Homophobic harassment leads to death
October 4, 2010 7:42 AM
This is a plea for help.
That's right, help. This is a letter screaming for help, for an answer.
On Sept. 19, a live image of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi having sex with another man circulated on the internet. Three days later, he died. The Rutgers University freshman jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River.
If only the token thing left to do was to ask why this happened. That would be easy: His roommate Dharun Ravi and another student callously, sadistically put his private life into the public sphere. He was a young gay man cast into a homophobic world in the most vulnerable way.
The most difficult part of Clementi's tale, however, is asking how to prevent another such tragedy from occurring.
Gay men and women are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual men and women, according to a 2002 study by Jay Paul, a specialist at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the UCSF.
Plus, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-25 year olds, young gay men and women are at an even higher risk for suicide.
So this is a plea for help, a plea to stop discrimination, a plea directed at those who spurred Clementi's suicide; not only the two who controlled the webcam in Clementi's room, but anyone who thinks publicly taunting someone because of his or her sexuality is acceptable.
"Our hope is that our family's personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity," said the Clementi family in a written statement after authorities recovered the young man's body.
It is sad that more than 45 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, statements such as these are still necessary.
Yet, with only five of the 50 states allowing gay marriage and an increasingly anti-gay sentiment emanating from tea parties and religious zealots, the United States is not as equal as many Americans would like to believe.
And as such, I have no right to tell gay people that I understand their plight. I don't. I have no right to say that Clementi's scars are the worst type to deal with. I do not understand what it means to feel as alone as Clementi must have felt in the moment before he jumped.
However, I can give a plea for help. I can write a letter urging people not to act as emotionally reckless and apathetic as Ravi did.
Americans need to heed the advice of Clementi's family and embrace compassion, empathy and human dignity - and ensure that Clementi did not die for nothing.
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