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FEATURE

Betterment for Youth:

The Rainbow Party
Wednesday, December 1st, 7 p.m. – 2 a.m.
Ibiza: 118 Market Street • Karaoke
Costello’s Piano Bar: 211 Princess Street • Tom Noonan, 8 p.m. – 10 p.m., Caitlin Becka and Tim Black, 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. and Kersten Capra, midnight – 2 a.m.
Toolbox: 2325 Burnett Boulevard • Drag and games with Destiny

Being a teen and young adult is hard. It comes with growing pangs that sometimes echo heartache years after enduring them. Finding the depth of our beings, the purpose of our lives and our personal beliefs and creeds isn’t easy; no ongoing journey to betterment comes without a few bumps along the way. For LGBT teens, those chances increase, as being bullied are two and three times higher than that of their straight peers.

The latest travesty revolving around the global LGBT community—and humankind in general—has come from the numerous suicides committed over the past six months from gay youth. The deaths of Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, Cody Barker, Asher Brown, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase and Tyler Clementi left an indelible affect on many people—people who in response have begun uplifting struggling teens with a message of optimistic support. Writer Dan Savage can be credited for starting it all.

In September 2010, Savage, known for his syndicated column “Savage Love,” formed It Gets Better Project, an organization devised to help support and encourage young people contending with being gay. Dan and his partner, Terry, posted a YouTube video directly addressing youth and others to inspire hope against solitude and harassment. They wanted gay youth to realize life can and will get better. Since their video went viral, an onslaught of others have uploaded their own messages at itgetsbetter.org—from President Barack Obama to Ellen DeGeneres, the cast of Broadway’s “Wicked” and other celebrities, politicians and everyday people, all of whom want to show support toward greater humanity. To date, this worldwide movement has manifested into 5,000 user-created videos and over 15 million views.

Wilmingtonians are among the ilk taking notice, too.

Local gay rights advocate John Burke happened upon the Web site one day while surfing the net. Being a fan of Dan Savage’s writing, Burke became particularly interested and moved by the stories and support generated from It Gets Better Project.

“I really admired the fact that he took such a positive route,” Burke explains. “Rather than use his celebrity to take to the airwaves and demand that the bullies responsible [for these numerous suicides] be strung up, he started an organization to help prevent the next kid from killing himself. I don’t know if I would have had his good sense or self-control.”

Burke, a straight ally of Wilmington’s gay community, decided then that he wanted to be of help to the cause. He had some expendable time to devise a charity event; thus, the Rainbow Party was born—an event to raise money to combat the rise in teen suicide amongst gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Burke found some of the statistics just staggering, such as the fact that LGBT youth are six-to-eight times more likely to kill themselves than straight teens.

“I [wanted to get] involved with the It Gets Better Project for one simple reason, and perhaps not the best reason: I was mad as hell,” he candidly reveals. “These kids would rather die than be gay in our culture?  We can’t convince pedophiles or guys who beat their wives to kill themselves out of shame, but simply being gay is embarrassing enough to make death preferable? That’s a moral failing of our culture and it has to change.”
Also a board member for Wilmington Pride, Burke wanted to make sure the community understood that The Rainbow Party wouldn’t be for gay people only. He hoped for people to reach across the lines, to set an example for sharing a world where everyone deserves a fair chance at life’s enjoyments. So far, he hasn’t had any negative feedback.

“Coming out isn’t just for gays anymore,” he clarifies. “Part of the reason these gay kids are killing themselves is that they’re terrified of what their straight friends and family members will think. It’s vital that more straight people be openly supportive of their gay friends, that they be visible in that support so these kids know that the 50 or 60 jackasses who bully them in high school do not represent all 7 billion people on the planet. I think it’s fair to point out that you didn’t have to be white to know that Jim Crow was an abomination, just like you don’t have to be gay to know that gays are not getting a fair deal in our culture.”

Burke’s compassion for the LGBT community was born of a college female and male friend, both closeted and gay. He still questions his own actions—or lack thereof—of encouragement during that time of their lives.

“I’ve always wondered if there’s anything I could have said or done differently that would have made it easier for them to admit who and what they were sooner so they could have enjoyed their college years as the gay students they really were,” Burke notes. “Let’s say that organizing The Rainbow Party is my gift to them. Todd and Amy, if you’re reading this, then please know I’m throwing a party in your honor. Wish you could be there.”
The party will be devised like a pub crawl, comprising three local nightclubs, Toolbox, Ibiza and Costello’s Piano Bar. Admission is free at all locations and entertainment will be at every venue, along with drink specials, including ones made with Stolichnaya, a sponsor.

“While we’re raising money to help teenagers, you won’t find a lot of them there,” Burke reminds. “Ibiza allows anyone over the age of 18, while Costello’s and the Toolbox are 21 and up. I like to think of it in the same way that some schools raise money with casino nights, where parents are welcome but the kids have to stay home—or an ASPCA fund-raiser held in a restaurant that obviously forbids [food made from] the very animals they’re trying to help.”

The end goal is to bring people together to fight against a very real injustice facing our society. Suicide in itself is a tragedy, and if we can do our part to help circumvent it, then it’s our duty to all mankind. “If everyone supported equal rights for gays,” Burke reminds, “then we wouldn’t need this event in the first place.” Wednesday, December 1st will be the day to show support and ally with the LGBT community and It Gets Better Project. It shouldn’t come to a matter of life or death; support starts now.

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