On Sept. 22, 2010, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman, ended his life.
In the five years since his tragic death, his family has likely been through hell, and his friends and classmates have surely grappled with regrets. Apart from that personal grief, the story is compounded by the notion that the world of today is a wholly different place than it was in 2010 — and that, had the progress that our community and country has made been accelerated by just a few years, the promising young musician might still be here today.
Shortly after Clementi’s suicide, the New Jersey legislature, in a nearly unanimous vote, adopted a law tightening the state’s anti-bullying laws. Numerous pro-LGBT federal initiatives have been introduced to combat bullying and harassment, including one named for Clementi. Colleges and high schools across the country have taken more active positions on campus harassment. Rutgers itself launched an LGBT center on campus, enacted new antibullying policies and gender-neutral housing options.
Clementi’s parents created a national foundation dedicated to combating bullying and harassment of LGBT youth. The organization advocates for public-policy initiatives to protect youth, offers trainings for workplaces and school communities and engages people in antibullying initiatives, such as its Day1 Campaign, which has caught on at college campuses throughout the nation, including locally.
Shortly after Clementi’s death, the “It Gets Better” campaign launched by Dan Savage began rapidly gaining steam. Sports teams, politicians, Hollywood stars and everyday Americans joined the chorus that continues to tell LGBT youth and others that progress is a reality.
With national marriage equality, a growing call for nondiscrimination laws, highly placed LGBT public officials, the incorporation of LGBT individuals and issues into mainstream entertainment and more, that reality has come to fruition — which makes Clementi’s death even more tragic.
The five years that have passed since Clementi’s suicide have collectively illustrated that evolution is possible. It’s now incumbent upon our community and country to not lose sight of the fervor that made that movement possible — but rather to use that momentum to keep changing laws and policies, and hearts and minds. And hopefully save lives.