It has been nine months now since Tyler Clementi’s suicide dominated the news. And I fear many of have forgotten that sensitive young man’s difficult transition to college life.
While it has become easier to come out America today (than it was twenty years ag0), it will always be difficult to be different, even if we do achieve the “full equality” to which many gay activists aspire. To be sure, young gay people currently have a plethora of places to go for guidance and support. Through the “It Gets Better” videos and other social (as well as traditional) media, they have testimony and images of older gay people who are open about and comfortable with their sexuality.
They still, however, face the challenge of being different at a period in life when many aspire to conform to their peers.
One concern I’ve had with those videos, the most enduring legacy of the suicide, is that they lack the personal contact that many young people need at difficult moments as they take their first steps on their path of adulthood. They have just a face and voice on a screen and not a hand on their shoulder or a kind word directed to them personally.
It’s important that we always remember that for as much good as those videos may accomplish, we must also always pay attention to the personal. We may feel good about recording our experiences for such a video, but we do better when we take the time to listen and respond to a young person in need.
If my experience as an uncle has taught me anything, it’s that an older adult’s encouragement of and interest in a child, adolescent or young adult can help give them the strength to weather life’s storms. And this applies most particularly to those who differ from the social norm.