Sunday, October 3, 2010
Some thoughts on the suicide at Rutgers
First, I think there's the fear -- a fear that is felt across sexual orientations -- about invasion of privacy on the Internet. That hits home to most of us who use the Internet. I also think that this time there seems to be (at least according to reports) a clear link between an incident of Internet cruelty to the death of a young person. Most of the stories about teen suicide as a result of cyber-bullying and viciousness have focused on the cumulative effect of harassment that makes life unbearable. Finally, Tyler Clementi's suicide has been linked to two people whose faces have been splashed on newspapers and throughout the Internet.
I hope I'm not misinterpreted here: I think that these two people should be punished to the full extent of the law if, after a fair trial, they are found guilty. But what's making me uneasy is the "off with their heads!" attitude that has picked up steam in recent days. Facebook now has a group of more than 15,000 people who support manslaughter or murder charges for the two students. (One member attacked the two accused because of the their racial identity. Did he even consider the irony in doing that?) The anger is justified, and I share it. Anger is good; it is often a catalyst for change. None of us know all the details of the case, but if manslaughter charges are warranted, they should be pursued.
Still, I wonder if every one of the 15,000 people who have joined the group can claim complete lack of responsibility when it comes to the mistreatment of many LGBT people in this country. I know I can't, and I'm gay. I can remember times when I didn't speak up against an anti-gay comment I heard. And the reason doesn't matter: I might have been too tired or perhaps afraid of where my anger would lead me. Despite everything I have tried to do to create a more accepting environment for LGBT people -- including spending years writing a book -- I have not always been helpful.
I fear that expressing anger at the accused will get in the way of us all asking ourselves some very important questions: Have I always been a model for encouraging acceptance of LGBT people? And what can I do to make the world more welcoming for LGBT people? It's easy to point to two people and express our rage at deadly homophobia. What isn't so easy is to look at ourselves.
This horrible death just happened to occur at Rutgers. But make no mistake: it could have happened anywhere, including our own beloved communities. Along with anger we must all do some soul searching.