Coalition addresses media attention to Rutgers suicide

Hadley Jolley

In response to the increased attention given to suicides of bullied gay teenagers and students, Coalition Against Homophobia is putting together a gallery to increase awareness of this issue.

The club decided to put on the gallery in the Glover Alston Center featuring pictures and biographies of GLBTQ youth who committed suicide, as well as YouTube videos from the “It Gets Better” and “Make it Better” projects spawned in the wake of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi’s suicide on Sept. 22. They also plan on having a discussion after the gallery.

It is currently a big time for GLBTQ issues on campus: Oct. 15 was Coming Out Day, and forthcoming in November is the annual Matthew Shepard Lecture entitled “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: How We Got It, How We Can Get Rid of It,” Transgender Day of Rememberence and the gallery at the GAC.

“We want to look at and critically examine the ways that the media has been giving attention to these suicides, and how effective that has been, and the reasons behind it,” said senior Liam Mina, co-president of Coalition Against Homophobia and Whitman’s GLBTQ intern.

Both Mina and junior Mehera Nori agree that the media attention gives the false impression that the rash of suicides is something new. Nori also criticized the media for only focusing on white students.

“What I really hope to address with the gallery is one, that this isn’t new . . . this isn’t a string of suicides, this is an ongoing thing that just hasn’t been addressed until now, and two, the diversity of people who have subjected to harassment and bullying and some of them have tragically taken their own lives,” she said.

The timing of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” lecture and the other projects put on by Coalition and GLBTQ is only coincidence. However, Patrick Henry, the professor emeritus who recruited Nathaniel Frank to speak on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, said that both the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and the recent suicides are related.

“You have a policy in the federal government that’s telling these young people–gay or straight–that there is something wrong with being gay,” said Henry.

Henry was one of the original members of the Matthew Shepard Lecture Series Committee, which was formed to bring speakers to campus to speak on issues of bias and human rights. The first speaker in 2005 was Cindy Shepard, whose son Matthew Shepard was killed in an anti-gay hate crime. Henry has not been directly involved with the series for several years, but he saw Nathaniel Frank, who wrote a book entitled “Unfriendly Fire,” on The Rachel Maddow Show and worked to bring him to campus.

The topic of the Matthew Shepard Lecture was chosen with a particular eye towards the media.

“This year Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was so big, and we thought about how can we engage the campus with this issue,” said Jed Schwendiman, associate to the president and a member of the lecture committee.

This event also marks the last year that the Matthew Shepard Lecture series will occur, as the anonymous donation for the series has run out. Schwendiman said that Whitman will be looking for other sources of money to bring similar speakers through other programs.

Meanwhile, students are doing what they can to make Whitman a supportive place for GLBTQ students. Coalition Against Homophobia attempts to offer activities at least once a month to support its members, according to Nori. She believes that it is important to continually offer support.

“Queer harassment exists everywhere. It exists in our community. It isn’t something that goes away–you have to keep combating it,” she said.