White Guy Responds to ‘Why Did He Kill Himself?’

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

This comment came in response to our article on a gay student who killed himself after his college roommate broadcast his sexual encounter on the Internet. I thought it was worth turning into its own column because I’m sure this reader expressed what many people are thinking. 

Comment:
First, my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and loved ones of this young man who felt, tragically, he needed [to] end his life. And, whereas I do not condone the actions of this fellow’s roommate and partner in crime, I would also wonder why this young man felt he needed to end his life. It is increasingly common, these days, to find secret videos of individuals’ sex acts on the internet and yet these individuals have not chosen to end their lives. What else was going on in this young man’s life that caused him to believe that the only viable solution for him was to end his life? This, too, must be explored. The people who did this were young and stupid, to be sure, but I don’t believe, for a moment, that they would have done this had they known that the young man’s response would have been suicide.

Answer:
“This, too, must be explored”? Why? To justify or somehow ameliorate this tragedy? The unctuous expression of “sympathies” makes this a particularly creepy response. Would it make you feel better to know that, aside from his being exploited for entertainment while he was emerging from childhood and becoming a sexual being, he also was overdrawn on his checking account?

What if he were killed by a drunk driver? Or a falling bullet from a person shooting a gun in the air? Would you want to “explore” the reason the victim was in that place at that time to be killed by the car or hit by the bullet? What nonsense. Readers, I have excluded hateful comments on this article and came close to editing this one out too—but will use it to make a point.

Our country has come a long way, but the fact is that LGBT people face an incredible bigotry—much of it driven by so-called religious and political leaders who fill their coffers by promoting the sense of an “other” group to discriminate against. There’s something in the tribal nature of the human spirit that lets us have a cheap thrill by oppressing and/or denigrating another group. This young man was a student and a musician and a victim. He was not webcast while doing homework; no, the (alleged) perpetrators were enjoying the prurient thrill of outing an 18-year-old kissing someone of the same sex. The reason someone would find pleasure in doing this is the ugly thing we see when we look in our society’s mirror, which must be confronted forthrightly if we are going to vanquish it. Our continued oppression of our LGBT citizens, the leveraging of hate for personal gain—THIS is what “must be explored.” 

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51 Comments

  • I have wondered why mankind is his own greatest predator.

  • Right On. Well said. It doesn’t matter what else was going on in this kid’s life. He was a victim of his embarrassment caused by living in a homophobic atmosphere. The two [deleted] who videotaped his private sexual acts should be thrown into jail and have the keys thrown away. They belong in a zoo with the other animals, and not in contact with other human beings.

  • I think its sad that people still feel the need to “explain” away the hateful acts of criminals. It dosen’t matter what else was going on this young persons life, the fact is he was murdered. Murdered by a society that in public is “outraged” by the invasion of privacy, but behind closed doors make these sort of video’s on “You tube” the most watched videos in the country, in the world. Keep your condolences, your comments are ridiculous and you should be ashamed of yourself for asking such a stupid question.

  • Thank you.

  • I agree with you completely. It sadens me evertime I have to face the truth about our desire to have someone or group that is worse off than we are. This is really hedonistic and studies show that Americans fell better about being better off than someone else than they do about being better off. It is a sad statement and one that has been tought through the love affair with capitalism. I respect societies that set rules more than one that finds solice in making the “other” group miserable.

  • Dear Luke: I appreciate your outrage and advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community. In this instance, while I find the reader’s letter concerning, I also would like to provide an educative response that isn’t person to the young man who died. The reader needs to know that LGBT teens are three times as likely to attempt or commit suicide as are heterosexual teens, not because LGBT teens are more mentally unstable, but because they are subjected to life threatening patterns of continual bullying, violent harassment, exclusion, parental rejection, and fear of all these things as well as other forms of oppression. That’s what else was going on in this child’s life.

  • We all have burdens we must bear. Some of us can handle heavier loads. Some of us have lighter loads to carry. For anyone to deliberately add to the burden another must carry is at best stupid and viscious. It doesn’t really matter what other burdens this poor kid was already carrying, for his roommate to add to them was unconscionable. There is no way any of us cn predict the effect of our actions on another because we never have the whole story. Therefore, it is up to each of us to do our best to relieve our neighbor’s load, not add to it.

  • Anonymous

    Luke, thank you very much for this! It needed to be addressed and said.

  • Anonymous

    I was saddened to hear of Tyler Clementi’s plight. I am also disgusted that his roommate would attempt to use Tyler’s private life as entertainment or something to ridicule. While it may place me in the column of unpopular responses with your readers, I also agree that other issues could have driven Tyler to take his life and so they must be explored. The roommate and his accomplice must be made to pay for the torment they caused Tyler but they may not have been the sole source of his drive toward such a desperate act.

  • Anonymous

    Luke, thanks for choosing to respond to this comment…
    Altho the young people who recorded and published the video were way out of line, this is the result of a whole society that makes it OK to discriminate against LGBT. It is the “fault” of every legislator who votes against treating LGBT as full citizens. It is the fault of everyone who gives money to anti-gay causes and tells anti-gay jokes, etc.

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree with this last poster to Luke. This poster has answered the comment intelligently without jumping down the commentator’s throat. I think what was done is horrible, an invasion of privacy that any of us would resent. But I also see by some of the other posts on here that this young victim is still being exploited but now by people who want to use him for a soapbox! Let his family grieve with what dignity they can now, let the government prosecute the offenders, and please leave this deceased person’s life alone, ALL of you! In your passions you are doing exactly what he had hoped to avoid by killing himself! Just stop it!

  • Anonymous

    No further analysis of the victim is needed. He is dead, period. Analyze that.

  • Anonymous

    Luke your comments were outstanding; and if anyone thinks for a second that here in America we no longer have a need to find a group to hate – or a need to feel better or more entitled than another person just look at what the things that are part of the landscape of the current recession. Million dollar homes, low rates of savings, and and obsession with affluent retirement.

  • Anonymous

    You said:
    “What if he were killed by a drunk driver? Or a falling bullet from a person shooting a gun in the air? Would you want to “explore” the reason the victim was in that place at that time to be killed by the car or hit by the bullet? What nonsense. Readers, I have excluded hateful comments on this article and came close to editing this one out too—but will use it to make a point.”

    I think the reader’s point is valid. It was horrible to post the video on the ‘net. The people who did it were egregiously wrong in many ways. But they didn’t kill the young man. He killed himself.

    There are important reasons why one person would choose to kill himself in these circumstances and others would not. The larger society is greatly at fault. The people who “outed” him are greatly at fault. But those are not enough reason to kill oneself at the beginning of a promising life.

    Those of us who have the responsibility of rearing LGBT sons and daughters, or the responsibility of educating young LGBT people need to know how we can help them build the resilience they need to lead satisfying and successful lives in a society where others are often hateful.

    Perhaps instead of asking “Why would he kill himself?” what we really need to know is why others in similar situations have not.

    For example, I’ve just read a wonderful article in Newsweek about people who were dismissed from military service when they were outed as gay, how they have built new careers, and how many of them hope to return to military service of the country. Part of our duty as elders is to help all LGBT young people build that kind of resilience.

  • Anonymous

    This tragedy makes me so sad. It’s bad enough not being able to openly live your life being who you are; but then to have your private moments broadcast for someones sick pleasure is beyond horrendous. Thank you Luke for speaking out for this young man.

  • Anonymous

    Increasingly common makes it ok? Where does this person want us to draw the line? So they would not have done it had they known his response would be suicide? That sounds like it would have been ok to video him had he just said “HaHa” They did not care what his response would be, They cared about their own sick pleasure. And sadder still they had an audience…

  • Anonymous

    I think you missed the point of the question. As I read the question, it was probing for what would cause a young person to commit suicide. It seems abnormal that one would commit suicide solely because of being filmed in an embarrassing moment. As the writer pointed out, people are filmed in embarrassing moments quite regularly, yet they don’t chose to end their lives. Choosing to end one’s life and being killed in an unfortunate car accident or from a falling bullet shot in the air are two different things. A person killed in an accident doesn’t choose to end his life. Trying to understand what causes people to be hopeless to the point of ending their life is, I believe, a legitimate question. Particularly in what seems to me to be an increase in teen and young adult suicide. I think we could gain much insight into understanding the causes of suicide, and perhaps even some prevention methods, if we would address the issue of suicide rather than dismissing the question because in this case the deceased is gay.

    • You are coming from a position of ignorance in this comment. You wonder why someone would commit suicide “because he was filmed in an embarrassing moment.” It is clear that you don’t have the faintest idea what the magnitude of what happened to that boy actually was. Let me explain: This kid had been hiding his sexual orientation from everyone he cared about and loved for his entire life since he hit puberty. Fanatically. Obsessively. Because he was sure that if anyone knew, everyone he loved would hate him forever. His life, quite literally, would be over. You cannot understand that feeling unless you’ve been there. You cannot know the impact that living with that certainty can have on your life unless you’ve lived it. I totally understand this kid’s reaction to having this one private moment filmed and publicly aired. I had a similar thing happen to me when I was a little older than this kid, and I was for lucky enough to have supportive family who got me through it, but it was touch and go for a while.
      I am not blaming you for not understanding what this kid did, nor am I condoning it. But what I am saying is do not dismiss the depths of pain and despair that this boy was feeling over this incident, and question the responsibility of the perpetrators of this act, by glibly suggesting that “there must have been something else.”

  • Anonymous

    For those asking for massive penalties, how far does it go? Does the same sentiment go for a well off student mocking a poor one, an irate boss demeaning a subordinate in front of colleagues, a well toned jock embarrassing a not so fit person? These could all easily put someone over the edge resulting in the same tragic ending. The question of how someone gets to the edge is ALWAYS important!This was indeed a tragedy but due we make it a bigger tragedy?

  • Anonymous

    The the author of the comment ” the young men would not have done this if they had known he would commit suicide”. That’s equivalent to saying “I would not have slapped you, if I had known you would cry.” They should not have based their actions upon how he would react; rather their actions should have been based upon ” Is this the right thing to do?’ I teach my children that there are consequences to your actions. But, if you focus upong doing the right thing you won’t have to worry about the consequences.

  • Anonymous

    Why do we have to know explore why the young man killed himself, in order to say what his room mate and the other young lady did was wrong and illegal. The original comment is blaming doing what our society always does to those who it considers weak. It blames the victim. This man was exploited by a perverted voyeur. Really this man response to being victimized is not the issue. or weather the voyeur would have committed the crime had he know that his victim would have killed himself is not the issue. The issue is that a young man became a was was videotaped by sick perverted voyeurs and then those individuals released what they videoed to the work without the young mans permission. That is the crime. That this may have lead to the young mans death is something that must give us all pause, because it speaks to mans inhumanity to man. That the two people who perpetrated this crime and the person who wrote the comment above are so easily able to rationalize away how the fact that this act of taping someone was lacked any sign of human decency.

    I am not sure that I would want to employ these two individuals at any company I work for. They have no self control, no ability to question ask themselves the simple question. Yes it is in my power to do this, but should I? What low levels would they sink to to get a promotion or make a co worker look bad or make at the expense of those around them. To me this is the story of our times and what our nation and its citizens have become.

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