I can’t shake the sadness I feel for Tyler Clementi, the 18 year old Rutgers University student who recently took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after a classmate broadcast his intimate encounter with another man online.
My goodness, how many more gay people must die due to society’s hateful attitudes towards them? Tyler wasn’t the only gay youth to end his life in September. There were about seven in all including Asher Brown, a 13 year old In Texas, who shot himself after being subjected to persistent taunting at his middle school.
It doesn’t speak well of our society that it’s pretty much a given that gay and lesbian students are stalked and harassed and physically abused on their school campuses everyday with little to nothing being done by their teachers and principals and counselors and others.
But maybe, at some level, we’re beginning to address the problem seriously as evidenced by a number of celebrities, both gay and straight, who are speaking out against the bullying that makes life so stressful and/or unbearable for our gay children.
On Larry King Live the other night, comedians Wanda Sykes, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kathy Griffin, actor Neil Patrick Harris, songster Lance Bass of “N Sync, and Tim Gunn, host of Project Runway, spoke out eloquently in response to these tragedies. In a PSA recorded for the Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, Gunn said: “I understand the desperation and the despair. I understand how isolated you can feel. People really care about you – and I’m included in that group. So reach out, get help. You’re not alone. It will get better. I promise.”
Well, I sure hope it well get better so count me in the group of people who care. But I hate to say that I don’t think our city cares. At least not openly. For eleven years now I’ve met with a number of people associated with Scouting for All on a small strip of land outside the pristine property the Boy Scouts of America leases from the city of San Diego for a mere pittance.
We meet there every year to protest such a lease because the city’s Human Dignity Ordinance doesn’t allow America’s Finest City to do business with those who discriminate – no ifs ands or buts – and the Boy Scouts of America discriminates against gay people and those who don’t believe in God.
My role every year is to do a little rhyme and this year I delivered one on how society offers gay people very little when it comes to justice. It’s along these lines that I conclude that our city doesn’t give a damn because the Boy Scouts are still there in the park even after Judge Napoleon Jones ruled in 2003 that San Diego’s lease with the Boy Scouts for land in Balboa Park was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.
Politicians love to hem and haw and give excuses as to why they don’t do the right thing: the timing isn’t right; they can’t get the votes; the public isn’t ready; they haven’t read all the details; blah, blah, blahbadee blah…
But a judge has ruled against the BSA and the city’s Human Dignity Ordinance says, ever so clearly in plain English regarding hateful groups: “It shall be the policy of the city council to only consider for tenancy those organizations whose memberships are open to the public and who do not discriminate in any manner against any person.”
So what’s the holdup? Why must our children hide in closets while they wait for freedom to ring? Why do our city leaders, in these times of crises for gay youth, refuse to commit themselves to ending the bigotry, shame, and harassment that they face daily? How can our leaders abstain from officially protecting them, “letting them know,” as Jennifer Hoefle, the Program Director of LGBTQ Affairs at my alma mater, the University of Arizona, puts it “that they can live (with a little help from us) full productive lives and openly embrace and express their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression regardless of how they self-identify.”
Our mayor and City Council should, in the spirit of the mission of the U of A LGBTQ office, play a key role in “critically transforming our city’s environment so that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender human beings have equity in every respect.”
It is extremely vital that the Tyler Clements of the world are protected. And if our elected representatives won’t take on such an endeavor on their own we, their constituents, should see that they do.