A nationwide outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth after a number of well-publicized suicides tied to bullying has prompted several Central Kentucky advocacy groups to hold a vigil.
"We need to raise awareness so those kinds of drastic things don't happen," said Sandy Linville, president of the Lexington chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
The vigil, planned for 7 p.m. Friday at Phoenix Park in downtown Lexington, will include several speakers from the gay community. But, Linville said, she hopes it is also an opportunity for other people to show support and learn how serious bullying can be.
The suicides that made headlines are "not a fluke," Linville said. Studies have shown that gay teens are at a much higher risk of suicide than their straight peers.
The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization and Lexington's Gay-Straight Alliance are helping organize the vigil. Afterward, a champagne toast at Soundbar will serve as a fund-raiser for the Trevor Project, a national suicide hotline for teens.
Scott Rollins, a Frankfort minister and PFLAG member, said he is involved in the group because he saw how a friend was treated after she came out as an adult.
Rollins, pastor at Highland Christian Church, said he wants to help send the message to the gay community that "there are people who love you in the church, and I'm sorry you don't see it more often."
He also said he hopes to help Christians see that even if they consider homosexuality a sin, they should love the sinner.
"Jesus didn't teach us to tolerate people, he told us to love people, and we are not anywhere near that in our culture" when it comes to dealing with issues of sexual orientation, he said.
Taylor Cunningham, a freshman at the University of Kentucky, said that although many more young people are coming out, it can still be hard on parents. Cunningham, whose mother is gay and who is doing a research project on PFLAG for school, hopes the vigil will shed light on what he calls "the modern-day civil rights movement."
Linville, the PFLAG president, said that as a parent, she went through a range of emotions when her daughter, Audrey, came out two years ago. She said she wondered how her friends would accept the news, whether her family would think that she had somehow "caused" her daughter to be gay, and worried about how her child would fare at school.
But, she said, the support of others in PFLAG proved invaluable. It's important for friends and family to take a stand against bullying, she said. "If we don't make an issue of it, nobody is going to," she said.
In addition to the vigil, Lexington residents are offering support as part of the It Gets Better Project, an online effort started by Seattle columnist Dan Savage.
Scores of videos have been posted on YouTube encouraging gay and lesbian teens to hold on through tough times. Amanda Fallin, a nursing graduate student at UK, has created a Facebook page to collect local videos and has posted a handful (search for "it gets better Lexington" on Facebook).
"When the It Gets Better Project started nationally," Fallin said, "I thought it was something that I could do to help out."