project called "It Gets Better" to let gay and lesbian students know they are not alone. Griffin says it's time for other adults and role models to echo the message.
"It does get better and it will get better, and there are people out there that you can turn to talk to. You know, we want to be there, be that stop-gap measure for people before they go to that step of saying suicide is their only option out."
A survey found lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Griffin is calling on Congress to take action on the pending Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act - both of which provide tools, resources and guidelines for schools.
Tonight's vigil will be held at Sunshine Cathedral at 7:30 p.m. at 1480 SW 9th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. Troubled teens can call the Trevor Project lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. or watch www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject. Suicide risk statistics are from the 2007 Massachusetts youth risk survey.