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Moving Past Homophobia After Tragic Death of Tyler Clementi

Jeffrey Ledesma |
October 2, 2010 | 7:49 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

I am a college student, an Iraq-war veteran, a father of a 2-year-old daughter, and a devoted husband who believes in respectful tolerance, the human right to dignity, and an equality that transcends differences. With the introduction made, here we go.

(Creative Commons)
(Creative Commons)
In recent days, my faith in this generation of Facebookers and Googlers has been challenged by ignorant acts of discrimination and prejudice.

Our generation is supposed to be one of progressivism, tolerance and enlightenment passed down from decades of civil struggles for equality and justice. However, lessons have yet to completely break past society-approved forms of hatred.

By now, we have all heard about Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who signed off with a final status update on Facebook before leaping off the George Washington Bridge and into the Hudson River.

“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry” were his last chilling words after an event that left him feeling utterly hopeless. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a fellow student, Molly Wei, were accused of setting up a hidden camera violating Clementi’s privacy during a sexual encounter with another male student.

What’s most frustrating is the nonchalant “it’s just another funny tweet” tone in which Ravi used his roomate’s sexuality for social entertainment on Twitter. I mean, what type of college student tweets, “Roommate asked for the room til midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

Yay? Here we have one of America’s best and brightest minds. He did get into Rutgers, a research university that prides itself in having more than a third of its entering students rank in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Today it is socially and politically wrong to be racist, sexist and anti-Christian in America. You could think in stereotypes, but don’t you dare say it out loud.

Homophobia seems to be the globally accepted form of hatred still very much alive today. It is a phenomenon that still goes somewhat untouched and unstudied.

According to an FBI report, there were 1,617 offenses committed based on sexual-orientation bias in 2008. Of those crimes, almost 60 percent were committed against gay men and 12 percent against lesbians.

Before Clementi committed suicide, many students empathized with Ravi who had to “endure” going back inside the dorm room after Clementi’s encounter. Would it have been the same if Clementi were having sex with a girl? Would it have been broadcasted live for laughs and entertainment? I doubt it.

Perhaps, homosexuals aren’t ready for the promise of equality, just as African slaves weren’t ready for the responsibility of freedom and women weren’t ready to play a part in the political processes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But here we are in the 21st century, and the Senate’s recent failure to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” might serve as evidence that America isn’t ready for a post-homophobic state of mind. Yet, according to Zogby International, 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable with gays and lesbians and, according to an ABC News and Washington Post poll, 75 percent of Americans support gays serving openly in the military.

But many people in Hollywood are speaking out after Clementi’s tragic suicide.

Ellen DeGeneres, who publicly came out of the closet in 1997 and whose life partner recently took her last name, said Clementi's death was a “wakeup call” and that “teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic.”
She sited three other examples of young people committing suicide because of anti-gay rhetoric. “One life lost in this senseless way is tragic. Four lives lost is a crisis,” she said in a video posted on her website.

Openly gay actor Neil Patrick Harris of “How I Met Your Mother” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.” told MTV that it’s normal for young people to want to be accepted and a part of the average or normal crowd.

"Everyone does it, that's the way it goes. But let me assure you, if you're getting bullied and feeling like you're on the outskirts, it gets better. Because, when you get older, you find that people are actually drawn to individuals with different points of view who are proud of who they are and who make interesting and different and unique choices for them — at least I am," the Emmy-winning actor explained.

With dozens of celebrities speaking out, I wonder what Ravi and Wei have to say. How do they feel about the unfortunate series of events that unfolded during their first semester away at college? Do they believe what they did was immoral, justified or simply collegiate humor? In retrospect, would they have done anything differently?

Ravi and Wei have been charged with invasion of privacy. Some people are asking the courts to consider hate crime charges as well.

Harris went on say that people shouldn’t turn to harming themselves when bad things happen in their lives.

“You can act with strength, you can act with courage, you can act with class and stand tall, be proud of who you are,” he encouraged via video. “This is a good time we live in, and we're being granted more and more rights, and it will continue in that direction, and, yeah, be proud.”

So maybe he’s right. Perhaps, today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be better than today. Civil rights movements have been fought and won in the past. Now we have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who came close to the presidency, and President Barack Obama, who became the first biracial man to win America’s top executive seat.

I guess, in the end, it is up to individuals to make a push for change in the societal mentality that so eagerly places judgment onto others. To reiterate, I don’t think the issue is simply two college kids who made mistakes, but the broader issue of a societal view that allowed it to be so acceptable. It’s time for all of us to learn from our history books and grow up.

Reach Reporter Jeffrey Ledesma here.

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