Openarms Youth Project holds rally to support gay youths
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010
10/21/10 at 8:04 AM
When Misti Teufel came out as gay in the sixth grade, her classmates called her names and threw food at her.
When his parents found out he was gay, Thomas Snelson, who goes by the name Tamia St. James, was sent to a ministry that tried to make him straight.
Ken Draper was so relentlessly bullied in high school that he thought about suicide many times.
They all had a message Wednesday for young people who are bullied because of their sexual orientation: "It gets better."
The Openarms Youth Project hosted a rally at its center to remind gay teenagers and young adults that there is a place in Tulsa that will support them.
Openarms is a social service organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teenagers and their straight allies, said Tim Gillean, its founder.
The "It Gets Better" campaign began online in response to recent suicides of gay youths across the country. Fort Worth City Councilor Joel Burns' impassioned speech at an Oct. 12 City Council meeting is among the thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube telling GLBT youths that if they will hold on past high school, their lives will improve dramatically. Burns' speech had been viewed nearly 1.9 million times by Wednesday night.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released an "It Gets Better" video. Her speech had been viewed more than 100,000 times by Wednesday night.
Among the most high-profile of the recent suicides is that of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22 after a surreptitiously obtained video of him having a sexual encounter with another man was streamed live online.
In Oklahoma earlier this month, Zach Harrington, a gay 19-year-old from Norman, killed himself a week after attending a City Council meeting where three hours were devoted to comments from residents about a proclamation declaring October Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month.
The comments were about evenly split for and against the proclamation - which passed - but the anti-gay comments were described as especially vitriolic, and Harrington's family said the comments might have pushed him over the edge.
Activists say that while it can't be known what being gay had to do with these and other people's decisions to commit suicide, gay youths are frequently the targets of relentless bullying.
Teufel, now 15, volunteers at Openarms and said she is determined to help change the climate.
"How many people have to lose their lives for people to open their eyes and realize all the pain they're causing?" she said.
The crowd of about 50 people at the rally was clad in purple to recognize National Spirit Day in honor of the GLBT teens who have recently committed suicide. About half of those present were adults, with the other half teens.
In addition to speeches and a video presentation, the rally included a candlelight vigil.
Mark Goins, an adult who started to realize he was gay in his late teens, said he used to suffer constant abuse at his job. Now he owns two businesses and said he has an incredible circle of friends.
"Too much of my youth was spent in fear," he said. "Never again. My future belongs to me."
Late last year, Openarms worked with a University of Oklahoma professor to survey about 150 local GLBTQ youth. The results indicated that 39 percent of the youths had attempted suicide and that 67 percent had suicidal feelings.
More than half said they didn't think it was safe to be out at school, and nearly three quarters said they were bullied at school every day.
Gillean said bullying can lead to kids dropping out of school or worse.
"Sometimes they can't stand one more day in those halls being tormented," he said.
Draper, the director of Openarms, said the recent suicides represent a silent epidemic that must be stopped.
"We have to save our GLBT youth," he said. "We have to let them know that life gets better."
Here is an explanation of the buttons on the player above.
Play slide show with sound
Next image / play slide show without sound
Expand the slide show to full screen
To see each slide
To see all of the Tulsa World slide shows, go to tulsaworld.com/photos.
Contact the Openarms Youth Project
2015 S. Lakewood Ave., 838-7104
Original Print Headline: Rally supports teens
Shannon Muchmore 581-8378
Shaylie Tarver (left) and her friend Ethan Jameson, both from Tulsa, comfort each other during a rally held at the Openarms Youth Project in Tulsa on Wednesday. The crowd of about 50 people was clad in purple in honor of teens who have recently committed suicide. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Lee Hosley, 12, of Wagoner holds a candle. The Openarms Youth Project hosted a rally at its center to remind gay teenagers and young adults that there is a place in Tulsa that will support them. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Supporters hold candles and signs during a rally held by LGBT rights groups for the "It Gets Better" movement in response to recent teen suicides. JAMES GIBBARD/ Tulsa World