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TC Joins with the Tyler Clementi Foundation to Offer LGBTQ Diversity Scholarship
Jane Clementi spoke at TC this past November
Jane Clementi describes herself as “by a nature a private person” – a registered nurse, the mother of three boys, a person of faith. In September 2010, her quiet New Jersey life was shattered by tragedy when her youngest son, Tyler, a first-year student at Rutgers University, committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. An investigation revealed that Tyler had been harassed by a roommate who used a webcam to capture him in a homosexual encounter and circulated the pictures.
Speaking in TC’s Milbank Chapel in November at event titled “From Bullying to the Defense of Marriage Act: A Journey Toward Equality,” Clementi described her journey from shock and unimaginable sadness into her new and very public role as an advocate for safe, inclusive environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.
“I don’t know why Tyler’s story has captured so much attention,” she said. “There were other suicides in the fall of 2010. But maybe it’s because so many people can identify with at least some aspect of his story. I do see progress – we’re more aware now of the negative outcomes of our words and actions. But there is much more to be done.”
Now TC will help continue that work by collaborating with the Tyler Clementi Foundation, founded by Jane Clementi and her husband, Joe, to offer for the first time an LGBTQ Diversity Scholarship for students interested in a career that supports LGBTQ populations in the fields of health, education, and psychology. The scholarship will award $18,000 in tuition assistance to students who demonstrate a commitment to research and practice in LGBTQ issues and awareness. Recipients of the award will be expected to construct a relevant service or research contribution to the Foundation.
“Today we are experiencing a shift in social structures as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations advocate for full acceptance in societies across the globe,” said Thomas Rock, Associate Dean, Enrollment Services, introducing Jane Clementi at the November event at TC. “With this comes the need for increased awareness and education on the issues affecting the LGBTQ community.”
Jane Clementi took part in a panel with attorney Joshua Kaye, a member of the team that represented Edith Windsor in her successful Supreme Court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA; and Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School. The discussion highlighted how the environment constituted by family, church, school, or the law makes LGBT people feel safe or unsafe, respected or disrespected – and how the issue can be a matter of life or death.
Clementi said she came to see how Tyler’s harassment was part of a continuum of stigmatization of LGBT people that extended into many areas, including one particularly important to her: the faith community. The Clementis’ church, she said, had been “very supportive with food and cards” after Tyler died. But later, when the pastor preached against gay marriage, she realized that the church was part of the problem, and that she too was being a bystander if she did not react. “I started hearing and seeing things more from Tyler’s perspective,” Clementi said. The family left the church.
Tyler’s story teaches lessons that many educators on the front lines already know, Clementi said. Still, she urged the audience to do everything to make schools safe and inclusive for LGBT youth. “My hope is that you are all safe people to talk to, allies, visible to your students, and that they know where to find you,” she said. She also stressed the role educators can play to help parents understand their children’s orientation. “They love their children but because of their cultural or religious background, they do not know how to talk to them,” she said. “Teachers are a great resource for that.”
Clementi speaks regularly to businesses, schools, and churches, and her foundation has joined with Rutgers to launch the Tyler Clementi Center, which will support research and teaching about the challenges faced by vulnerable youth who are making the transition to college.