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Norwalkers Feel Supported At Anti-Bullying Vigil

NORWALK, Conn. – Kamora Herrington came a long way Wednesday night to recount a phrase she was muttering a year ago: "I told you so!"

Herrington, mentoring program director of True Colors, Inc. in Hartford, joined more than 100 people in Norwalk's City Hall community room for a candlelight vigil in honor of gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth who struggle with being the targets of bullying. The event was a reprise of a vigil held last year in the wake of several well-publicized suicides, young people who had been tormented because they were gay.

"About a year ago we started hearing about all the suicides and everyone paid attention," said Herrington. "For me it was an 'aha wakeup moment,' because I started getting phone calls from people who have never called before, saying 'Hey, we have a problem here. Gay kids are killing themselves. Gay kids are hurting themselves. Something needs to be done.' I said, 'I told you so!'"

The event was organized by the Pride Network of Connecticut. Organizers had planned to hold the event outside, but in the face of the rainy weather made do with plastic light-up "candles" inside the community room.

"We come together this night in both mourning and in hope," said the Rev. Jennifer Habetz of First Church Congregational, United Church of Christ of Fairfield. She said those gathered were mourning the deaths of those who were loved as perfect by the "God of all creation," yet "laid low by the all-too-human sins of discrimination, oppression, bullying and cruelty."

Mark Hensen, district director for Congressman Jim Himes, relayed the sympathy he said Himes feels as a father for those who suffer, while telling his own tale of empathy for those in the room. "I come here tonight as a Norwalk resident, personally amazed by the show of support that my community is putting forward," he said. "And I'm also here as that 15-year-old gay kid in the closet, 13 years later. Every single thing that you do, from coming here to calling out those using bigoted words, to stopping bullying in its tracks, means so much. I remember high school, I remember those casually dropped words, whispers, the occasional pranks. ... I remember those thoughts, those thoughts wondering is it worth it to keep going? But as sure as we stand here right now I tell you that you are the everyday heroes that keep kids like that going. You make it easier to wake up every morning."

Those offering support included Mayor Richard Moccia and Superintendent of Schools Susan Marks, who said good things can be done. "In Norwalk, with the leadership of the Board of Education, we are updating our policy against bullying to align with the new state law, public act 11-232." The law, which was passed in July, "takes comprehensive steps to ensure every child's right to learn in Connecticut public schools without fear of teasing, humiliation, or assault," according to the Connecticut Commission on Children.

Erik Anderson, development coordinator for the Pride Network, said that was part of the success of last year's candlelight vigil. "Since that event, there has been overwhelming positive response," he said. "Our event along with the increased attention on a national and local scale has helped to spark changes in positive directions. Here we stand, one year later, to renew our commitment, to change the lives of all children, lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, straight and otherwise, for the better."

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