I wrote the following article for MTV over two years ago immediately after the death of Tyler Clementi. I’m reposting it here today because of the death of another young man: Josh Pacheco. Josh was 17 and from Michigan and he was excessively bullied. His fatal flaw? Josh was gay. Josh committed suicide last week but not before writing the following note to his parents:
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be strong enough.”
This is not a happy post but it’s not meant to suck the life out of you either. The infuriating thing about Josh’s death and Tyler’s death is that they were so unnecessary and so avoidable. We have the power to build a more tolerant culture, one where we build people up instead of tearing them down–we have all the tools we need to make a change. Can’t we please, please, please get going?
I don’t know why I wasn’t particularly surprised by the news: Tyler Clementi’s suicide after having his roommate secretly videotape him having sex and outing him on the internet.
I should have been surprised. I should have been outraged, livid even. Everybody else was. But the picture of the sweet-looking young man on my television screen didn’t move me and this bothered me more than I could possibly express. I was angry at myself for not being more shaken. It wasn’t a matter of not caring, it was a matter of having the reaction, “well, what else is new?”
The culture of intolerance in the United States towards LGBT young people is reprehensible and enraging. LGBT teens are much more likely to commit suicide. The most common “diss” I ever heard in High School was “what a fag” or “that’s so gay.” And most recently, we have voted to deny basic human rights to LGBT couples.
I could sit here and convince you, more than you are already instinctively convinced, that the individual who videotaped and posted Tyler Clementi having sex are horrible, sick in the head, demented. But that wouldn’t really change anything–wouldn’t really mean anything. I don’t have to persuade most people to not secretly videotape their roommates and out them on twitter.
But here’s what I can say–I wouldn’t do that. You wouldn’t do that. And yet, we were, in some small way, the force behind that hate. The boys that teased Tyler throughout his life and the individual who videotaped him weren’t born with the tendency to be malicious, to be so hateful–it was taught. Taught to them by extremists perhaps but further cemented by the average person who makes comments like “that’s so gay.” When we fail to call out our friends for calling someone a “fag” we add a little force to the hatred that Tyler felt, the hatred that lead him to such a young and tragic death. When we don’t stand up to bigotry or demand equal rights for everyone, when we don’t try to break down stereotypes, when we remain complacent in the face of generalizations, when we see people as being somehow fundamentally defined by their sexual orientation, we become part of the hatred and we propel the intolerance and we condone the suicide of a bright, kind, promising young man.
So, the way I see it, we have two options: we can be the force behind acceptance or we can be a force behindhate. We can be catalysts for apathy or we can be catalysts for change.
We don’t have any more time to make up our minds, the time is now. The choice is now. Let’s decide to stop this. To stop the hatred and to stop any inclination that the hatred is acceptable. Because, ultimately, it’s up to us to decide… how many more Tyler Clementi’s do there have to be?