Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where do we begin?

"When I was in the military, they gave
me a medal for killing two men and
a discharge for loving one." -epitaph
of Leonard P. Matlovich, 1988
Wednesday was a day to wear purple to show support for the LGBT community. It's a simple way to describe the day, but the who, what, when, where, why information can be obtained through a Google search, so take a moment and do that if you're unfamiliar.

On Oct. 11, The Daily Targum, Rutger University's campus newspaper, published an editorial that blamed the media for exploding the situation surrounding Tyler Clementi's death. "The death of University student Tyler Clementi might have been properly mourned if it were not for the massive rallies and aggressive news coverage that altered the nature of the situation," the editorial begins. "The truth is that an 18-year-old boy killed himself - he was a student just like the rest of us, someone just trying to receive an education. Yet people's relentless agendas took his death and turne dit into a cause based on false pretenses."

"Turning his death into a push for gay rights is a fallacy," The Daily Targum's editorial continues. "Homosexuality is not the only reason for which people kill themselves. In this case, it might have pushed Clementi over the edge, but the fact that he was gay should by no means turn his death into a march for safe spaces. These groups want to be heard. They want the attention. They want their agendas to shine in the limelight....Let us - family, friends and the University together - mourn for Clementi, and just for him, rather than using him as a martyr for a cause that has yet to be proven."

It's a strong statement to make. It's true that nobody can know exactly why Clementi killed himself, nor can anyone really know the exact reason behind any of the suicides that have been grouped together for this cause as of late. Not that their sexuality didn't play a part in the reasons they were bullied and teased. - I believe it did. But it's a difficult issue to approach.

I can see where The Daily Targum is coming from, though I don't agree with all of their points. After all, is it not similar to other marginalized groups who turn situations into moments for their cause? A group, for example, who turns a miscommunication into an act of racism?

I do think, though, that this is all part of a larger problem plaguing society: the need for acceptance of those who are different from us. Any fight against equality for everyone seems to defy what our Founding Fathers wanted for this country.

"Never be bullied into silence. Never
allow yourself to be made a victim.
Accept no one's definition of your
life; define yourself." -Harvey Fierstein
But that was a mini-tangent, so let's turn the conversation toward Oct. 20 or, as it was known amongst Facebook and Tumblr, Purple Day. Days like these receive much praise and criticism for various reasons. I myself wore purple, as did many of my friends, classmates and co-workers. What I like about these days is that it's a time to show support for groups that may not always feel supported. We're all very much aware that wearing purple is not going to eliminate hate, but we don't wear purple for that reason, do we?

That having been said, the criticism that I read most directly about this day is something I can't help but respond to here though:

"You wear a purple shirt to feel special," this person wrote. "The purple shirt thing is to say, 'I'm a really nice and supportive person who may have some issues! I want people to think I am doing something, when really, I am most likely an attention whore, or part of the problem!'"

"Some of the people who are so excited to wear their purple shirt really think that this will help change our warped society that is so full of ignorance and intolerance. How ironic, some people think bullying is okay, and you think purple shirts will decrease suicide. Both sound pretty stupid to me. How intellectually stunted can we get? It's simply too hard to address the real problem, so let’s just do something to make us feel like we’re helping. Purple shirt day is self-rewarding and self-important, it inflates the egos of those who participate."

I thought about those words on Tuesday night when I read them. (Of course, these words came from the same person who also chided me two years ago for posting something on Facebook regarding insurance companies for classifying domestic abuse as a 'pre-existing condition,' therefore allowing them to deny insurance to victims.)

I'm a strong supporter of the LGBT community, with friends and family members who identify as gay or lesbian. The way I see it, we wear purple to show those who feel scared or bullied that they don't need to be wary of all of society. We wear purple to show that we are allies and that we are not a part of the groups who pinpoint something you cannot change as a "fault." We will not fault you. We are, as Amanda concluded, creating a safe space. Sure, there are many traits in people that we may not find appealing, but homosexuality shouldn't be one of those things. As I used to say to those who teased me for my alopecia: "If you're going to hate me, hate me because I'm impatient or because I chew too loudly or because I correct your grammar too much; not for something I can't control." Homosexuality isn't a choice or something that can be "reversed," as some think is possible - do you think people choose to be exiled by some groups and treated as disappointments by their conservative family members?

"If you are ashamed to stand by your colors, you had better seek another flag." -Author Unknown
Whether you wore purple on Oct. 20 or not, to belittle the day and accuse those who participated by calling them attention whores is just as bad as any sort of bullying. Wearing purple itself might not address the real problem, but it's a stepping stone toward the discussion that needs to happen. Increasing awareness is the first step; then, maybe acceptance can finally be a reality.


  1. I had trouble with the Daily Targum's editorial. I don't condone or appreciate singular events misrepresented to fit nicely in a narrative to further an agenda. The editorial took a strong critical stance for this reason, which was a just topic and one that needs to be restated and re-emphasized when events are shoehorned into being an occurrence of a systemic issue.

    But arguing against the likelihood of predation and intimidation of Clementi by his roommate based on Clementi's sexuality is a weak case, and it is very easy to attack the Daily Targum for insensitivity. What the Daily Targum is proposing, in its roundabout and insensitive way, is for a more complex understanding of people and their motivations; in essence, to not simplify people into becoming trend statistics.

    The question becomes: do I ease my standards for critical scrutiny if it serves a cause I believe in wholeheartedly, or do I support rigorous standards of analysis to critique all causes, even if it hurts those I believe in?

  2. Fantastic writing. This is New U worthy for sure, I always enjoy your mind. I'm going to speak freely because you support dialog and are open to hearing the other side.

    1) What does it mean to support the LGBT community? Be against bullying and cruelty? Vote No on Prop 8? Can someone be against government recognition of same-sex marriage and still support the LGBT community?

    2) Some people define this "fault" as against nature. Males and females are designed for sexual reproduction thus enabling the genetic continuation of the species. An example might include the high promiscuity rate among gay men.

    3) I recently saw "A Single Man" where George gives a speech about fear being the root cause of all discrimination and disagreement of lifestyle. So I thought to myself. What do I fear about homosexuality? Not that I will become gay. Not that the species will die out. Not that my future children will become gay or morally approve homosexuality. Watching "Glee" I realized that Kurt, sharing the sentiments of other gay men, doesn't want to be gay. "Do you think I wanted this?" he yells. So my fear is that, given the choice, homosexuality would opt to an orientation more in line with nature and more advantageous in all social dynamics. Is it so wrong of me to want this change for people? This fear becomes more prominent as homosexuals get older into the age of settling down. I simply don't want the LGBT to miss out on the straight life.

    Call me ignorant. I'm simply being honest.

  3. Caleb,

    It's people like you (and much more militant ones) who make people unhappy about being gay, not being gay itself.