Leelah Alcorn is sadly one more name to add to an already long and tragic list of casualties. As a mom whose son’s name is on that list, I cannot sit idly by and remain a bystander. I must speak up, because these tragedies must stop. Human life is too precious and too fragile.
We, as a culture and society, must teach our youth that all life has a value and a purpose. The only way to make a difference in this world – to truly change hearts and minds – is through living life to the fullest. Ending one’s life cannot create change. Only by embracing life and using each and every day we have been blessed with to its full advantage can we create the kind of world we want to experience and see around us – a world that encourages and supports us to be ourselves, wonderfully and perfectly made in God’s image.
"No one should ever feel inferior or broken, for any reason, and especially not for being gay, which was exactly how God made Tyler."'
Sadly, it appears our loss of Leelah, a beautiful and innocent youth, brings us back to the religious dogma of many communities of faith who refuse to see the harm they are causing by teaching hate. The time has come to say “enough.” We must make our faith communities welcoming places of respect and inclusion for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
As the Gospel of John says, the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus came to bring abundant life. And so I urge our churches to echo that message by teaching our youth that each of their lives are important and truly needed in this world. If we share this message of life, if we make sure everyone knows they are loved, that they are perfect in God’s eyes exactly as they are, then our youth would stop harming themselves.
Our faith communities should be a place to find refuge from the hostile, angry world that wants to judge and condemn people like Leelah so very quickly. We keep talking about “love,” but what does love really look like? Love can never harm someone. Rather, love should encourage and sustain them. Faith communities should be leading the way in helping parents support their children.
Too often, professions of love come with an asterisk alongside them. These qualifiers and contradictions cause many children to live in such pain and anguish that they think daily about hurting themselves.
My husband Joseph and I started the Tyler Clementi Foundation because we wanted to honor our son Tyler and continue conversations that were started after he died by suicide in September 2010. We wanted to make sure no one else would ever suffer the same pain, hurt, or shame that Tyler faced after he had been web cammed in a private sexual encounter with another man in his college dorm room. No one should ever feel inferior or broken, for any reason, and especially not for being gay, which was exactly how God made Tyler.
My hope is for every youth to feel respected and valued and to be able to live a life without emotional pain and shame thrust upon them for any reason. Please join me in making that a reality – right here and now. If your heart has been transformed as mine has, if you are being brought to a place of new understanding as to what love is and what it is not, then I ask that you start those hard conversations with your faith leaders.
"If your faith leaders will not listen, then you must consider taking the next step: stepping away from hurtful harmful messages and finding a new faith community, just as I did."'
God truly speaks through scripture, but God also speaks through people, as well as through situations, events, dreams, and nature. Use your stories as a means to explain to your faith leaders what has and has not been helpful and supportive to you and your loved ones. If your faith leaders will not listen, then you must consider taking the next step: stepping away from harmful messages and finding a new faith community, just as I did. We all deserve a faith family that is welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of all people – regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
Let’s learn our lessons from our past tragedies and move forward. Let’s be examples of kindness, expressions of love, and radiate God’s hope in our world to make sure that we have no more Tylers or Leelahs in our future.
Jane Clementi is the mother of Tyler Clementi and the co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which promotes safe, inclusive and respectful social environments for all youth.
To learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation and take their Upstander Pledge against bullying, click here.