Does America’s Finest City Care About People like Tyler Clementi?

by on October 7, 2010 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, From the Soul, LGBT rights, San Diego


Tyler Clementi

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.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Virginia Franco October 7, 2010 at 2:20 pm

You spoke my thoughts, Ernie, when you wrote: “…can’t shake the sadness…”
I too grieve for Tyler when I think of his last, dolorous word , “sorry”; this promising, innocent young man; and I think: Sorry for what? F0r being human?

The shame of it all,



Ernie McCray October 7, 2010 at 3:11 pm

And that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? Being human.


Mick October 8, 2010 at 12:03 am

Heya Ernie,
You got it right again, Ernie. I get to feeling more secure about the way society seems to be moving–despite the best efforts of the religious right (who are neither)–towards inclusivity and equality for all. . .and for adults I think there really ARE some profound changes beginning to emerge. Boy have we got a long way to go, but the way people think and talk–and I’m not just talking about stuff I’m hearing in typically progressive circles–seems to have changed for the better for the LGBTQ community in just a few short years.
But the disturbing thing is that despite a wave of progress that’s building in power for the adult LGBTQ community, it seems like our LGBTQ youth are still treading water with few folks to throw them a PFD (personal floatation device). We have been at that rally now for 10 years and NEVER had such a puny turnout of bodies. Have people just forgotten about the Boy Scouts issue?
All of these horrible suicides and deaths of our LGBT youth truly underscore the crisis that EACH and every LGBT student faces every day of their waking lives.
I watched a movie last night at the Hillcrest Cinema called “A Film Unfinished” about a Nazi film crew that went in to the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto to film events (real and staged) during the first part of 1942. Truly one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen, but the most horrific part was when little children younger than my own 3rd grade students were shown as little gaunt figures reduced to no more than a walking pile of bones. It was obvious that they were left to their own devices. They were effectively orphaned because of the evil perpetrated against their community. They blinked in to the camera as it rolled. And I knew that the vast majority would not survive that year as the horrors that the Nazis turned into reality were awaiting them not long after this film was shot. It was a feeling of retroactive helplessness if you will. I left the theater thinking that there are children right here in America who share something with those little children in the film. They have nowhere to turn but within. . .and that isn’t enough. America’s supposed to be better than that. All children, LGBTQ, allied, and straight alike deserve a better life than that. No child anywhere in the world should EVER again feel that kind of desperation. GLSEN has worked hard on making safer schools, but GLSEN can’t do it alone. We need people to stand up and do EVERY thing they can to ensure school safety and affirmation for all students. . .especially those who are most vulnerable. We have a LONG way to go yet. .


Ernie McCray October 8, 2010 at 9:50 am

So onward we tread. Hopefully that we will become WE!


Wireless Mike October 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Gay people are still considered “okay to hate” by many Americans. This attitude is being perpetuated by a few churches that are obsessed with preaching hate. The Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy is intolerance and prejudice, and supported by our city government.

What kind of message does this send to our gay teens?

Imagine being a teenager and knowing you are gay, but afraid to admit it. Parents and friends are ridiculing “queers” and “faggots” with comments like “I ain’t raising no faggot” or “What would we tell our friends”. Some churches are essentially saying “We welcome everybody except you.” Schools allow bullies to run rampant. How would you feel? It is not uncommon for gay teens to be disowned by their families, simply for being gay. How would you feel if you were disowned by your family, simply for being who you are?

It is no wonder that gay people tend not to mingle with straight people. Mostly to avoid being ridiculed, bullied, preached at, or being paraded around as a token gay friend.

Parents should love their kids, even if they aren’t the kind of kids they had in mind. Love them for who they really are. Don’t hate them if they happen to be gay, they aren’t doing it to hurt you. They have no choice. Gay teens are some of the most persecuted and vulnerable people in our society. They need their family’s unconditional love and support. Make their home a safe haven where they can be themselves, whoever that may be.


Ernie McCray October 8, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Amen and amen!


Sherry Engberg October 8, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Some are organizing:
This is important–we have to stop the violence to our youth and anyone who is different–we are all different in some way.
R.I.P. In memory of the recent suicides due to gay abuse, wear purple.
Location:Everywhere Wednesday, October 20th


Ernie McCray October 8, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Good news, Sherry.


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