I wrote this months ago, but it remains the most important thing I've written this year. I'm sharing it again because it's worth it to do so. --julie
I came out in a small conservative college in the Midwest. This was in the 1980's. When I did so, I was threatened routinely and mostly anonymously.
I am not going to dwell on this, but I will say a little about it later. It's not the point of what I'm writing. I'm writing about this:
It started with a Twitter message on Sept. 19: "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."
That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.
And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.
Ellen says it better than I can (embedding is disabled but you can still view the video), so please view the video and come back here, 'cause I've got a bit more to say.
When I came out, I did so by choice. I knew I had to at the time, even though it was a bit of a scary prospect. It was shortly after that that I formed a gay rights group at my college.
I didn't do this alone. I did it after a man named Brian McNaught came to speak at our college. Several of us met with him for dinner and talked about the old style gay support groups which made everyone feel as though we were in hiding.
It was through his inspiration and the work of a small number of us that were willing to be out, despite the dangers and fears, despite the death threats, despite the problems it caused for us.
I've known people who couldn't live with what they knew about themselves but were unwilling to face. Some of them have died by their own hand, unable to deal with their homosexuality or transsexualism. Others have died the way I may have at one point in my life: not through active suicide, but simply through falling into depression and fatalism and just falling and failing until life swallows you up, either killing or disabling you.
I never let it get that far-- I came to my senses long before rock bottom came and I moved myself forward and pulled myself out of that hole, but I was fortunate; I had friends and resources and interests that moved me forward.
But what I really want to say, right here, right now, is that though things are better, they are not better everywhere. Though conditions are improved for many of us, they're not improved for everyone. Coming out can still, in the wrong place and at the wrong time, get you killed. I am isolated. My marriage is recognized in Vermont and though I have occasionally dealt with homophobia in my personal life, such incidents are few and far behind and lack institutional support. On the few occasions I've complained about my treatment by people in official conditions, I've been apologized to profusely, and treated extremely well in the future.
But this does not ring true for everyone and so many of us, transsexual, lesbian, gay and bi, deal with our own roadblocks that may be common to us, but may also be unique to our own personal psyche.
So this is the thing: my coming out and my ability to be myself and recognize the parts of myself that at one point terrified me? That was facilitated by people who came out before me and spoke in public with eloquence and grace.
Those of us who have been allowed to come out with relative safety do not have the luxury to allow ourselves to to be complacent about those who will follow, and those of us who have benefited from those before us have an obligation to continue to pave the way for others.
This story? This story where someone gets outed and ends up dead, either quickly through violence, or slowly through the mental attrition of one's psyche into frightened oblivion?
It has to stop. It has to end.
And we have to stop it.
The It Gets Better Project is amazing. Some samples: