Affirmation Suicide Vigils
2001 Affirmation Vigil in Seattle
By Michael Lambert
May 8, 2001
On a cool, slightly overcast evening, May 8th, the Seattle Affirmation chapter held its candlelight vigil in Volunteer Park to remember Gay and Lesbian Mormons lost through suicide. It was a beautiful, peaceful, spiritual event.
At around 7:00 p.m. folks started gathering, entering the park from every side until soon we had over 60 friends (old and new), family and supporters representing many faiths and lifestyles. Two members of the press arrived representing the two local Gay and Lesbian weekly papers. Volunteers from Affirmation passed out candles, programs, and a wonderful statement written by Don Harryman of San Francisco.
Scott Mackay welcomed folks and lit his candle, then lit the candle of Doris Wood, one of the original mothers who had founded Seattle PFlag. Doris and Scott then began lighting other folk's candles who then in turn lit others. Soon, all were lit and Scott commented on the symbolism and power of working together.
Welcome: Scott MacKay
National Executive Director: Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
On behalf of Affirmation-Gay and Lesbian Mormons, we welcome each of you to this Candlelight Suicide Vigil during this National Suicide Prevention Week. We gather not only to mourn the loss of many wonderful friends and family members, but also to raise our voice of support with the wider community in prevention, in love, and in faith.
Suicide is a complex issue, and often it is hard to determine the exact causes for which people decide to take their lives. However, we believe that gay and lesbian Mormons face problems that are particularly challenging, and some of these problems may have contributed to the tragic demise of the people mentioned here tonight.
We remember our dead. We pay tribute to their lives and we mourn their deaths. We are committed to raise awareness not only about the issues faced by these fellow Mormons, but also about the challenges faced by all gays and lesbians, without distinction of religion, race, or nationality. We do this in the hope of fostering understanding, promoting tolerance, and helping prevent more suicides. During the next hour, we intend to match our sense of grief with a sense of urgency and hope that our efforts may contribute to the prevention of suicide.
Our vigil this night is dedicated to the memory of Stuart Matis, Brian "DJ" Hyler Thompson, and Clay Whitmer-all three of whom were gay Mormons who took their lives in the year 2000. Besides these three-who in their lives were models of faith, integrity, and service as attested by those who knew them-we know of many other gay Mormons of equally outstanding character, who in previous years also chose to leave this life by way of suicide. For all of these, we light our candles in memory this night.
Our purpose here tonight is not to attack the Mormon Church or any other, but to draw attention to the damaging-and sometimes fatally damaging-power of anti-gay religious teachings and the immense personal toll that such teachings take on our friends and families. We want to communicate a message of hope and solace. We make this effort a plea for education and understanding. We call for people of faith to hold intelligence closer to their hearts than bias, prejudice, and intolerance. We stand here united and cry out: No more deaths!; No more silence!
Leslie Anderson, a local member of Affirmation and Health Professional and Educator, gave thought provoking remarks, both factual and personal, about the travesty of suicide.
Remarks: Statistics on Suicide
Leslie Anderson, Physician Assistant and Health Educator
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control reports that:
 Gibson, P. Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide, Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989.
- More people die from suicide than from homicide. In 1997, there were 1.5 times as many suicides as homicides.
- Overall, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all Americans, and is the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24.
- Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than are females. However, females are more likely to attempt suicide than are males.
- Studies consistently show that a high percentage of gay and lesbain youth (25-30%) attempt suicide.
- Studies also show that gay and lesbian youth are at least 3 times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide.
- In a study of gay male and lesbian youth suicide, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services found lesbian and gay youth are two to six times more likely to attempt suicide than other youth and account for up to 30 percent of all completed suicides. 
- In a study of 686 gay men, 337 heterosexual men, 293 lesbian women and 140 heterosexual women - the gay men were 6 times more likely than the heterosexual men to attempt suicide and the lesbian women were 2 times more likely than herterosexual women to attempt. 
- In a study of homeless youth, gay and lesbian youth were 3.5 times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide. 
- The "ingredients" required for completed or attempted suicide vary from individual to individual. Findings from recent research have shown that a suicidal act can be seen as the result of an interaction between background personal and family factors, current emotional state and recent significant life events which lead to an intolerable mental anguish in the person.
- In Utah state, teen suicide is the leading cause of death for males between 15 and 44 years of age. In a report released by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta last summer, 20 percent of Utah's teens who died in 1997 killed themselves. Though students reported attempting suicide less than their peers, 7 percent vs. 8 percent, the actual rate of suicide in Utah remained much
higher than the national average. Suicides among 15- to 24-year-olds in 1997 averaged 18.4 per 100,000 in Utah. Nationally, the rate was 13.3.
- In Washington state, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24. Between 100 and 120 youths complete suicide each year, at a rate of two suicides a week. For every youth suicide, there are another 20 suicide attempts, seven of which result in hospitalization.
- One in five youths in Washington report that they have seriously considered suicide.
- One in 10 Washington youths have attempted suicide.
 Bell, A., and Weinberg, M. (1978). Homosexualities: a study of diversity among men and women. New York. Simon and Schuster.
 Larkin St. Youth Center (1984). Client Statistics. San Francisco.
Jim Butler, National Director of Gamofites: Gay Mormon Fathers then spoke, telling of his own personal journey with friends and self. He poignantly told the story of two gay mormon friends of his, Rob S. and John Fipps, who are no longer with us.
Remarks: "The Mormon Experience and Suicide" Jim Butler, National Chair, Gamofites: Gay Mormon Fathers
Judy Osborne, a transgendered woman, representing Soulforce powerfully detailed her own and her organization's struggle against the religious environment when enables suicide. She challenged us, as much by her example as her words, to get involved
Remarks: "The Religious Community and GLBT Suicide--What Can We Do?"
Judy Osborne, Soulforce Steering Committee member and activist
I'm pleased and honored to speak tonight as we look at the tragedy of Suicide. I need to begin by telling you a bit about Soulforce and how the things we do fit into the topic of suicide.
In Soulforce we're guided by the philosophy of nonviolence that grew over the centuries and was shaped by Gandhi and King into something that really works - in fact, it's the only thing that works, outside of enormous wealth and power, that can change society in less than generations.
Nonviolence is a deep philosophy with some easy and basic rules -- one of these is, when you're oppressed, you must go to the source of oppression to fix the problem. And you must not build hate against your oppressor. Instead you bring your oppressor to a negotiating table through sustained effort, and then help that organization understand the damage they do.
So in this age of gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender oppression, we go to the source, which is, sad to say, organized religion -- not all religions, but too many. And we bring our message, and we seek to negotiate and sometimes bring actions that call a denomination to account for their message of hate, and we do it in a public way that causes leaders to reflect and consider the damage they do. And this Fall we're bringing that message to Salt Lake City, to the Mormon Church. We hope you'll come with us.
Imagine, or try remembering in your own life, the mind of a young child growing up in a religion that oppresses. Religions imprint faith into young souls, give them an abiding sense of its beauty and value, make it part of kids lives - something as natural as breathing.
... and we came to know we were different -- but the leaders of our faiths made it clear that our urgent personal needs, God-given in my opinion, were wrong. Our religions won't let us acknowledge who we are or who we love, and that gives us shame, and keeps us from living honest lives, makes us less than we could be. So we struggle inside our churches and hide and feel ashamed, or we live open, honest lives and our churches tell us we're evil, and sometimes they just reject us ...
... and I can't even imagine creating a more perfect scenario for suicide.
A few of us went to Rome this year to take our Soulforce message to the Vatican. Four days in a row we showed up at St. Peter's Square during the week of Epiphany, which celebrates the coming of the Magi bearing gifts. It's a huge week in Rome, a holy week, ending on the day of Epiphany with a Papal mass in St. Peter's Square. On each of the three prior days we brought gifts to a spot just outside the Square, asking that they be blessed by a Vatican priest as is the custom in Rome. For three days the Church refused. We took our gifts anyway, to an orphanage, another day to an AIDS hospice, a third to a battered women's shelter. On the fourth day, the day of Epiphany, we came back.
This day we assembled inside St. Peters Square, even though the authorities told us we could not. This day we brought ourselves and our pictures as gifts symbolizing all the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics who give gifts of themselves to the Church as priests and nuns and monks and choir directors, organists and laypeople... and asked that we be blessed in their name. We put on our shirts asking the Church to "Stop Spiritual Violence," unfurled banners telling why we were there.
The police tried to move us out. We kneeled and began singing instead. People pressed around us and the police didn't drag us off. People began joining us. They heard our singing and our prayers. Our Italian friends translated so each of us could speak with folks in the crowd. People understood our stories and came close, and we gave away these rainbow crosses made by Jeaneane Hill, who's standing right over there, and the Vatican pilgrims began joining us, they sat on the cobblestones with us, when we stood in a circle they joined hands with us, and at one point the circle stretched half way across the entire entrance to St. Peter's Square, even though only 21 of us began the vigil. And each of us told our stories, we each faced the Pope's window and offered the prayer we had written on the back of our picture, and we held our pictures high for blessing and were refused again.
And even the police began to understand our cause.-- you could see it in their eyes -- not everyone but most. We were face to face for almost three and a half hours and you can't be that close so long without knowing the other person a little bit, and we changed lots of hearts and minds, and yes, we embarrassed the Vatican, and we'll keep on doing that again and again until they begin to negotiate and understand and reconsider their hateful policies that kill and hurt us.
In my Soulforce family I feel cherished as the transgender woman I am. Our stories and hurts and damages and suicides are similar, and we work to change things together. To find pride we must be out -- there's no other way ... so what do our churches tell us? They say we'll accept you, we'll let you be our sons and daughters, as long you don't find pride, as long as you don't come out, as long as you don't bother us with who you love, what gender you need to be, as long as you hide and lie and feel ashamed ... we'll accept you ...
... and that creates a breeding ground for suicide.
Some of us carried pictures of Alfredo Ormando to St. Peter's - this is the one I carried. I found myself looking into his eyes a lot, trying to understand what drove him -- what made him do it? I thought I understood His eyes were expressive. A 39 year old gay man from Sicily, rejected by his religion. He couldn't find a way to come to terms with that, but he made an enduring personal statement at the end, with his suicide. He set himself on fire, in St. Peters Square, under the Pope's window. And the Church tried to make his statement the crazy act of an unstable person who might or might not have been gay, but Alfredo left papers that told the world exactly why he did it. He was a writer, these are his words:
I hope they'll understand the message I want to leave: it is a form of protest against the Church that demonizes homosexuality -- and at the same time all of nature, because homosexuality is a child of Mother Nature.
And I've resigned myself to this destiny. The hereafter doesn't frighten me any more. If God does not exist, I won't have to fear Hell. If God does exist, then surely He's more just, good and merciful than the Catholic Church describes him.
Homosexuals must either accept or kill themselves: there's no other option.
We were joined in Rome by a filmmaker who's making a feature film called Alfredo's Fire, which tells his story. And the filmmaker asked me if I would be interviewed for the film, and I agreed. ... and I don't know why I did this -- certainly hadn't planned to -- but as the interview went on I found myself telling a story I'd never told anyone -- maybe it was my sense of Alfredo's courage and desperation, maybe the way I had come to feel I knew him -- but I told of a day 27 years ago when I sat under a lonely and gnarled madrona tree just north of the Deception Pass bridge ... and decided to live, heal, be me, find pride in that somehow -- instead of dying ... and I wish Alfredo had sat under that tree with me -- maybe the two of us could have figured out our futures together ... because even Alfredo understood, at the very moment he set himself on fire he understood, that there is another option.
Sarah Lambert, Michael's sister, sang a profoundly moving and beautiful song written by Karla Bonoff called "Goodbye My Friend". The sound of her beautiful voice, the message of the words, all set against the tree-lined beauty of Volunteer Park was awesomely beautiful and deeply moving.
Song: "Goodbye My Friend" Sung by Sarah Lambert Lyrics by Karla Bonoff
Oh, we never know where life..will take us I know it's just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death..will shake us And we wonder how it will feel.
So, goodbye my friend...I know I'll never see you again But the time together through all the years
Will take away these tears It's okay now...goodbye my friend.
I've seen alot of things that make me crazy and I guess I held on to you.
I could've run away and left...well maybe But it wasn't time and we both knew.
So, goodbye my friend...I know I'll never see you again
But the love you gave through all the years
Will take away these tears
I'm okay now...goodbye my friend.
Life's so fragile and love so pure
We can't hold on but we try
We watch how quickly it disapears
And we never know why...
But I'm okay now...goodbye my friend
You can go now...
Goodbye my friend.
Doris Wood then told of her own personal grief turned action surrounding the tragic and preventable circumstances of her son's death by suicide after the man he loved was killed in Vietnam and her resolute commitment through her life to building Seattle Pflag. Her son was afraid to come out for various reasons with his religious upbringing being one reason. She also told of influencing her own Church to become an open and affirming congregation. Now, in her later years, Doris's words were still powerful and passionate; though her voice soft, her message was loud and clear.
Remarks: "Suicide Through the Eyes of a Parent", Doris Wood, one of the founding mothers of Seattle PFLAG-Parents & Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Lauren Shuck, Allison Bingham's lifepartner, read Allison's wonderful revised wonderful originally given at a community memorial service March 19, 2000, encouraging us to create lifelines of love.
Vigil Statement: "Creating Lifelines of Love" Allison Bingham, Ph.D - Affirmation Director of Youth Services (Read by Lauren Shuck)
Jeaneane Hill, the NW Region Co-Director of Soulforce and Michael Lambert movingly read the list of names of close to 20 victims of suicide.
Moment of Silence & Sharing of Names:
Jeaneane Hill, N.W. Region Co-Director, Soulforce.
Michael Lambert, Seattle Affirmation Vigil Coordinator
Jay Lynn Peterson
William Burton Badger
Farrell Rollins Hurst
Jon Michael Inman
Brian DJ Thompson
Carlyle D. Marsden
Steven Larry Wheeler
Henry Stuart Matis
Clay Douglass Whitmer
Jacob Lawrence Orosco
Drew Smith of Seattle Affirmation beautifully concluded the Vigil in prayer.......we stood quietly for a few seconds, reflecting on the wonderful hour which had just passed....then, of course, the hugs began.
Prayer: Drew Smith, former Seattle Chapter Director: Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
During the Vigil a light breeze occasionally extinguished a participant's candle.....only to be quickly relit bytheir neighbor, an unmistakable metaphor for helping each other through life's struggles and work.
After Drew's prayer, many folks brought their candles to the front and lined them up at the end of the stage, still lit....They cast a beautiful light on the hugs between both lifelong and new friends, bound together in the moment before heading back to our busy lives....resolved in our minds to do more to help confront the terrible scourge of suicides caused by ignorance and hate.