Thirteen years ago this week, during the lazy spring of my senior year of college, I published a piece called “Valentine’s Gay” in the irreverent college magazine I used to edit. The story was about how gay and lesbian students at the University of Pennsylvania (which Newsweek later named the best school in the country for gay and lesbian students) were planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day. But the article wasn’t just journalism. For me, it was also a sort of public coming out. I had been pretty closeted for my first three years at Penn, so the article was both an exploration of a culture for its own sake, and also an exploration of what was supposed to be my culture, and I had actively excluded myself from it. When I was heading off to an interview at the LGBT community center, my roommate at the time, Daniel Fienberg, asked me if this was like the first time he had gone to the campus Hillel. The week that story was published, I flew home and came out to my parents, who have been nothing but supportive of me from the moment I told them.
Today though, I spent a chunk of my morning co-writing a story about the impending trial of Dharun Ravi, who is accused of invading the privacy of Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers freshman who died after jumping from the George Washington Bridge a year and a half ago. Tyler was my second cousin. His mother and my mother are first cousins. I didn’t know him well. I probably met him fewer than a half dozen times, and he was a good 15 years or so younger than I was anyway. But since he died, I’ve felt connected to him in that his sexuality has been made into his defining characteristic (and I know enough about him to know that it was not), and for me, it’s been a non-issue. I don’t hide it. If people ask, I tell them. If they don’t ask, they tend to assume for some reason that I’m married.
But the fact that it’s a non-issue for me is exactly the point. I have much more to say about this later, but I wanted to take advantage of Valentine’s Day today to address this. I’m celebrating Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend tonight in New York City, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary about that, but just across the Hudson, Tyler may have been persecuted for being attracted to someone of the same sex. It’s just not right.
For more impassioned and moving thoughts on Tyler than mine today, I direct you to a series of letters written by his brother Jimmy; and to a plea for marriage equality from his first cousin, Jen Ehrentraut-Segro.
UPDATED 6:41 p.m., with link to Slate article.