In late September of 2010, while walking along the banks of the Harlem River in Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park, my life was changed forever. In a shocking moment, right out of 'Law & Order', I came upon a dead body floating face-down in the water. It was quite traumatic, without a doubt. But little did I know just how traumatic and life-altering this experience would turn out to be.
You see, that lifeless body in the water turned out to be young Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who took his own life by leaping off the George Washington Bridge. As a Gay man, I feel compelled to do anything and everything I could possibly do to raise awareness for the serious problem of, not just anti-LGBT bullying, but the insidious homophobia behind it.
On the eve of a tribute walk across that bridge for Tyler Clementi, I came to a realization that I still find…fascinating and frightening. I’ve tweeted, posted on Facebook, wrote to Rutgers’ president, been interviewed by media, been interviewed for a documentary being made my a French television producer in my little crusade against homophobia and the toll it's taking on all of us, but mostly LGBT youth.
Throughout all of that and, in turn, the incredible show of support I've received, there's been a group of people who seem to be “sitting this one out”. Though I’ve talked to a few who are genuinely troubled, men —specifically, straight men — don’t seem to speak very loudly, if at all, on this issue.
Now, I’m not trying to over-generalize; I’ve gotten some wonderful, supportive messages from a few straight guys. Most certainly from Led Black, the editor of The Uptown Collective, a website/blog covering news and issues in my local neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He published a great piece which I would love for you to read that really speaks passionately to this issue.
But, just ONE straight man out of hundreds in my social network/circle of friends feels as strongly about changing this awful condition? I simply refuse to believe that's the case.
This is an observation, not judgement, and I’m not subconsciously seeking approval from straight men either, so please don’t read in some context that’s not there. Trust me, I have ranted, cried, screamed, and spoken about this issue and will continue to do so whether any straight people like it or not.
I have to wonder though, are these men feeling guilty? Do they fear possibly being labeled as Gay themselves for speaking up? Why do I not see more of them upset, and concerned, and talking? Personally, I know a lot of really wonderful, caring straight men, so I feel certain — they DO hurt for kids like Tyler who've lost all hope that "It Gets Better". I think this is the clearest indication of just how deeply homophobia is entrenched in our culture.
So...why do I Swish? I'll try anything -- EVERYTHING -- to be heard by straight people (especially the men) and make them understand: You simply MUST get involved. I know you don’t want to see kids in pain like this. Homophobia isn’t a Gay problem, nor is it a Straight problem — it’s a HUMAN problem. That being said, I truly believe the change lies with you, straight people.
Kids will continue dying — YOUR kids. I’ve taken on this fight for LGBT youth because I was personally affected by one young man's senseless death but, frankly, it’s not really mine to fight.
No, this fight is really yours, straight men. I don’t know exactly what’s stopping you from joining the battle, but I’m here to tell you: it is never seen as weak, nor “Gay” to save kids' lives, OK? It’s seen as compassion, as caring, and as love…love from Fathers, Brothers, Grandsons, Uncles, Sons.