It’s My Turn
The apparent suicide last month of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi marked another in a long line of national tragedies in which a young person has literally been bullied to death for being a homosexual. Just weeks ago in the Bronx, a gang of nine homophobic young men abducted and brutally tortured a 30-year-old man and two teenaged boys, all because the victims were homosexual. Despite all our progress on civil rights, violence against the gay community remains a serious problem threatening to undermine America’s promise as the nation of real equality, where all people, regardless of race or creed, gender or orientation, are truly created equal.
Thoughtless acts like the ones we saw at Rutgers and the violence we witnessed in the Bronx are not new, and are not unique to the tri-state area. They take place every day, in schools and street corners throughout America. The sheer madness of these crimes throws into sharp relief the dire need for national action to combat this kind of senseless, targeted violence. For a vulnerable population like the gay community, these hateful crimes have sadly become a way of life.
When a young college student like Tyler, filled with promise and potential, feels so bullied, lost and hopeless that he believes his only recourse is to take his own life, we are looking at a systemic problem. Our schools suffer from a nation-wide failure of our educators and institutes of higher learning to protect our students and to reach out to those who feel violated, isolated and alone to let them know that they have options. Our young people are paying a terrible price for this failure.
As we saw in the Bronx, however, violence against the gay community extends well beyond the boundaries of the schoolyard. It has seeped into our streets and infected the minds of our young people. What happened in the Bronx that terrible night can only be described as a tragedy on an enormous scale.
Perhaps the true tragedy is how easily these crimes can be prevented. It is well past time for our government to act. Bullies make the victims feel vulnerable and defenseless. It is up to society to lift them up again; to empower our citizens with the certainty that the laws are there to protect them. That is why I am calling on Congress to support proposed legislation by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, which would require colleges and universities to adopt codes of conduct to prohibit bullying and harassment in all forms, including cyber bullying. Furthermore, we need more aggressive hate crime legislation that would serve to protect the gay community from the kind of assaults we saw in New Jersey and the Bronx.
The gay community has the right to live their lives, to go to school, to walk the streets of their towns and neighborhoods, absolutely free from the threat of persecution, discrimination, or attack. It’s time America wakes up to the reality that pervasive bullying and violence will only beget further bullying and violence. We must act today to protect the most vulnerable among us, including students, and the gay community, from the threat of attack. Only then can we truly be one nation, with liberty and justice, for all.