A Tragedy for All: Everyone Was Affected by the Tragic Shootings at Virginia Tech in April, Including Gays and Lesbians at the School and in the Greater Community

Article excerpt

Seung-Hui Cho's April 16 killing spree on the campus of Virginia Tech happened two days before the 11th annual Day of Silence, when students nationwide protest the silencing of LGBT voices by keeping quiet throughout the day. Naturally, the event was canceled at the university. "We're all Hokies now," said Alison Wood, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance member who coordinated Virginia Tech's Day of Silence, to The Advocate, as she invoked the name of the school's sports teams. "We're all a family. We hurt for all victims and their families, no matter who they were or are or how they identified."

Like many other people affiliated with Virginia Tech, located deep in the southwestern part of the state in Blacksburg, Wood declines to say any more because of her mourning. One of the exceptions was Erin Sheehan, a bisexual freshman and member of the LGBTA who was in the German class in Norris Hall where most of the fatalities and injuries occurred. Sheehan managed to escape unscathed--and consequently became a prominent face in the initial media coverage of the tragedy.

"He just stepped in five feet of the door and just started firing," she told CNN the evening of the 16th, in one of many interviews she did with news outlets. "He seemed very thorough about it, getting almost everyone down. I tried to be dead on the ground." Alas, all the media appearances took their toll: Although she had initially agreed to an interview, when The Advocate called her to do it, she blurted "No more media!" and hung up the phone. By the end of that week many Virginians were saying the press had been intrusive.

Perhaps the most visible member of Virginia Tech's LGBT community in the aftermath of the shootings, though, was poet and professor Nikki Giovanni. She had once taught Cho in a writing workshop and was alarmed by his thoughts and behavior. Her experience with him was noted widely.

Molly McClintock of nearby Christiansburg had worked at the university as a research faculty member and still had friends there. She heard about the initial 7:15 A.M. shooting at West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory from early-morning news reports and stayed transfixed as even worse news trickled out.

"We really didn't know what was going on," says McClintock, who is vice chair of the board of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group. "We started trying to contact our friends via e-mail or phone and set up a chain of contact to find who was OK, who got off campus. …