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A Call for Rights Amid Young Lives Lost

Thomas Krever.Rhea Mahbubani Thomas Krever, executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, says recent suicides by gay teenagers reflect a troubling “sense of isolation and hopelessness.”

Growing up, Jairo Alcantara thought it was normal to be treated badly. It seemed ordinary to walk down the hallways of his Queens high school hearing homophobic slurs. “I can’t help the fact that I’m gay,” Mr. Alcantara said in a recent interview. “It’s a horrible feeling when you think God made you the wrong way. It’s an even more horrible feeling when other people tell you so.”

After years of pretending to be someone else, Mr. Alcantara, although still fearful for his safety, grew tired of being weighed down by a single lie. Today, Mr. Alcantara, who’s 18 and a recent graduate of the Harvey Milk High School in the East Village, is candid about his sexuality after having come out twice – first as bisexual and then as gay. “I had to come out,” said Mr. Alcantara, who transferred to Harvey Milk after two years at another school. “I was tired of living in this bubble that I couldn’t breathe in.”

Advocates point to the recent spate of teenage suicides by those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning as evidence of the pervasiveness of bullying and victimization. It is against that backdrop that the gay community today observes National Coming Out Day – an annual call for equal rights that is framed this year by the loss of young lives.
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