Catching Gay Youth -- Before They Fall

By Kelly Bates

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Oct. 21, 2010

The windows to my grandmother’s apartment looked out from the 24th floor onto a gray steel suspension bridge spanning the two worlds of New York and New Jersey.

At a height of 604 feet and a length of 3,500 feet, the George Washington Bridge is most known for its deeply majestic arches that stand tall above two levels of cars and people. As you walk below these towering arches and look out at the Big Apple skyline, you can feel like you are bigger than the world and more powerful than the steel of the bridge.

Or you can feel like Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, an eighteen year old man who jumped from the steel to his death after roommates videotaped him and a male lover and streamed it over the Web. Humiliation and fear must have played in his head.  He emailed his school for help before he jumped, but help wasn’t there or certainly not fast enough.

Five teenagers including Tyler committed suicide last month after being harassed and targeted for their sexual orientation. Provincetown, Massachusetts -- a safe harbor and community for people of all sexual orientations and backgrounds -- marked this sad month with a candlelight vigil. People mourned for the suicide victims and the horrendous treatment of gay youth in our country. 

Policies like "don’t ask don’t tell" and ballot measures that prevent loving same-sex couples from marrying feed the hate that contributes to these suicides. Gay youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made. 

I went online to the website Wikipedia to learn about the George Washington Bridge. It had the specs of the bridge, the traits that made it famous, but no mention of Tyler, of the pain of the cities that lie between the bridges who lost a beautiful friend, or the deep and unacceptable hatred directed at gay men and women in our country.  

We should catch these youth when they fall. We should build a net across our society that is so wide and deep with respect, pride, and care that we could grasp even a single life stepping off a bridge. Tyler should have been caught in that net.

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