Like much of the country, I am stunned and saddened by the death of Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi. This is the young man who committed suicide after his roommate and another student streamed a live Internet broadcast of him and another man in a sexual situation.
Some of the media reports have quoted gay activists who suggest that if Tyler had been with a woman, not much would have been made of the broadcast, if it had been broadcast at all. No surprise to anyone, despite marvelous progress in granting gays more civil rights and, in some quarters, a greater understanding and acceptance by straights, there is still a burdensome bias and intolerance of gays in much of society. Tyler’s suicide proves that.
What I find distressing, however, is the often two-faced approach to homosexuality that appears in television programs that are ostensibly “gay friendly.” Case in point: last night’s episode of ABC’s Modern Family.
While most of the world was focused on “The Kiss” between gay partners Cam and Mitchell, what stuck me was the anti-gay message the show gave teens about homosexuality. In this episode, thirteen year-old Alex is anguishing over her new boyfriend and is confused about how aggressive or laid-back she should be in letting him know of her interest. She faces a “kissing crisis” of her own.
In one scene, Alex is counseled that she needs to let this boy know that she likes him, lest he think that she is (gasp!) a lesbian. Sister Haley points out that Alex’s flip-flops are an ominous clue that she might be gay. Mother Claire seems to go along with this warning. So, they seem to say, go after that boy if for no other reason than to prove you aren’t gay. What terrible advice — for Alex and for other young teens who are coming to terms with their sexuality.
Now, I am not advocating that we need another gay character on the cast of Modern Family. Cam and Mitch do an admirable, if sometimes over-the-top, job of giving viewers a peek at gay life. What was missing in the advice given to Alex, however, was some reassurance from Mom that being gay is OK if that’s what you think you are. It didn’t need to be a speech or a lecture. Just a few reassuring words would have made the point to Alex and to many young teens that they needn’t be ashamed of who they are.
I know it’s no consolation to Tyler Clementi’s family, but in a tragic way their son’s suicide has made many people more aware of the prejudice and hatred faced by gays. If I can’t watch a sitcom without thinking about the way it portrays gays, that must be some sort of progress.