I was at work a little less than a week ago and got a news alert about a teen at Rutgers University who had committed suicide by throwing himself off the GW Bridge. I later learned the teen had been secretly videotaped having sex with another man. The teen was Tyler Clementi.
Tyler was 18. He was a freshman at Rutgers and a promising violinist. You’ve all probably heard his story by now. What I want to talk about is its effect on me.
Then I read it all again, as if to say, “There’s no way I read that right. In 2010, this has to be a mistake.” But anyone who’s gay and has had to come out knows it’s still tough.
And I cried again.
Many people I’ve met in the media have a guarded heart. We aren’t unemotional; we aren’t unfeeling; we aren’t untouchable. But we’re tough. We have to be. Sure, we aren’t doctors or first responders. We’re not troops in a war. But we take in a lot of negative stories and images. Details that may never see a TV screen, but will forever be in our minds.
But journalists have their limits. We have breaking points. Everyone does. Tyler’s story was mine.
We all have a desire to be ourselves. We all strive to stay in control of our lives. We all want to improve. It seems Tyler may have been struggling with defining who he was. That’s what college is for, right? But Tyler didn’t get to come out on his own terms, like so many of us have the opportunity to do. And he wasn’t even just outed. He was driven to embarrassment because an intimate moment was broadcast for all to see on the internet. Gay or straight, it isn’t right. It’s not a joke. It’s someone’s life.
The struggle to be who you are is tough enough without bullies from the school-aged to the elderly shouting you down; telling you that who you are isn’t acceptable because that’s what they were taught to think. There’s a difference between having a belief about something and bullying.
The bullying has to end.
To anyone who’s struggling right now: It gets better. Life gets better. It’ll never be perfect. There will always be setbacks. But there are people just like you, who will work with you to make it better.
Gay people who have come out need to stand up and be proud of who they are. Being gay doesn’t have to define you, but being gay is a part of you. It’s something I had to learn.
I don’t know what my future holds. But I know that I will fight with everything I have to make sure everyone within my reach knows that I’m there for them. I will make sure my friends know they can come to me and I will try my best to listen and help. If I can’t help, I’ll find someone who can.
If you think that my asking you to take a stand is too tough, do me a favor. Look at the picture of Tyler Clementi. Tell him that it’s too tough.
He needed us. We failed him.
Tyler may not know it, but he changed me. He’s my generation’s “Matthew Shepard.” He’s my Matthew Shepard.
I just hope I can make a difference and I will try my best.