More than 20 people are expected to join the Silver Lining Foundation on April 20 at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus to protest against the bullying and harassment of teen lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT). Although Minister of Education Dr Tim Gopeesingh has announced general plans to address the issue of bullying in schools the Silver Lining Foundation thinks the public needs to become more aware of the issue, especially among the vulnerable group. The foundation, headed by Jeremy Edwards, Rian Merrick and Isaiah Alexander, is a non-profit organisation that intends to draw national attention to the issue of bullying and harassment, especially among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, through the day of silence. The event will be held from 10 am to 6 pm and supporters will wear red pieces of tape across their mouths, heads, hearts etc. When the silence is lifted at 6 pm they will remove the tape and write inspirational quotations on a canvas. UWI students and other tertiary level students will be involved in the protest but no secondary schools will be involved.
Asked what prompted this action, Merrick, the group's public relations officer, said the idea was Edwards' brainchild. After hearing of the suicide of George Kazanjian (a young student of St Mary's College who committed suicide after being bullied by his peers), he felt the issue needed to be urgently addressed. "Basically his vision was based on the suicide of George. Jeremy pulled together a bunch of us who were interested in and who were in support of LGBT youth. We presented to UWI first and then presented to the Humanities Department, which gave us the okay to start something up," Merrick explained. The foundation was formed on February 24 and its mission is "to create an environment conducive to respect and self-acceptance" with the hope of providing "a support system for marginalised youth regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity." The silent protest, which Merrick said is garnering very positive feedback on campus, will not disrupt classes, since each protester will be given a card that will state why they are taking a vow of silence on that day. Alexander knows the pain of bullying too well and so does not want anyone else to become a victim. "Personally, from an all boys' school, Presentation College in San Fernando, you were bullied. I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through. I want to help those who couldn't help themselves," he said. Silver Lining wants to partner with the Ministry of Education, Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) and other institutions to provide counselling and other services and a support system for young LGBT victims of bullying.
Edwards' impetus stemmed from reports of suicide among homosexual teens. "Well, there were some stories in the local media in which people were being bullied for their sexuality. When you know someone who has committed suicide, as a result it was a reality check," he said. When his friend died, Edwards began to look for resources which he could use to help victims, but discovered there were none. He believes that teens who are victims can easily turn to the wrong people for help and some can even be pushed to suicide. Silver Lining's first objective, he said, is to "get wider society to accept us for who we are. We want to carry our message of tolerance across the board, including the ministry, the religious bodies etc." "In St Mary's College they are already opening up to youth to have discussions about the issue. It is a big deal to me that the Catholic Church is allowing that," he said. He believes that in every school there is someone struggling with the issue and wants to provide a safe place where "you will feel appreciated and loved no matter what." Sharon Mottley, a founding member of CAISO, is in strong support of the Silver Lining Foundation. "I think it is the first step in the right direction," she said. She believes that T&T as a society discriminates and is comfortable doing so. She also thinks it is the Government's responsibility to implement resources that will address issues such as how boys treat girls, effeminate boys who are gay, boys who are labelled gay but who are not, and labelling in general. "We need to shape their minds as part of our guidance programmes. A holistic approach is needed to address the issue of bullying. It is not only boys but also girls who are tomboys etc. who are teased and harassed for their perceived sexuality. "Schools should not have people like Pastor Lee addressing students on the issue of homosexuality. "Schools should be moving to a place of tolerance," she said.