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Tyler Clementi and Us

Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

The verdict in New Brunswick NJ on the trial of Dharun Ravi is in. Ravi was convicted of a hate crime after setting up a webcam to tape his roommate Tyler Clementi in a homosexual encounter. He then tweeted the link so that others could watch. Humiliated and hounded, Tyler killed himself two days later.

No one intervened on Tyler’s behalf in two days. No one spoke up about the”joke”.

Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 300 hours community service, 3 years probation, and $10,000 in fines, plus court fees. The media debate is now about whether that sentence was severe enough. It’s not our job to comment on the fairness of the sentence. Our job is to focus on the continuing effect of bullying of gays on straight spouses and our families, and the attitudes of acceptance surrounding it.

Judge Glenn Berman aptly noted that despite the leniency of the sentence, he has not observed any sign of regret or remorse from Ravi. The prosecution will appeal the sentence. Ravi is appealing the conviction. Meanwhile, we have noticed disturbing comments in the general online media. Some are calling for Ravi to be treated as a murderer, which he is not. Some are blaming Tyler’s family for his suicide – the old “if only they’d accepted him his life would be perfect and he’d have had no problems” mantra. Still others believe that Ravi really did nothing wrong.

The truth is that for many young adults, any discussion of sex with their parents is difficult. It’s not that the parents are bad or narrow minded or abusive or intolerant – it’s just that it’s really difficult to tell your parents your business! Straight teens don’t come out to their parents; gay teens have an additional step to take when talking to their parents openly about their sexual activity. It’s a process that takes time in many families.

The truth is that Tyler was bullied. The truth is that dorm life in freshman year can be a very difficult adjustment. The truth is that his roommate was not happy about living with someone who was actively gay. The truth is that his roommate deliberately set up the webcam, the broadcast, the tweet. The truth is that his roommate intended to shame and humiliate him.

The truth is that if there were resources available to Tyler, he likely was unaware of them. The truth is that other students knew. No one did anything about stopping the sharing of the video. No one did anything to warn or help Tyler.

No one can blame a young college freshman for being irritated at a roommate who has sex in the room, especially if being around gay sex is new, especially if it involves someone who is not a student. But roommates have had these conflicts for years, and not resolved them through bullying, shame, public humiliation.

It’s time for college residence life counselors to recognize two things: one, that gay students or those perceived as gay still are targets for harassment, bullying, shaming; and two, that some students may have a difficult time living with a sexually active gay or lesbian student for reasons other than “hate”.

Those issues have to be owned. It has to be safe in a college dorm to be gay, or to not want to be close to gay sexual activity in your personal living space.

There must be honest and open ways to resolve these incompatibilities without forcing someone to be bullied, or to be politically correct but very unhappy and uncomfortable. College residence life must be safe for all.

The alternative is uncomfortable silence, pretending this was just Tyler’s fault, pretending that Ravi is a hateful murderer or pretending that its OK to assume he did nothing wrong, he just got caught.

Gays and lesbians are part of a family. Hopefully, as more families and straight spouses speak out about our lives, the idea of bullying someone for being gay will become socially unacceptable – because the gay person could be our brother, sister, son, daughter, parent. But first, it will have to be safe for families to speak out. And in a college dorm, admitting you have a gay sibling or parent could be difficult, and open you up to more harassment.

This is the world we live in. Let’s change it through honesty and compassion.

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Marsha Ambrosius – Eloquent, Elegant, and Far Away

Posted by on Apr 8, 2011 in Blog | 0 comments

One of our stories is finally told in song and video.  And it’s pretty real.

In Far Away, Marsha Ambrosius gives us the gift of a lyrical and soulfully poetic expression of all the emotions women have when they discover the man they love is gay.  The video shows her coupled with a man who kisses another man full on the lips and is seen walking hand in hand in the park.  That alone has attracted some controversy.  Later, as the gay couple is walking in the park, a mother pulls her children away from them and the same hooded teams beat the man who is Marsha’s friend.  The video ends with his suicide and a plea to end suicide. The images of the video don’t really suggest  much about a sexual relationship between the man and woman, but the words are clear:

Ooh tear stains on my pillow
Tryin to forget you
Don’t know what I’m gonna do
More days and counting
I’ve been laying and staring
Myself in the mirror
All alone in my room
I can’t feel this way again
Gotta think with my head
Cause my heart is what got me here
So hurt from what you’ve done
More than enough reasons for me to move on

This is so much a piece of all our stories.  The grief, the humiliation, the anger and shame – and the fear that if we speak too loudly, if we tell our stories, our gay exes will be the target of violence.

Some of us have also lost a gay relative or former spouse or lover to suicide.

In an interview on NPR, Marsha speaks of a gay friend who attempted suicide. She also says that she wanted to put the experience into song that was not like the usual loved and lost type of lyric.  She has certainly succeeded.

The NPR commentary continues on to cite Pew foundation research that Black people are reluctant to deal with the real dynamics of having a gay man in the family because of the Black churches and other social factors.  We find this type of over generalization to be very harmful.  Black women are not the only ones affected by having a gay husband and facing up to his double life.  Relegating the experience to the “down low” suggests that it is not as mainstream or as common across races, cultures, and religions as it is.

The other songs on the album are unusual, individual, clearly Marsha’s unique perspective.  How refreshing!

We want to thank Marsha for singing about what was on her mind and in her heart.  Finally, a song that many straight spouses fully understand, a song that tells of our feelings, our conflicts, and what is on our hearts.

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Tyler Clementi and Our Children

Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

The entire community of the Straight Spouse Network is deeply saddened and troubled by the death of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University.  Our condolences, thoughts, and prayers are with his family and friends.

Tyler’s suicide is deeply troubling to us, the heterosexual spouses and ex spouses of gay people, because it goes to the heart of the experience of many of our families.  Our spouses come out, and we and our children are driven into a closet of shame and ridicule.  Our children discover that suddenly their playmates are not allowed to visit them at the gay parent’s house.  Or they are called names because their parent is found out to be gay.

Many of us are raising gay and lesbian children and teens.  We are called as parents to love them for who they are.  Many of us are resolved to not pressure them into making the same mistake of marrying a straight person to deny who they are.

Many of us are raising heterosexual children and teens who struggle to accept a gay parent and the sudden change in their family, or who struggle with a complicated relationship with a closeted gay parent in denial.   If  they are college freshmen with unresolved feelings of shock, shame, and anger  paired with a gay roommate the result can be disasterous.   When they ask for a room change, they are lectured about homophobia.  They aren’t “full of hate” but they need time to regain their own equilibrium. Given time, they can accept gay students, be friends with them – but not live with them just yet in the close quarters of a college dorm room. Without acknowledgement of their needs and experience, they disengage from the college experience, just like their gay counterparts.

Gay students also ask for room changes, and the results in many colleges are equally devastating.  They are ignored, or worse, ridiculed.  One Rutgers senior told ABC news that when he came out to his RA as transgender during freshman year, she outed him to the entire building.  Rutgers gay students  petitioned housing to create “safe zones” for LGBT students, and according to ABC news “were given a flat out no”.

We’re not advocating “segregation” of LGBT students, but we believe that residence life college personnel need a thorough education about the total reality of young people’s experiences with homosexuality.

“Transitions are inherently stressful times, and there’s been a lot of research done on how to help college students deal with this stress,” says George J. Hill, an Academic Advisor in the Health Careers and Retention Center at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY.  “Being an 18 year old male entering college is tough. Not only are you dealing with being independent from your parents for the first time, but there are also social pressures. Many teenagers are still wrestling with their sexual identities, and struggling to find who they are”.  A married heterosexual, Hill is a member of Safe Zone, a organization comprised of over 60 faculty and staff, who have undergone special training to be sensitive to LGBTQ students.  “If a student is to develop and grow, the student must be provided with just the right amount of challenge”,  Hill continues. “If a student has too little challenge, they will not grow and become independent, but if they have too much, they will disengage. Therefore, a college must provide just the right amount of support, to ensure that while the student is challenged, they also do not disengage.” Hill concludes that most disengaged students fail or drop out, and that suicide is the ultimate “disengagement”.

If there is a perception that coming out, reporting harassment, or requesting a room change will lead to further persecution, then the “zone” is not safe. Yes, “respect” is important, and certainly the prank played on Tyler  could have been played on a heterosexual couple.  But “respect” is not enough if “gay” is not specifically mentioned, or if all the voices and perspectives are not heard and acknowledged.

We also find it disturbing that in many comment sections to news stories, Tyler’s family is accused of being homophobic and unsupportive.  Many families of gay teens are loving and supportive, but find in the aftermath of a tragedy such as this that they are accused of “hate” by those who project their own experiences on the grieving family.  Such judgment and condemnation by strangers only adds to the pain and grief of an unimaginable loss.

Society has made great strides in recent years in accepting families like ours, which include people who are gay, straight, and unsure.  But clearly, not enough progress has been made so that gay people and their families are safe from harm.

We love this video statement by Ellen Degeneres.

It will get better.  It has to.

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To The Osmond Family: We Understand

Posted by on Mar 12, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

We have a lot of sympathy this week for Marie Osmond and her family, in the aftermath of the suicide death of her son, Michael Bryan.  Recent speculation that Marie’s son was a closeted gay man in agony has been fueled by Roseann Barr’s vicious blog entry.  The internet is abuzz with criticism of the Osmond family and that poor unloved gay son, the Mormon church’s anti gay stance, and accusations that the Osmonds must be hypocrites if they draw strength and faith from their church.

This really doesn’t have much to do with straight spouses – but it’s about family, and how families are judged.  We straight spouses sure know a lot about that.  We are so often judged by people who never have experienced having a spouse reveal that they are gay. People who just know that this would never happen to them.  People who know what they would do if they were us.  People who know just what we oughtta do.

We know all about the judgments of folks who think it’s no biggie to find out your spouse is gay,
Or who think you ought to just join up with the fight for gay rights,
Or who think that your children should never be allowed near those people,
Or who think that you had to have known, what, you stupid or something,
Or who think that having a lesbian wife is so hot you lucky man.

Constantly, straight spouses are judged by people who actually KNOW NOTHING.

A time of loss and profound grief has been publicly responded to with unwarranted personal attacks on Marie, her family, and their religion, all in the name of gay rights.  There’s a powerful amount of judgment going on, and any denial of these so called “truths” is met with cynicism and hateful sneers. Many straight spouses know EXACTLY how this feels, including the ones who are Mormon, or former Mormons.

Here are some facts:
1. There are no news reports that Marie’s son was gay.  His closest friend denies that he was.
2.  Gay or straight, he’s dead. He suffered from depression, addictions, and was estranged from his father.  Gay or straight, that’s enough to send any young adult out the window.
3. Marie has given public support to her daughter who is openly lesbian.
4.  Marie has stated that she supports gay marriage.
5.  Marie is taking steps to move forward with her life.

The death of a child is one of the most profound losses any parent can experience. The entire process is flooded for many parents with doubts, what ifs, should haves.  The know it alls who are poised to tell a mother that if only she’d left her church her son would have been “accepted” and not committed suicide, are a mindless, thoughtless, cruel rabble of bitter, twisted hatemongers.

When Marie’s daughter Jessica came out, this blog gave Marie a bouquet of “paper roses” for her public support.  We do not get to choose being parents of gay men and women, or husbands and wives of people who have a latent realization that they are gay,lesbian, bisexual, or transsexual.  It happens in our families.  All our families. How we deal with it is what matters.

It’s very hard to deal with your grief at the death of your child when people you don’t know are blasting you for hating gay people all over the internet.  Especially when you’ve said you don’t!

bouquet-of-red-roses-clip-art-ors14xemSo Marie, from us to you – here’s another bouquet.  With our heartfelt sympathy for your grief and loss.

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