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Gay Advocacy Org To Host Forum in East Hampton School After Student Death

The Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth hopes to address bullying and tolerance following the death of David Hernandez.

Just a week after 16-year-old East Hampton high school student David Hernandez Barros died, a forum has been scheduled to discuss the issues of homosexuality and bullying that have been raised since his sudden death.

The Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth announced Tuesday that it will host a meeting at East Hampton High School on Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.

"We have been working closely with East Hampton school administration and officials since this tragedy to ensure that support is available for the healing that needs to take place, and to create a plan to move forward in ensuring no other teen, GLBT or heterosexual, feels the need to take their own life," said David Kilmnick, the chief executive officer of the network.

"We heard about the suicide very early on," Kilmnick said, noting that his organization has been working with the East Hampton School District for 17 out of the 19 years its been around, including to help set up a Gay Straight Alliance club for students in the high school and middle school.

Police never confirmed the high school junior's cause of death, on Sept. 29, was a suicide, but it was widely speculated.

Hernandez attended a Gay Straight Alliance meeting at the high school in the days before his death, Kilmnick said.

"We don't know if David was gay — We've heard things from people that he felt bullied for being gay or for being perceived as gay," he said. "It really shouldn't matter at this point."

Kilmnick said that nationally 90-percent of gay teens feel bullied to some degree. Gay teens are also three times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers.

The organization suggested having a community forum. "We got calls from folks who said, 'It's the school's fault,'" Kilmnick said referring to the bullying rumors — which he neither confirmed nor denied. "Unfortunately, bullying is an epidemic — just like teen suicides — unless we're able to walk the halls holding the hand of every student in the school, we're not going to stop it."

He singled East Hampton School District as being proactive, such as holding sensitivity workshops, and standing out amongst other districts on the East End. There are "less than a handful" of gay straight alliance clubs in middle schools, he said.

Kilmnick said an invitation has not been made yet to Hernandez's family, though the entire community is invited. "They are grieving right now and we want to make sure they have the proper time to do so and also ensure that the attention is placed where it needs to be for this forum – on a solution moving forward for the community," he said.

While Hernandez's death will be addressed at the meeting (certified social workers from the LIGALY staff will be on hand), the organization also hopes to begin a dialogue about the need for a LGTB community center on the South Fork. "We thought it was time to bring together the community for a meeting to talk about what we hear from many kids and families who tell us there’s no place for them to go after school," he said.

The LIGALY network runs two community centers, one in Bay Shore and one that opened up one year ago in Garden City. The centers provide programs and services, such as support groups, youth leadership, anti-bullying campaigns and initiatives, and also provide teens a place where they can "just come down and be a kid," he said. Fifteen to 20 percent of teens that go to the centers are not homosexual, he said.

At the end of the 2011-12 school year, the network received several emails from Southampton and Westhampton Beach high school students asking for one that is accessible to them, he said.

The organization is looking for a space, though money is tight and real estate on the South Fork is expensive. Kilmnick said they are considering the Southampton and Sag Harbor areas.

"There are things we'll never know because he's not with us anymore," Kilmnick said of Hernandez. "We need to respect and honor his life ... and we should be able to learn from this so that no teenager will feel like they have to take their life."

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also visit The Trevor Project's website, a national organization providing support to LGBT youth, or call them at 1-866-488-7386. And if you're worried about a friend on Facebook, you can report troubling posts. They'll connect your friend with a representative from National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Loretta Lynch October 10, 2012 at 01:42 PM
If a school district is NOT INFORMED of a problem, they can’t do anything. I know that EHHS works strongly to stop it. The parent or student HAS to go to the administration for help. It will be done without naming the child. Some keep telling me how much EH has changed. I agree, BUT I know that the school district e-mails all students parents (ones on the internet) of daily events. How many school districts do this? Your school district may have changed in many ways BUT EHSD is and always has been there for the children and the community. I am so sad for this family, the loss of ones child is heartbreaking and will always be with them. My prayers go out to this young man and his family.
Daniel October 10, 2012 at 03:51 PM
WOW way to blame the victim.. your comment seems to say that all this bulling happened in the shadows.. no one knew.. it is a community issue not just the child's and there family who either wasn't heard when he was asked or able to reach out as an adult might... I appreciate that it is your opinion that EHSD is always there... but obviously not in this case or others I would imagine. Thank you LIG&LY for reaching out..
Gail Simons October 10, 2012 at 04:28 PM
At home, we have been talking about bullies and how to deal with situations regarding bullying. We had a really great idea that I love because it's addressing this from a more positive direction. Instead of protecting the victims, have someone shadow the bully to re-direct. These "Bully Angels" would be volunteers that were assigned to a kid who has been found to be bullying others. The "Bully Angel" would interject at times to help the kid find nicer ways of interacting with others. It kind of goes along with the theme of not fighting against something, but working for something. Even if a victim is protected, the bully still isn't being addressed. Instead of fight against the bully by shielding the victim, work with the bully by teaching better behavior. Makes sense to me....I really love this idea. I wonder how we make it happen?
Daniel October 10, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Fantastic Idea.. and proactive! approach the school or LIG&LY. I'm sure they would like the community involvement and Personally thank you for talking about it in the open
Lisa A. Charde October 10, 2012 at 09:36 PM
As the mother of an openly gay daughter who graduated last year from EHHS, I feel compelled to reply. The administration and staff at the EHHS has always showed support for her orientation. There were times that she DID get bullied and it was handled immediately. They fully supported her involvement in getting the G/S alliance started in the Middle School, "coming out" day, and many other opportunities offered as forms of acceptance. No school is perfect but my daughter could not have gone to a more supportive school. By the way, my son was bullied in both Middle school and High School and in those cases (not a gay/straight issue) it was also handled immediately. Not only by the school but by the parents of those involved. It takes a village as we know. My thoughts and prayers to the family of David.
Melpo October 11, 2012 at 07:08 AM
i am a retired NYC HS teacher of 34 years & I have seen too much of this I am also a parent of a College Student. Many of the attitudes that bullies have reflect the attitudes & messages that stem from the home.Too many youngsters walking around with an aura of entitlement that allows them to bully..Where are the religious leaders in this community? Why aren't they stepping up & helping our youth ? During my 34 years as an educator, I attended many workshops & trained in Mediation in order to deal with Conflict/ Resolution Issues..Parents, Religious Leaders, Grand parents, all have to work with the schools..You cannot expect a school to do it all..I think that EHHS is an excellent school with a very competent & sensitive administration & staff & support services ..But, parents have to enforce attitudes at home & if the community discovers that parents are prejudiced against certain individuals, parents therefore need to be educated & rehabilitated in order to cleanse their souls of such venom & hatred..Whoever was involved in bullying should be sent to intense therapy & is in need of severe rehabilitation..If they are active in sports, they need to be removed & if they are in the honor society or any other extra curricular activity, they need to be removed in order to receive intense COUNSELING..A crime has been committed & perhaps parents need to take responsibility for what is said in the home.My heart goes out to the friends,family & loved ones of David...
Michelle Smith October 12, 2012 at 11:58 AM
We all know that bullying is a serious problem, and it's hard to deal with that situation, especially when it's your children because we want to protect them, and you don't want to see them hurt. We do the best we can as parent but aren't responsible for others actions. Your doing everything you can for your kids, and that's all we can do. I would like to share this link, about a service on how to protect your children. You can visit this link it's interesting: http://safekidzone.com/
Kathleen & Mike October 12, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I offer condolences David's family. It's a sad story, regardless of the reasons. Bullying these days is far more common than people want to admit. It's everywhere. After this young man's death, I read in another publication that there was a story going around that his action was due to bullying,and a voice from the school said it was being 'investigated',but that a bucket of water should douse that story. I'm sorry....but to me that says that the school isn't addressing the bullying situation at EHHS,in general. Maybe I'm wrong in that assumption, but I've seen & heard of bullying there for years, and it's NOT been taken care of. I KNOW that for a fact. With an attitude like 'douse the story with a bucket of water', it's saying that it doesn't matter enough. If it doesn't matter enough to try to end the problem of bullying, then YOU can bear the burden of the loss of another life....if another student takes theirs because of bullying. If the school says they need to be informed of the problems, they aren't listening...because they ARE informed. Some kids have learned that nobody's listening because nobody's doing anything. WHY should they speak up when nobody hears and acts on their behalf. They've also learned that things get worse for THEM if they 'squeal' on the bullies. All the way around, it's a sad situation that's only going to get worse by hiding your head in the sand. Our kids are all important...PROTECT THEM!

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