In recognition of National Coming Out Day this Oct. 11, I joined my mother and father, Jane and Joseph Clementi, in a conversation with LGBT rights activist and fellow HuffPost blogger Mitchell Gold. Mitchell wanted to get to the heart of why coming out matters and how we can better support our young people as they go through the courageous and often painful process of being out as an LGBT individual. After losing Tyler, who experienced a profound struggle to be accepted as an openly gay individual, my family has been promoting an active dialogue to create allies and strategies of support. Mitchell encouraged us to share our thoughts, saying, "Think about what you want a gay kid who feels ashamed, broken, bullied to learn from Tyler's struggles. Think about what you want parents to learn." As we honor the strength and courage of all who are out in our community, let's also take a moment today to reflect on how we can better protect those who are about to take that great leap.
What follows is an excerpt of the interview, which can be read in its entirety here.
Mitchell: What would you say to Tyler if he were sitting with you?
Joseph: Tyler, I miss you every hour of every day. Instead of taking the action you took, I wish you would have taken your tenaciousness and used it to survive. I know you are at peace and with God now, yet I wish you were here. I know I can't understand the feelings of isolation and hopelessness that must have driven you to act as you did. You were the child who seemed to have it all together, yet underneath you were suffering. I wish I could have impressed upon you more that there is no problem, no issue, no act that you could commit or could be committed on you that would have ever diminished my love and support for you and who you are. I thought you knew and understood that. I am profoundly saddened that this wasn't clearly communicated or understood properly and wish that I could have changed that.
Mitchell: What do you want to say to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) kid out there listening, especially ones who are frightened, who have been taught, for example, that being gay or acting on it is a sin?
James: Hang in there. Stay strong. There is nothing wrong with you. You deserve to love yourself and accept yourself fully. You are not sinful. Know that anyone who has ever told you that about yourself or someone else who is LGBT is wrong. You are entitled to support and love from other people in your life. If you feel like you are alone with it, I promise you you're not. There are people in your life who love you and will support you. You don't have to go through life with such a big part of who you are remaining a secret. Never be ashamed. There is love and support out there. I urge you to seek it out, no matter how scary it is. Please give yourself the chance to be truly happy and free in your own skin.
Mitchell: What do you want to say to any parent of an LGBT kid so that they never have to go through what you have?
Jane: It is important to remain focused on what is important: the fact that you love your child and you want what is best for them. As parents you also need to have support and correct, accurate information so that you can best help, protect, assist and, most importantly, show your unconditional love for your children. If you are struggling, some basic information would be helpful. Sexual orientation is not a choice. Your child did not just "choose" this. It is not something that can be changed. By holding to these false ideas, you are causing great emotional and psychological harm to your child, which research shows might lead to destructive physical injury as well as great emotional wounds.
Mitchell: What do you want to say to any parent of a straight and/or cisgender kid so that their kid is not reckless in how they treat LGBT kids?
Jane: As parents we should be teaching our children to be compassionate, kind, gentle and caring towards all people. We are all different from each other; this is what makes each of us special. We need to embrace our diversity no matter what the difference -- race, religion, gender identity and/or sexual orientation. You need to show your children, with your words as well as with your actions. Your children are smart; they are watching. Your disrespectful or negative comments, snide remarks or even facial expressions to LGBT people (or even your silence; silence sometimes speaks louder than words) have an even deeper effect on people. You need to set a good example for your children. Words hurt and have consequences. Parents should use words to build others up, show respect and be inclusive.
Mitchell: What do you want to say to a straight kid who might not have been brought up to respect other LGBT kids?
James: I recognize that it is hard to respect something that you not only don't understand but you may have even been taught it is bad or wrong. But the reality is there are LGBT students that sit in your classrooms, whether you know it or not. There is a good chance that one of your friends, family members, or someone in your community is LGBT, whether they have told you or not. Your words and your actions have a direct impact on these people; even something that you think is a joke can be incredibly painful for them. Why make a choice to be cruel, threatening or unkind when you can just be nice to people? No one deserves to suffer for someone else's ignorance. And I would also challenge you to learn why LGBT people are deserving of respect. If you actually got to know someone who is LGBT, you would quickly realize that they are people like all other people.