Suicide Highlights Need for Student Awareness of LGBT Issues
Before Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, he allegedly wrote “jumping off the gw bridge sorry” as his Facebook status. Clementi is believed to have killed himself because he was deeply embarrassed and upset after his college roommate secretly posted a web broadcast of sexual contact between Clementi and another man.
Clementi’s death, just one of several suicides by gay students in the past month alone, shines a light on the importance of acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on college campuses.
Here at Washington University, which recently received a five-star rating in the Campus Pride LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index, we should take pride in our support of LGBT students. Wash. U. provides substantial LGBT resources, from health services to a gender-neutral housing program, to multiple LGBT student groups.
However, we must also guard against a culture of complacency. Despite last year’s burst of student activism centered around David Dresner’s (’10) “Right Side of History” gay equality campaign, students this year have idled by key issues like repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, promoting same-sex marriage, and fighting LGBT employment and housing discrimination. Whereas last year’s W.I.L.D. saw students chanting “We’re all just people” in support of Dresner’s campaign, this year’s W.I.L.D. approaches a campus where participation in LGBT rights campaigns is conspicuously absent.
This should not be. LGBT student groups and leaders need to engage more with the student body as a whole, and equally, students need to respond to this outreach in greater numbers. One opportunity for both sides to rise to action is in a candle-lit vigil planned for Tyler Clementi on campus on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. We would like to see this well-attended.
Additionally, a particularly cogent recommendation that we have is for students to attend a Safe Zones “Open Ally” workshop. These one-time, 3-hour sessions act as a key resource for students who want to educate themselves on how to be stronger, more sensitive allies. Participants in these workshops receive rainbow placards that they can post on their doors to show their neighbors that they have been trained as LGBT allies.
As Tyler Clementi’s death shows, homophobia on college campuses does more than just hurt people’s feelings. It makes some people feel fundamentally unsafe. Consequently, we as students have the obligation to ensure that we take as many steps as possible to prevent an incident like the one at Rutgers from happening at Wash. U.
This is no small issue. This can be a matter of life or death.