Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old college student when he died. But he wasn't always. I'm sure his mother feels like it was only yesterday that he was a little boy finishing the first grade, just like my son now. When I hear Tyler's story, sometimes all I can think is, "This could be my son."
When Dharun Ravi, the person who secretly filmed Tyler being intimate with another man, tweeted about it, then lied to police to cover it up, was found guilty of all counts, the mother bear inside me cheered. Yes, there needed to be consequences, and at last the courts had done right. No "twinkie defense" was coming to the rescue of a homophobic bully this time. And then the sentencing came, and for Ravi's 15 crimes, including bias intimidation and tampering with evidence, he was given 30 days in jail. For 15 crimes. That's two days per crime. That doesn't feel like justice. It feels like a slap on the wrist, an insult to everyone who loved Tyler and all those living in the hateful and bullying conditions who have no recourse.
When I got home from work on Monday, I curled up on the couch with my son as he watched a Harry Potter movie. I stroked his hair and asked him about school, while he wished I would just be quiet and stop distracting him. But I couldn't stop myself from holding him.
He finally looked up at me. "What?" he asked.
"Nothing," I said and kissed the top of his head. "You know you're perfect, right? And I that love you?"
"I know," he said, exasperated.
Sometimes I get asked why I feel the need to go on and on in support of equality and against homophobia. To me the answer is obvious, and it was obvious even before my son announced he was gay: because we don't have equality, and because homophobia is still considered acceptable by so many. But now, it is much more.
I hear conservative pundits and so-called "Christian" leaders spreading their lies and hate, and it is only a matter of time before my son hears them, as well. If someone tries to slam a 2-by-4 into my kids's head. I will try to stop them. And it doesn't matter how many times they try. I will still try to stop them. Even if they tell me it is their right or that they are only expressing their freedom of religion, I will always try to stop them. And I think it is ridiculous to expect me to stop after I have done it only once.
And that's what homophobia seeks to do: destroy amazing people like Tyler and my son and so many others, whose only crime is wanting to love a person deemed "inappropriate." It is violent, abusive, and still too often overlooked as something people are just supposed to live with and accept.
For now, I can protect my son. He's only 7 years old, and it is easy to keep him under an umbrella of safety, but it's only a matter of time (and not enough time at that) before he is in high school and doesn't want his embarrassing mother around all the time, and then he'll be off to college on his own, and I won't be there.
So how do I keep my son from becoming another statistic, another young person pushed to deadly means to end torment by those who think his existence is a sin, ugly, and wrong? Well, there is no guarantee that I can, but I can sure as hell try. I can keep reminding him he is perfect and loved (no matter how annoying he thinks I am). I can show him a loving community of friends and family that includes people of all different orientations. I can stand up to homophobia whenever and wherever I see it and let my actions speak louder to him than my words. I can write, hope people read it, and hope even more to change some minds. And I can hope that more of the world wakes up and sees that love is always a better path than hate.
My son's life and well-being are worth more than 30 days, and so was Tyler's.