The story of 18 year old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi has broken
hearts across America, as countless individuals come to terms with the
piercing pain and humiliation that could lead such a talented and gifted
young man to jump from the George Washington Bridge into the cold, fast
moving currents of the Hudson River.
According to most news
reports, the New Jersey teenager took his life on September 22nd after
he realized his roommate and another dorm mate had pulled what looks to
be a cyber-world prank, and broadcast live images of Clementi having a
sexual encounter with another man.
But if widely reported details
of what happened are correct, the heightened humiliation and shame that
drove the distinguished musician to suicide offers further evidence, we
still live in a society where vast portions consider homosexuality
taboo, immoral or at least, not normal.
Just last May, Gallup,
the polling organization, published its annual values and beliefs
survey. Results showed that Americans' support for the moral
acceptability of gay and lesbian relations had crossed the symbolic 50%
threshold in 2010. But, at the same time, the percentage calling these
relations "morally wrong" was still at 43%. And, while that's the lowest
in Gallup's decade-long trending of the issue, it's still significant.
people are acutely aware of those sentiments, many struggle with
internal homophobia and others attempt to project an image of normalcy
to the masses in a world where many still consider them abnormal. In
fact, a barometer of society's attitudes about homosexuality often shows
up in the gay male community itself, for example, when gay men make a
point of labeling themselves "straight acting" or "down low," as if the
articulation as such, connotes masculinity, once again, normal behavior
for men, an attribute society dictates is worth striving for.
aptly to this latest tragedy, ponder this; While there is no tangible
way to measure the pain or embarrassment that drove Tyler Clementi to
take his own life, one wonders, would this talented young man have
chosen a different path, were he living in a more tolerant and accepting
world? Put more simply, assume for just a moment that Clementi's
web-cast was heterosexual, not homosexual.
Days after news
reports and talking head reactions to the awfulness of this human
tragedy saturated the nation, conversations held with reasonably minded
people led to similar hypothetical questions. If during similar
invasions of privacy, where two individuals had been broadcast having
sex, all without their knowledge, and one of those individuals had been
either a married woman, or a married man with children, would the level
of heightened humiliation be as measurable as what we appear to be
assuming Tyler Clementi felt as he took his own life, after the
broadcast of a same sex encounter?
for sure, but the mere comparisons beg a very important question about
American attitudes towards LGBT people, that despite all the remarkable
progress we see on the surface, the deeper answers seems pretty clear,
and still, are quiet troubling.
Changing hearts and minds is
sometimes best left to moments like this horrible tragedy in the Hudson
when a young and gifted soul felt he had to leave this earth. The brutal
evidence of society's intolerance often shows up in the most hurtful
events. This appears to be one of them.
Once the coverage,
celebrities and discussion fades, it is imperative that LGBT youth
constantly be reminded and understand, that no matter how cruel, painful
or embarrassing this big mean cyber world may seem at times, it all
gets better with time. The hope is, we all become better with time.