Friday, October 1, 2010

Tyler Clementi Paid The Ultimate Price For Homophobia

Two comments have stood out for me following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another classmate used a webcam to stream his sexual encounter with another man.

Arkady Leytush, artistic director of the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra where Clementi, a gifted violinist, played, stated, “It’s really awful, especially in New York and in the 21st century.” Perhaps, though, we’re not as enlightened as we suppose we are. Gays still are not allowed to get married. They can't serve openly in the military. We still hear sanctimonious fundamentalists intone that they "hate the sin, not the sinner." Other young people besides Clementi have committed suicide following anti-gay harassment. According to a survey by Campus Pride, "Nearly one-quarter of gay and transgender students, faculty and staff at the nation’s colleges and universities have experienced some form of harassment, and one-third have considered leaving due to a chilly campus environment..." We still remember the kidnapping and murder of gay college student Matthew Shephard.

Rutgers student Lauren Felton stated, "Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened. He wouldn't have been outed via an online broadcast, and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life." This statement is tragically self-evident. It is also clear that Clementi himself must have internalized the culturally imposed stigma of being gay. Taking Felton's statement one step further, had Clementi been broadcast showing him in bed with a woman, that would also be a terrible invasion of privacy; one doubts, though, that he would have been so mortified that he would have felt compelled to take his own life.

Tyler Clementi paid the ultimate price for the homophobia that is still all too prevalent. His tragic death demonstrates how far we have to go before this ugly prejudice is eradicated.

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