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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

  • Anonymous

    I am a conservative, straight, white guy and I say… WT#!!! How can anyone from any background or with any beliefs come up with an excuse for these two [deleted]! Just ask yourself…what if this was my son, or friend or my brother? Would any rational person think that this would not deeply hurt this young man? What is wrong with you!

  • Anonymous

    I think the big question hasn’t been asked or answered: What took place in that dorm between the Web broadcast and the suicide?
    It’s one thing to discover that your roommate was spying on your make-out session.
    But imagine if that’s followed by ominous comments by friends, suggesting that other people saw the video. And then when you enter the dining hall the next evening, you’re greeted with derision and catcalls, with people mimicking movements and gestures from the night before. He might still have been coming to terms with his sexuality, feeling tentative about some of what they did the night before — and now finds himself the laughing-stock of the dorm. I can imagine a freshman feeling like his life is over: How can I possibly keep on going to school here? What possible explanation can I give my parents for transferring elsewhere?
    My guess is that the dorm reaction is the untold story, with a much bigger impact than just being spied upon.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Luke,
    I agree with you. If someone wants to know what else was going on they can look at the hateful vitriol of politicians and religious leaders that make it seem ok to instigate this kind of harassment and bullying.
    I’m sick, sad and disgusted that anyone wants to excuse these actions as “just having fun,” or “they wouldn’t have done it had they known the consequences.” I don’t know that. I do know that the disease of human cruelty and homophobia will spread like a pandemic if it is not stopped by everyone who values the lives of our beautiful LGBT youth.

  • Anonymous

    As the Mom of a trans person, my greatest worry is that some crazy will decide to attafk him physically adn/or opsychologically. He is strong and wold not jump off a bridge. he also has a strong support system. Howeveer, it seems to me that the only roup left to harass and be prejudiced agains is the GLBT community and iwe need to deal with it as we wold any prejudical attacks on a particular groiup. I am so sorry this occurred nd this young man felt he had no pllace to go for support…suppor systems need to be instilled in all of our institutions.

  • Anonymous

    Far more disturbing is the fact that the two ‘alleged’ people who consciously set up a videocamera to film this, did not feel or know that this was wrong. We are becoming a society that hides behind texts, emails, videos and never suffer the consequences of the action. We have lost our moral compass when we don’t think our actions can/will cause such hurt that the victim would feel he had no other choice but to end his life. The perpetrators should burn in hell.

  • Anonymous

    Laying the cause of this tragic event on the bigotry engendered by religion or politics, or the “youth” of the parties involved is just too simplistic. It allows us to pin blame on some amorphous standard that is NOT us, and therefore we walk away feeling justified. It takes away the responsibility of the individual (every individual) to consider the effect of his/her actions upon others they encounter. What are the factors that cause us to pursue a course of deliberately acting to destroy others, without having an internal sense of conscience that says to us “STOP! Don’t it!”? Let me posit this: when an individual is driven by a pursuit to satiate his own sense of freedom and pleasure (in whatever form), he will eventually encounter 1) the boundaries of his own conscience and 2) the freedom of others. I believe that the health of his conscience will determine whether stops to consider the costs or presses onward to the hurt of others (victims, families, etc). Either way, he alone gets to make the decision. And he alone should be held accountable for the high cost others now have to pay, simply because they encountered him. Just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    Well said.

  • Anonymous

    Luke, Thank you very much for your comments regarding this young man and the fact that bigotry played a hugh role in his life as well as in his death. My heart grieves for this young man. Not only because he died, but also of the emotional pain he endured throughout his short 18 years. The fear of being made fun of and not being accepted by family, friends and others in general weighed heavily on him. So much so, he choose to end his life rather than endure more pain and suffering from those who may ridicule and spurm him. There are so many LGBTs who have this same fear, This fear was placed in them by the attitudes and actions (laws) that our society and government officials have made. They have made us feel dirty, vulger and unaccepted as a citizen of the United States or Service member of the Armed Forces who has given their all to this country. Our politicians make laws against LGBTs based on religious beliefs instead of equality for all or they are lobbied hard by the religions groups to vote against LGBT rights so that they can keep their job in the House.

    Hopefully LGBTs will develop an attitude of ‘I don’t care what you think of me. I’m just as GOOD a person as you are, the only DIFFERENCE between me and you is that I love another person of the same sex.’ As a society, we cannot live in fear because of the laws or what others may do to us. It is oppressive. However, this is the daily life of the LGBT individual.

  • Anonymous

    Bullying and singling out someone is the worst thing to go through for a person, including their family. My daughter was a victim of bullying in sixth through seventh grade. (She was being harassed for the way she looked – her hair was thinning on the top of her hair). I cannot begin to tell you what that did to her self esteem, let alone what it did to my husband and me. A person being humiliated because they aren’t the same as the majority is something that you do not forget and that you carry with you for the rest of your life. Even though her hair issue was corrected as she grew older; those are days that she refers to as “living in hell” for the rest of her life. Being “young and stupid” is no excuse for what these two students did. My daughter is a college student now, and while one might say she that her brain isn’t yet fully developed she still knows that her actions can have long term (not to mention permanent) consequences. I agree with Luke.

  • Anonymous

    This case is a tragedy for all parties involved. While initially the instinctive reaction is to call for the two students involved in invading this young man’s privacy to be locked up and have the key thrown away, let’s remember that they too are just kids. I am not excusing their actions, but I’m sure that they never intended for this young man to kill himself. When I think back on some of the immature, stupid, and even mean things that I did (or had done to me) when I was a teen I have to shake my head in disbelief. Kids do stupid and sometimes mean things, but usually they are done out of immaturity and ignorance rather than out of malice and hatred. While my heart goes out to the family and friends of the young man who lost his life, I also have to feel sorry for these two other young people who every day for the rest of their lives will carry the heavy weight of guilt and regret for the tragedy that their thoughtless act caused.

  • Anonymous

    Let us also remember there was another young man in the video. He was also violated. He needs our prayers…

  • Anonymous

    Yes, we always have to explore everything but some actions need not be explored because they ae plain wicked. We all know the burden of shame. If Tyler came from an upright family, the fact that he was caught doing something that he was not ready to disclose to his folks, can cause grevious shame to the person. Not to mention that our society has empowered the likes of Dharun and Molly to bully a person out of his life because society sanctions discrimination and hatred of people with different sexual orietation.
    The fact is that these two university students must have known what they were doing was wrong. While some of use can bear shame, for others its too heavy a burden. I think we need to explore why these two students plotted and then carried out such a heinous act.

  • Anonymous

    The reader is simply asking the questions that you all are assuming you know the answers to. The commenters assume that the young man was bullied, harassed, excluded and rejected, so that having his private activity portrayed to the world became the final straw. I believe the reader thinks it is important to actually know more about which of these factors, or others, were affecting the young man’s life — maybe because THOSE issues need to be confronted and addressed. Your attempt to inject phantom scenarios as analogies (“what if he was hit by a drunk driver?”) is extremely weak rhetoric. Answer: He wasn’t. Period. This is not a random tragedy. Which is also why it is worth discussing.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking to the original question, I think you are assuming his/her question is seeking to place part of the blame on the victim. I did not read it that way. I think the answers are important so that we may help others not follow this same tragic path. Your analogy of a car accident is not accurate. Suicide is self inflicted therefore preventable. Seeking answers is the only way we can help. I also agree that this young man’s problems were deeply rooted.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree with you, Luke.
    This young man, if he had nobody else to talk to, he could have discussed his feelings with his partner. He ran off and did something he may have wanted to do all along.
    The person who asked the question may have suicidal thoughts, too. They may be struggling with how and when to tell their parents and friends they are gay. Thoughts of ending their life may haunt them. Because being gay has not been the bane to kill him/ herself in itself, the person has other problems as well- like loneliness, bullying, daily teasing, or poor self- esteem. To many young people, there never seem to be an end or a light at the end of the tunnel- they lack patience. They do not think that anything happening at the moment will eventually end and they would be able to look back at it one day and learn from the experience. We learn this with age.

  • Anonymous

    Luke your comments are commendable and if we as members of civil societies dont use avoidable tragedies like these to better our lives individually and collectively, we are the poorer for it. What the alleged perpertators did is despicable and indefensible but bigotry and prejudice have been around since time immemorial. It was not just Tyler’s actions that were broadcasted wihout his knowledge let alone approval. His partner’s was too and fortunately that did not lead to suicide. Jails the world over are brimming with crimminals and so it is obvious that society is never ever going to be crime free. Therefore from a victims perspective it is vital that society renders them everything possible to “cope” with the impact of the crime and to make the most of the rest of their lives. If nothing else we should all be asking ourselves are we doing enough to minimise self harm and prevent suicides? Are doing enough to address depression which is the largest csue of suicides? An eye for an eye as Gandhiji said will render the world blind. What we need is a much more enlighthend approach, one that is epitomised by Luke Visconti

  • Anonymous

    An 18-year-old man having a sexual encounter with a female is celebrated as a stud in our frat-boy culture. An 18-year-old man having a sexual encounter with a man is just a [F-word] to be despised by a large portion of our society. Was the young man who killed himself “sensitive”? Probably. Weren’t most of us at that age?

  • What else was going on for him? He was partially a loner and isolated, from what I understand. Many would agree that that would be part of a profile of someone who might be more prone to having suicidal tendencies. Isolated and outcast why? Because that is the treatment of GLBT youth that is condoned and encouraged by some people who are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of ALL youth. THAT’S WHAT ELSE WAS GOING ON IN HIS LIFE THAT MAY HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO HIS SUICIDE. GET IT NOW!?

  • I hope that all the white guys out there will think about hurtful comments or actions that they have made to gay friends or acquaintances (knowingly or not) and, in rememberance of Tyler, seek out and apologize to that peron. Though these acts do not always lead to suicide, the pain that they inflict is significant.

  • Anonymous

    To those making callous comments about this tragedy think about this. Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old college freshman. College presented an opportunity for him explore his sexuality which he may not have been able to do while residing with his family. He might also been afraid to acknowledge his sexuality with his family especially if they were funding his education. I know many individuals who had their college funding cut off by their “loving” family when they came out. Tyler also had to deal with the embarrassment of having a sexual encounter broadcast on the web without his (or his partner’s) knowledge and consent. The moment the broadcast went live he became a social pariah. There would be reluctance from any guy to date Tyler. The door was also opened for harassment and potential physical violence. I’m sure that Tyler was so distraught that he saw no other option then to take his own life. I’m certain that Tyler’s roommate and the roommate’s friend thought this was a harmless prank. I can also surmise that they had no thought of the rippling repercussions of their actions. No matter how innocuous the roommate and his cohort thought their actions were they must now deal and live with the consequences.

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