The recent tragic death of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year-old Rutgers University Freshman whose sexual tryst was broadcast across the Internet leading to his subsequent suicidal jump off the George Washington Bridge, has gay activists and advocates screaming for a call to action.
This story is not that of one, but of many. Hazing mainly happens in school, especially in college, when many LGBT individuals are discovering their sexual orientation. In the case of Clementi, his unspoken sexuality was exposed twice across the Internet, which begs the question: would this have happened if he were straight?
As someone who has been personally persecuted by people of the likes of Dharun Ravi, I tend to think not. Straight people have sex on TV, in magazines and in movies everyday; gay sexuality is still not mainstream. Whether the actions of the college students were out of curiosity—or just a sophomoric prank or bigotry— remains to be answered.
In high schools and colleges across the nation, kids and young adults are forced into silence for fear of retaliation. Unless a person of authority personally intercepts malicious behavior unto another student, silence follows. It takes the death of someone to instill change in schools or a community, but these changes are often short-lived and wildly ineffective, since teachers and others are often too passive to defend the meek.
Now, another person is dead. A talented and gifted musician died because of torment inflicted over his sexual orientation. If being gay had to be personified from a state of being into an emotional context, it would be love. So, in essence these people were tortured, and in some cases killed, because they found the ability to love. This isn’t a legislative problem; it is one of society as a whole – Blind-eye syndrome.
How many more people need to die before something is done? The Matthew Shepard Law helps, but it doesn’t do enough as a preventative measure.
At my high school in Massachusetts, our Gay-Straight Alliance wrote and enacted an anti-harassment policy to reduce the level of violence and hate speech at the school. This policy was left practically unenforced until the death of Phoebe Prince, which lead to an anti-bullying state law enacted in her honor. This law was written in blood, just like the Shepard law.
Politicians, such as Tom Emmer, the current Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota — a candidate financially supported by major corporations such as Target, Best Buy and 3M — feels that our society does not need bullying laws. In fact, during one of his campaign speeches, he said that if he were elected governor, he would veto the Safe Schools for All bill, a bill that includes protection for students bullied because of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion and disability.
- 45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians report having experienced verbal harassment and/or physical violence as a result of their sexual orientation during high school.
- 42% of adolescent lesbians and 34% of adolescent gay males who have suffered physical attack also attempt suicide.
- 20% of LGB youth report skipping school at least once a month because of feeling unsafe while there.
- 19% of gay/lesbian youth report suffering physical attacks based on their sexual orientation.
If LGBT Americans had equal rights and were not treated as a minority, heterosexual kids would grow up thinking of them as their fellow humans. Not a subhuman class that should be persecuted, ridiculed, and tortured because they love someone of the same sex. This problem will persist, more people will die, and more laws will be written in their blood until we start changing on a societal level. Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world,” start practicing compassion and lets stop the deaths now!