posted on: Thursday October 7, 2010
Jayo Miko Macasaquit ’11 / Commentary Staff
Life is hard for the young gay teen of modern America. In 2010, a gay teen is four times more likely to commit suicide than a heterosexual counterpart. In fact, gays and lesbians that commit suicide make up over 30 percent of all teen suicides, a disproportionate number compared to the percentage of gays and lesbians there actually are. When it comes to environment, a gay teen is fated to bullying and intolerance, as nine out of 10 gay students are bullied in schools. Life is hard for most people in general, but one cannot deny that for homosexuals, it’s much harder.
By now, you have all heard the tragedy of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old freshman from Rutgers who committed suicide after being a victim of a form of bullying from his roommate. True, the fact that such a young man was forced to end his life is tragedy enough, but there is tragedy elsewhere in the story, and it goes far beyond the privacy breach that occurred on the Rutgers University campus. You can make a number of arguments that divert the attention away from the issue of homophobia, and you could easily say that the main issue is bullying, and that he just happened to be gay. But again, you have to face the statistics, and face the fact that if Tyler Clementi were not gay, he would have been less likely to commit suicide.
Behind the tragedy of Clementi’s death, there is tragedy in our education system. We drill our children with the basics of how to read and write, but not the basics of human decency. Society itself does nothing to fix the problem. Our representatives, the ones we put into power, consistently vote against the rights of gay individuals to serve openly in the military, as well as their rights to marry whoever they want to marry. When we do this, we speak directly to our children. We relegate gays and lesbians to second-class citizenship. We create an artificial class system that children bring to schools, a group of people to look down on. I argue that this is the true root of anti-gay bullying. We, as a society, have contributed to Clementi’s suicide.
It’s easy to put the blame on those that led him to commit suicide. It’s easy to label Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei as monsters. Indeed, what they did was monstrous and inexcusable. But through this labeling, we risk isolating the incident. We risk thinking that lightning won’t strike twice, and that what happened at Rutgers could not happen here. We distract ourselves by this labeling, so that we don’t need to face the real issue, the fact that in the past few weeks, six gay teens have committed suicide. Empathy for young gay teens is hard. Most of us can’t even begin to imagine what they go through daily, so we choose not to. We choose to label people monsters, and then move on with our lives.
It’s easy to talk about equality. It’s easy to think that Providence College is friendly to all people. People often dispute the other Princeton ratings, one of which deems PC unfriendly to LGBT individuals. We don’t have a gay problem here, some say. Make no mistake, there is a fine-line between tolerance and acceptance. It’s easy to be nice to someone, it’s harder to acknowledge that the environment we contribute to is not as accepting of LGBT individuals as we think. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the potential damage done by simply uttering “that’s so gay” when we speak of unfavorable things. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the damage done by the use of the word “faggot”, a word that I hear everywhere on campus with alarming frequency, but that never really refers to actual homosexuals. It’s hard to come to the realization that by the use of language like this alone, we create an environment in which gays and lesbians are forced to hide. We ultimately suggest that who they are is not favorable. Contrary to popular belief, what Ravi and Wei did to Tyler Clementi was not a hate crime. What these kids did was thoughtless, stupid, and maybe even selfish, but it was definitely not hateful. The hate crime was committed by society, as abstract and as hippy-against-the-man as that sounds. The hate crime was committed by systematic and institutionalized intolerance, one we contribute to every day: by the things we say, by our interaction with the media, by the politicians we put into power. Tyler Clementi, and the five other individuals who chose to end their lives in the past weeks will not be the last. The school year has only just begun. The campus organization SHEPARD (Stopping Homophobia, Eliminating Prejudices And Restoring Dignity) will play a crucial role in the next few weeks to make sure what happened at Rutgers is not repeated here. The true test of Providence College students is whether or not we’re willing to do the same.