JOHNSTOWN - Clad in purple T-shirts that read "Educate, stop the hate," about 75 Fulton-Montgomery Community College students and faculty rallied outside the College Union on Wednesday to raise awareness against bullying and to show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths there is support for them.
The rally was part of a nationwide effort called Spirit Day, which was initiated by Brittany McMillan, a Canadian teenager, in light of recent suicides and deaths related to victims' sexuality.
Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses were buzzing with statements supporting Sprit Day on Wednesday, and many people wore purple.
People gather for a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rally near the clock tower at Fulton-Montgomery Community College on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
On the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation website, www.glaad.org, people could click an application that would turn their Facebook or Twitter pictures purple for the day.
Jeremy Sherman, coordinator of Student Activities at FMCC, said he learned of Spirit Day through online social networking and decided to plan the rally with college GLOW Alliance Club President Adam Barnes.
During the rally, students read the names and stories of youths, including Tyler Clementi, Zach Harrington, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Billy Lucas and Cody J. Barker, all young people who made headlines after their recent deaths.
"Today, we're raising hope and awareness to let [youths] know there is a supportive network," Sherman said.
Sherman also coordinated LGBT Sensitivity Training with Planned Parenthood, which took place after the rally.
The rally was the first anti-bullying rally for LGBT held on campus.
Students held signs that read "love is love," "stop the hate" and "stop the bullying."
Jazmin Ortiz, a criminal justice student from Brooklyn, said for her, the rally was personal since she unexpectedly lost her uncle, who was gay, in March.
"My uncle was beaten to death," Ortiz said. "He was on life support for two weeks.
Ortiz said her uncle, who was 63, faced bullying frequently in life, according to her mother's accounts.
"Individuals don't just wake up and become gay. It's something in your genes. It hurts me that my uncle went through that [bullying] all his life," Ortiz said. "I just wish we could stop all this hate. You should never judge because you don't know if a family member is gay."
Ortiz learned about the rally from a professor in a psychology class. She said she wasn't a member of the GLOW club because she didn't know about it, but intended to sign up.
Barnes said membership in GLOW has exploded this year at 35 members, many of whom are straight, otherwise known as "allies."
According to statistics from the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey, which were read at the rally, nine out of 10 students who say they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are bullied.
Barnes said he didn't think bullying on the FMCC campus was that severe, but said many students "throw around a fair amount of anti-gay slurs."
"They say, 'Oh, that's so gay,' and don't really think about it, but almost every time I hear that, I hear another person say, 'You shouldn't say that,'" said Barnes, a history major in his second year at FMCC.
Every semester, Barnes said the group has a "tolerance luncheon." He said the invitation to the luncheon extends beyond campus to the community. The luncheons have had themes such as "transgender language" and "acceptance from family and accepting self."
He said pushing for "tolerance" is too lax, and now the group is pushing for "acceptance."
"There are things you tolerate, but you don't accept them," Barnes said.
This week is also Ally Week, which is sponsored by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network and is being observed on high school campuses as well.
Mayfield High School, which has a Gay Straight Alliance club, is observing an anti-bullying message all this week.
On Monday, students signed a pledge to abstain from using anti-gay slurs and put a stop to bullying.
Students also wrote messages of support like "peace and pride" and "don't be afraid to be yourself" in chalk outside the library's entrance Tuesday. On Wednesday, students wore purple for Spirit Day "to honor the children who've committed suicide in recent weeks due to homophobic abuse," according to an article on the school's website, www.mayfieldk12.com.
Amanda Whistle covers Gloversville news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.