Imagine that you are a gay college student living in today’s world where being gay is a highly contested issue. You fear being judged for your sexual orientation so you must carry out your love life secretly, behind the closed door of your residential hall. You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that there is one place you can go to live the life that comes naturally to you, where you do not have to worry about the world judging you.
However, someone has placed a webcam in your room without your knowing, and your entire encounter with a member of the same sex has been broadcasted on the Internet for everybody to see. Your secret is out; the life that you have worked so hard to keep private is now known by people to which you have never even spoken. Where do you go from here?
Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical scenario. It is the exact situation that confronted Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University on September 21, 2010. Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate, placed a webcam in his room and broadcasted a live feed of Clementi with another man over the Internet. Clementi, humiliated and exposed, then ended his own life by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge.
Maybe Clementi jumped because he feared his family would not accept him, or he thought his peers would abandon him, or he was frightened at the potential of facing abuse for his sexual orientation. Regardless of the particular thought that led to Clementi’s decision to jump, his suicide serves to remind this country that we are faltering on the issue of gay rights.
Without question, the gay rights movement has gained important ground since it began in the middle of the twentieth century.
However, according to the College Student Journal, there has been a 61 percent increase in the number of hate crimes against sexual orientation since 1992. Moreover, 57 percent of U.S. adults still disapprove of homosexuality, while 33 percent of college students support laws making homosexuality illegal.
These numbers are reflective of intolerant attitudes which are unacceptable in a country that guarantees so many freedoms. Freedom of sexual orientation should rank alongside our other prestigious rights like those of voting and religion.
Oftentimes it seems that we reject that which we do not understand, which is why we need to establish educational programs that can teach us about homosexuality, so that we may one day come to fully accept those we consider to be so different.
We need to educate students by requiring Human Sexuality courses on college campuses and we need to educate teachers through faculty meetings as to how to recognize homophobia so that they may quell such needless fears.
Furthermore, we need reliable administrative services in our schools who homosexuals can trust and to whom they can turn when they feel the way that Clementi did while standing on the edge of the George Washington Bridge.
School curriculums also need to stop ignoring the existence of homosexuals and begin incorporating works by gay authors and referencing the achievements of gay figures in their respective fields.
Reforming our society to include such measures will certainly take time, but we can begin on the right foot by accepting these suggestions as necessary.
Hopefully, these reforms will one day prevent the next Clementi tragedy as our society will offer to gays more options than jumping from a bridge.