STARING OUT MY WINDOW LAST THURSDAY, the Key Bridge caught my eye. Instantly, I imagined another, the George Washington Bridge, in its place. I realized that I would never drive over that bridge, or any other, again without thinking of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who committed suicide last week after being publicly outed as gay. After all, he and I are not that different. I’ve lived in New Jersey for my entire life. I too spent my first month at college riddled with anxiety about classes and making friends, but most of all, about deciding whether or not to come out as bi.

During my four years at a Catholic all-girls high school, I remained in the closet to all but a few close friends, fearing harassment and alienation. Arriving at Georgetown symbolized the beginning of a new era in my life, one of freedom, acceptance and relative privacy. Of course, resources like GU Pride and the LGBTQ Resource Center made me feel welcome on campus. But most of all, when I came out, I was shocked and overwhelmed by the compassionate responses of my new friends, my hallmates on my floor in Darnall, and my roommate. And so Georgetown became my home away from home, the first place where I could finally feel safe enough to be myself.

Clementi never had that chance. He was a student at Rutgers University for less than a month when his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and an accomplice, Molly Wei, outed him on the Internet via webcam. By secretly watching, broadcasting and publicizing Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man, Ravi and Wei ruined his life. Two nights later, Ravi tweeted that “it’s happening again,” inviting his followers to join him and grossly violate the privacy of his roommate for a second time. The next day, Clementi drove an hour to the George Washington Bridge and jumped. Now, he will never graduate. He will never play his violin in the Rutgers Symphonic Orchestra. His fellow students will never truly know him.

Unfortunately, Clementi’s case represents just one of the many LGBTQ youth suicides that have occurred in September. Five others have been widely covered in the national news, and while I appreciate their dedicated reporting, it frustrates me to watch newscasters treat these suicides as if they are part of a new phenomenon. They are not. According to a Massachusetts 2007 Youth Risk Survey, LGBTQ youth are up to four times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than their heterosexual peers. Is it any surprise, when the GLSEN 2009 National School Climate Survey reports nine out of 10 high school students have reported facing harassment in school and one out of three have skipped class within the past month because they felt unsafe?

We cannot afford to ignore the reality of these statistics. It is a stain on our society that such tragedies continue being ignored, aided and abetted by the homophobia that is so deeply ingrained within our culture. Would Ravi have filmed and published footage of Clementi if he had been having sex with a woman? I think not. As a resident of New Jersey, I am deeply ashamed that two individuals could graduate from one of my state’s high schools and believe such actions were amusing, let alone acceptable. Furthermore, no child, teenager or college student should be made to feel that suicide is their only recourse to end the suffering and humiliation they endure at the hands of their peers. When such severe harassment on the basis of identity goes unchecked, our country fails its youth and the promises it made, long ago, to its people: that all were created equal, and that all are entitled to the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Remember the story of Tyler Clementi. But please, do not forget: His death is not an isolated incident or a freakish tragedy. People like Tyler, suffering silently as they grapple with prejudice, discrimination and harassment due to sexual orientation and gender identity, exist at every school throughout the nation, including Georgetown. He could be the quiet guy you sat next to in philosophy, or the brilliant violinist in your high school orchestra. He could be someone like me.

Julia Maddera is a sophomore in the College and a co-facilitator of Getting Bi.

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