Saturday brought to Pittsburgh some of the most unpleasant weather yet this season, but a few dozen people braved the cold and rain to hold vigil for someone they had never met.
Andi Woodhouse, 24, jumped from the 10th Street Bridge to his death on December 13th. Organizers of Saturday’s vigil say he was mis-gendered in reports from the medical examiner’s office and various media outlets, which had referred to Woodhouse as a woman named Amber.
Local LGBT activist Sue Kerr wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post that she remembered reading initial news reports about the suicide, “but I had no idea he was part of our community.”
Activist and community organizer Eli Kuti said when he found out Woodhouse was a transgender man, he wanted to organize a vigil to show Woodhouse’s family that there is a community in Pittsburgh who cares.
“Anyone committing suicide is a horrible thing, but to know that, through talking with his sister, that it was because of gender and not have a community and not having support, that just added an extra punch of the stomach,” Kuti said. “It’s something that could have been prevented.
Kuti said Woodhouse, originally from Lebanon, PA, was staying at a facility run by Renewal, Inc., which provides alternative housing and community corrections services for people recently incarcerated.
Kuti said he had learned from Woodhouse’s sister, Ashley Ginnetto, that Woodhouse did not know other trans people in Pittsburgh, and felt isolated and alone.
He questioned whether staff at the housing facility knew that Woodhouse was trans and if they provided him with information about support resources, like the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh.
“(We) could have geared him in a way of helping him find jobs, or just helping him find friends and be around other people that are like them,” Kuti said. “Any kind of mental health or any kind of social service should have this information.”
According to a 2008 report from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, which synthesized decades of research on the topic, LGBT youth are 30-40% more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth. There is a heightened risk for transgender youth and those who have been involved with the criminal justice system, though exact numbers are hard to come by because transgender youth do not always openly identify as such.
Nancy Evelyn Gold spoke at the vigil, and said Woodhouse’s death made her feel ashamed.
“I am 51 years old. I transitioned 22 years ago. I should know better,” Gold said. “As an elder in this community, I should be making sure that our children are fed, that they are housed, that they are taken care of, and that they never, ever have to feel alone.”
She said the increasing prevalence of transgender youth suicides in the news, like the death of Leelah Alcorn in Ohio, reminded her of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, which brought the LGBT community together in unprecedented ways.
“Our men were dying. I lost so many friends,” Gold said. “Well, my brothers, my sisters, my siblings, my others, whatever you identify as, our people are dying. They are being killed and they are killing themselves.”
Kuti and fellow activist Lauren Jurysta encouraged local LGBT youth to seek out resources like the GLCC or the Persad Center, or even events like Rhinestone Steel, an annual queer music festival in Pittsburgh. They said transgender youth can also call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860.
“We’ve got a strong community of loving people that want to support each other. Just pick up the phone and call somebody,” Jurysta said.