His name was Tyler Clementi. I say "was", because the smart and quiet 18-year-old Rutgers University student committed suicide. It is not unusual for high school and college students to kill themselves; the stresses of growing up through puberty and the pressure to excel in school often lead to children finding themselves isolated and unable to cope. Though not everyone succumbs to the creeping fears, doubts, and self-loathing, occasionally one will decide that death is preferable to the "torture" of living.
What makes this death more heart-breaking and mind-numbing than the usual, is the why. Two fellow 18-year-old students, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, perpetrated what can only be described as the most reprehensible and disgusting "prank" on Tyler -- they allegedly placed a video camera in his dorm room, and captured a video of one of his sexual encounters, then apparently broadcast it over the Internet. What was undoubtedly horrifying to Tyler, was that it was a sexual encounter with another man.
Let me be clear: that it was an encounter with a member of the same sex is nothing new, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The body is a container, a shell, a power supply and protection for the human brain and the genetic material that created it. That we come in two genders is obvious physically, but gender is more than a function of genitalia. The profusion of LGBT individuals in the world shows us that "gender" goes deeper, is more a function of hormones and neural wiring that what sexual organs you happen to have. Love, the tenderest of human emotions, is figuratively a function of the heart, not the head, and there is no reason to think that two people of the same gender cannot love each other. Love is about feelings, emotions, and psychological compatibility, not which tab fits into which slot.
Still, our society has, for the most part, a hard time accepting this. As with anything that science brings to light, the beliefs of many override reason, and they see the human body as some divine arbiter of who you are, and believe that things can only work one way, where that way is merely the design, not the demarcation. A spiritual fear of same sex love over centuries has led to many homosexuals becoming easy fodder for the self-righteous and bigoted. Even now, with the virulent and voracious attacks on attempts to equalize the playing field for LGBT community, we see that innate fear being stamped with the approval of religious zealots, who are more afraid of the truth that stares them in the face, that perhaps their view of how the creator built his creation is not as simple as their ancestors once believed.
Given this, a society where homosexuality is a battleground, an easy target for the bigot and the bully, can we not feel the weight of this discovery of the transgression by Tyler as similar to a weight we have felt on our own hearts? How crushing, to know that his experimentation, in an earnest attempt to learn more about his feelings and desires, would be turned into fodder for the rabid packs of hate-mongers and ignorance-peddlers. More horrifying still, to know that this information would make it out to the world through the auspices of the Internet, bringing down misguided and vitriolic homophobia on a simple 18-year-old college student. How does one fight a world? How can one absorb the blows of dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, perchance even millions? What can you do, when something you thought few would ever know about, is now front-and-center on the greatest communications network of our time?
So, Tyler Clementi killed himself, his life snuffed out by the weight of a world of rabid hatred and fear that would rain down on him mercilessly. And now, two classmates stand accused, but only of an invasion of privacy; heinous enough, given what they did, but far from the only charge they should suffer. For as surely as the planner of a murder also receives a charge of capital murder, even though they have not pulled the trigger or plunged in the knife, so, too, must these two amoral cretins face their actions with a charge of manslaughter. No doubt, they thought nothing of what they did, for this "prank" was not a hallmark of true rational thought and social conscience, but the act of moronic, misanthropic, and mean-spirited individuals, with no consideration or clue as to what decency is. They may not have pushed him off the bridge, but they pushed the poor man's mind into a place where that seemed like the best resolution to a problem they caused.
These two are not alone in their indecency. This week has seen too many stories of LGBT individuals committing suicide, harangued and hectored by small-minded and socially inept peers, who no doubt pick up the threads of their abject hatred from their homes and from other members of their community. How can we be surprised, when the nightly news is filled with scenes of screaming and shrieking sycophants, claiming homosexuality an "abomination," and treating LGBT individuals as if they were lepers, or worse, subhuman? Why should we be shocked, when words spill down from pulpits for supposedly "Christian" ministers, condemning gays and their lifestyle, spreading homophobia in place of messages of mutual understanding and fellowship?
No more. We, of good heart and great conscience, cannot stand for this sort of behavior in our country, or in the world. You cannot look at an LGBT human being and not see them as any less, human, and certainly no less deserving of the freedom and liberty of everyone else. If we are to be true to the founding credo of our nation, that all are created equal, then to condemn these people simply because of what they are is morally reprehensible and hypocritical of us. They want nothing from us, they take nothing from us, and in the end, only seek that which they should have by fiat: the right to live their life as they will, free of ignorant persecution. If we cannot give them this, then our nation is broken, and we mark democracy as a failure.