In the wake of the death of an East Hampton teenager of an apparent suicide last week, the head of the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth network said the organization would fast-track its efforts to open a community center on the South Fork to provide support to gay students and their families and friends.
On October 22 at 6 p.m., the group will also hold a town meeting at East Hampton High School, where the teenager, David Hernandez, was a junior, to discuss the circumstances surrounding his death and how others can be helped before they consider suicide.
David, who was 16 years old and born in Ecuador, died on September 29. Rumors that he had been bullied at school for being gay have been circulating on the internet, but they have not been confirmed. His family declined to comment this week through a friend of the family.
David had attended meetings of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school last year, according to a letter to the editor in last week’s East Hampton Star from a recent graduate, Andrew Bennett, and he had attended another one just a few days before his death, according to the alliance’s president, Joel Johnson, who along with Andrew helped to found a gay-straight alliance at the East Hampton Middle School as well as at East Hampton High School.
“This has been a tragedy. We are grieving for David, his family and our community,” East Hampton School Superintendent Richard Burns said in a statement he read on October 2 at a brief School Board meeting before he, the board’s members and other school officials left for visiting hours at the funeral home, where a large crowd gathered.
“We will continue our thorough evaluation of this sad and complex situation,” Mr. Burns’s statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers go to the family.” Mr. Burns and Adam Fine, the high school principal, declined to discuss the allegations of bullying at the high school, where a wall hanging provided students with an opportunity to write notes and post photos in David’s memory.
The Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth network is a consortium of gay and lesbian outreach and support groups across Long Island. The network’s CEO, David Kilmnick, said this week that the circumstances facing gay and lesbian youth can be even more inhospitable outside of school than in school, especially for some members of the Hispanic immigrant community. “They don’t have the support system outside of school and with the East Hampton School District being 40 percent Latino, there is a great need for us to have a place for those students to come,” he said.
“We hear from many young people that there is a lack of support system for many Latino and African-American young people who are gay,” Mr. Kilmnick said. “In churches, which is often an important part of the Latino culture and of their family life, there is not a lot of good things said about gay people and little or no standing on the side of equality.”
Mr. Kilmnick said the East Hampton School District is far more advanced in gay and lesbian tolerance and sensitivity issues than most other school districts.
“We’ve done a ton of work with the East Hampton district, more than any other district on the East End,” he said. “They have been more open to having programs and were the first district to have a gay-straight alliance club in their middle school. I know some are quick to blame the school district here, but East Hampton is certainly one of the more progressive ones in addressing these issues and in preventative work.”
He acknowledged, however, that that doesn’t mean bullying doesn’t occur.
“Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to know definitively what exactly happened in David’s case,” he said. “Could it be a possibility that he heard something from students that were not too friendly? Yes. Could he also have been dealing with a culture outside of the school that is not so accepting of someone being gay? Yes. I haven’t heard anything about those things specifically, but I wouldn’t be surprised based on the work that we do with thousands of people across Long Island.”
“It gets to a point where sometimes kids can’t take it anymore and some find that taking their own life is the only way they can deal with that because they have nowhere to go,” Mr. Kilmnick said. “Regardless of whether David was gay or not, he should have had a place he could have seen as a lifesaver.”