by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
A couple of years ago, Julian Gaspay, an out Gay student and local entertainer turned LGBT youth advocate, dealt with the aftermath of emotions that flood your world when someone you care for dies by suicide. Those were some of the toughest moments of his life, and dealing with the loss changed him forever.
Just when he thought he'd worked through his grief and moved on, a rash of LGBT youth suicides in 2010 caused the pain and loss that he'd felt over losing his friend a few years earlier to resurface. Only this time, Gaspay wouldn't merely deal with his feelings privately. He would make an attempt to prevent others who suffer feelings of hopelessness from ending their lives.
Many of you probably remember the fundraiser 'You'll Never Walk Alone' in October 2010. Enlisting the mentorship of local drag entertainer and community activist Gaysha Starr, Gaspay partnered with SGN and Neighbours Nightclub to raise money and awareness for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) - a statewide organization dedicated to aiding youth in need and educating adults on how to recognize and prevent youth from taking their own lives. The event was a huge success. A message was sent out that in the LGBT community, when one of us is hurt, we take care of our own.
Because of Gaspay's efforts to bring the difficult topic of youth suicide to the forefront and educate people about YSPP and OutLoud's (the LGBT-specific arm of the organization) existence, a number of other groups stepped up to raise money for them and a local movement was born.
Then, Gaspay backed away. Unsure what his next move should be, he exited quietly and focused on his studies.
Some time passed and then Gaspay found his voice again when area GSA student clubs asked him to be a guest speaker. As he began to contemplate the importance of speaking to LGBT students and their allies, he told SGN, he realized that what was needed was a diverse panel of representatives from the LGBT community - a panel that would include people other than Gay men.
'I realize that I do not identify as Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. So I can't speak for them or answer questions that students might have on their behalf,' Gaspay told SGN.
He then set out to create the Let's Make It Better Dialogue Seminar Tour (LMIBDT). And so far, Gaspay says, the response from his peers has been good. Currently, Gaspay is financially backing the tour but says he understands that in order for it to be a complete success and travel to areas outside Seattle and King County, he will need to raise some funds. For the time being, though, he is hard at work putting the nuts and bolts of the project together.
Gaspay says a quote by Austrian author Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach, 'In youth we learn; in age we understand,' best describes LMIBDT. 'What the members of the speaking panel will do is talk honestly with the youth about the things they've experienced as members of the LGBT community,' he said. 'We want them to know that we support them and that we understand the situations they are going through because we went through them too.'
In fact, Gaspay says he was a victim of bullying himself. 'When I was younger, the pitch of my voice was slightly higher than what seemed to be acceptable for a young man,' he told SGN. 'I inherited the 'Valley Girl' speech dialect, saying 'like' way too often whenever I didn't know how to describe something.'
Gaspay says he was mocked and constantly teased. 'As I got older the stigma of those insults became deeper rooted, as words such as 'fag' and 'Gay' were associated with me.'
In response, Gaspay recalled, he became resentful and denied being Gay, 'not wanting to be this negative persona my bullies had created for me.'
Self-acceptance and social acceptance are topics that Gaspay and his panel of speakers will address.
'One of the best gifts a human being can give to another is to believe in them,' he said.
Heather Carter, program director for YSPP's OutLoud program, has lent her expertise to Gaspay. The two worked well together for the 2010 fundraiser Gaspay conceptualized, and Carter has been instrumental in pointing the young leader in the right direction so he can arm himself with the knowledge needed to talk about youth suicide with high-school students. Saying the wrong thing or putting out incorrect information could lead to tragic results. At the end of the day, if a student is suicidal, their care is best left up to professionals who know how to properly respond. Keeping this in mind, Gaspay says he's built LMIBDT as an outreach, not as a clinical response to suicide.
'Being in the age range closest to theirs, I'm able to connect with LGBT youth with little effort because of a smaller generational gap,' Gaspay points out. 'I hope that other young LGBT members in our community follow my lead and reach out to the youth and participate in creating unity among the diverse population of people who make up the LGBT community.'
Gaspay credits the students involved in GSAs for being 'individuals who are already taking a stand for what they believe in and displaying the potential to be the future of LGBT activism.'
'Their interests, future, and well-being are something worth investing in,' he told SGN. 'I strongly believe that.'
The tour is not yet up and running because school is out for the summer. But when the kids return to class in the fall, Gaspay says, LMIBDT will soon follow. Until then, Gaspay advises members of the greater Seattle LGBT community to 'extend your hand in friendship to LGBT students, because at their age it is tough for them to feel connected to the community, and they are looking for a sense of belonging.'
And, Gaspay reminds us to give monetarily or donate our time and talents to local LGBT organizations, campaigns, and causes. 'If we all work together and donate and volunteer with these groups, we, as a community, can ensure their success.'
SGN will follow Gaspay and his panel of representatives throughout the LMIBDT and report back to our readers about the impact the program is sure to make on the lives of LGBT youth in our state.
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!