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Whatever Happened to Tyler Clementi?

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It's been a month now. Already, we can ask the question:

Whatever happened to Tyler Clementi?

It's been so long, in fact, that it wouldn't be surprising if your answer was this:

"Who?"

Whatever happened to the change that would come as a result, the kind of social and political change that would make a better life for those of every race, gender and sexual orientation?

This change was supposed to benefit those whose sexual orientation is still routinely mocked and ridiculed, even in an age of understanding and tolerance.This change was supposed to be championed at institutions of higher learning and technology, even though Tyler's mocker was allegedly a college student, and his weapon was a high-tech video camera.

Change was supposed to be Tyler's legacy. It was, to paraphrase President Obama, a change we could believe in.

Instead, change died about a week or two after Tyler did. All we are left with is a Facebook page that pays tribute to him, a Congress that is ready to become more conservative and a family that raised a son and now suffers from his loss.

And a president who remains stunningly silent on a cause he could believe in.

Once again, the news cycle has finished, an election that will change the political landscape is nearing and the talk of snuffing out cyber-bullying and gay bashing has fizzled.

The open dialogue that many promised would help us better understand the torment that this 18-year-old suffered never happened.

The most recent congressional action to fight against anti-gay bias, in fact, took place in September, when Senate Democrats failed to win the 60 votes needed to advance a defense bill that included conditional repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell law, ABC news reported.

As I've written before, Clementi's death reminded me that so many more are still tormented, even as they stay safely in the shadows, keeping their private lives protected, particularly in the military.

Even at Rutgers University, my alma mater, and where I work as an adjunct professor, I thought they had a chance because of the diverse population.

But at my college, Tyler was filmed by another student while he was having a sexual encounter. For a small group of students, it was a funny thing, an anti-manly thing straight out of a 1962 joke book.

Just a week or two after his death, my college newspaper, The Daily Targum at Rutgers University, where Tyler attended as a freshman this year, seemed bothered by the calls for more tolerance, and took steps to snuff them out.

The newspaper published an editorial calling for certain gay advocates to "stay away" and questioned what role anti-gay bias actually played in the incident.

"Let us -- family, friends and the University together -- mourn for Clementi, and just for him, rather than using him as a martyr for a cause that has yet to be proven," the editorial said.

Initially, I certainly had hope -- even as a society, I felt that Tyler's death showed that progress can be slow, and, sometimes, it can slow to a stop.

At my new job, editing Jersey Shore news for Patch.com, the editors and reporters made sure to focus on Tyler and the impact of his death on the Rutgers community, as well as his hometown community of Ridgewood, N.J.

In some ways, however, my sentiments have changed little since I wrote about Tyler Clementi in my blog, Coping with Life, soon after his death, and later followed up on http://www.jerseyshorenews.org, my Jersey Shore news site for Patch.com:

For nearly all my life, the lesbian and gay community have been treated like second-class citizens. Their lifestyles are routinely mocked and ridiculed. Many are still forced into the closet, even as society seems to have reached a sobering understanding and respect for what homosexuality is.

It was my son who made me feel differently. He could somehow relate to what happened, because he knows there are bullies out there. A long time ago, kids may have feared the bullies and ignored the victim.

Bullies are bullies, and they come in every color, gender and sexual orientation. When a 12-year-old can connect to the tormented soul of an 18-year-old gay man and show disdain for those who tormented him, I feel like it's safe to have hope -- even as we mourn Tyler's death.

When my son needed to think of his current-event project for school, it was the first thing he thought about. I won't say what he said, but he felt like he needed to say something.

We warned him that he could be ridiculed, too. Maybe people would even make fun of him for showing an understanding of a lifestyle that many still don't understand.

But my son felt like he should do it, because Tyler and his family needed to know that he's on their side. My guess is that he wanted to take a stand, because somebody should.

My son would agree: When we talk about Tyler, we shouldn't say "who?" Now the only question that needs to be answered is this:

"Who else?"

Related stories:

Two Accused in Clementi Case Withdraw from Rutgers

Clementi Family: Support From Community Has Been 'Humbling and Deeply Moving'
Police May Have Body of Ridgewood Grad Tyler Clementi, Who Killed Self After Rutgers Sex Tape Incident

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