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Monday, May 18, 2009

LGBT Suicide Prevention Week

Author and LGBT rights activist Stephanie Silberstein has began a week-long series of online events as part of the first annual LGBT Suicide Prevention Week. Throughout the week, Facebook users are invited to change their profile pictures to honor those who have killed themselves, post blogs about their experiences, and spread the word that LGBT youth are at special risk for suicide.

Silberstein has wanted to do something to spread LGBT suicide awareness since learning that 30% of completed youth suicides are LGBT related. She chose the third week in May because this month is both Suicide Awareness Month and the month in which Harvey Milk was born. Milk was one of the first, and best-known, LGBT activists, having served on San Francisco’s City Council as an openly gay man for a year before his murder in 1978.

“Harvey Milk encouraged people to spread hope,” Silberstein explains. “I can think of no better gift to give him on what would have been his 79th birthday than to give hope back to LGBT teens and young adults.”

Although the event is only two days old so far, Silberstein is encouraged by its success. Out of 29 people signed up to participate in the event, six have changed their profile picture and several others have included links to the Trevor Project, an LGBT suicide prevention nonprofit, or Silberstein’s own suicide prevention site in their status lines. She expects more people to participate as the week goes on, and has planned several activities so that participants have a choice in how they want to approach the issue.

In addition to changing their profile pictures, users are welcome to share their personal stories via blogs or messages. Silberstein’s own blog on the subject, detailing her experience dealing with a suicidal friend as well as living as a non-heterosexual, has generated ten responses in several hours.

The week will culminate with an observance of Harvey Milk’s birthday on May 22, 2009. Participants are encouraged to craft their own event on this date and post pictures or videos to the event page on Facebook. Silberstein encourages participants to wear t-shirts or other items relating to suicide prevention as part of these events, in the hopes that it will encourage others to keep living.

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