The tragic death of Channing Smith, the young teen who committed suicide after being outed as Bisexual, is a wake up call to how we should treat others.
Nine years ago, my younger brother Tyler Clementi died by suicide after being cyberbullied during the first weeks of his freshman year of college. He was eighteen years old. My life and my family changed forever. We now work every day to stop bullying and to create a culture of kindness and respect. Tyler should have been the last young gay man to die because he was humiliated and bullied. But, as your community knows, he wasn’t.
Many people have seen similarities with my brother’s story in what happened to Channing Smith. I see them too. Channing was starting to explore his identity and romantic feelings. My brother was just starting to come out and excited to go on dates in the newfound freedom of college.
I never knew Channing, but from what the community and his family have said about him, I know that he was a strong and brave kid who endured much more hurt in his short time on this earth than most people can take.
Tyler was the same — smart and talented and made to suffer for being who he was. Just like Channing, Tyler was pushed to a point where he couldn’t be brave anymore. The communities of both these young men are missing out on so much by their absence.
Tyler and Channing were unique and special souls
but they also struggled with issues that many LGBTQ youth face. Part of the reason why their deaths resonate and cause such a shock through the larger community is because there are countless other young people and even adults living with the pain of being isolated and hated by their peers. It can happen in a small town in Tennessee, but it can also happen at the biggest university in New Jersey.
Online networks have created new ways for bullying behavior to reach its targets and it is hard for a young person with a phone to escape the feelings of humiliation and isolation. There is still so much change that needs to happen so that young LGBTQ people feel safe, valued, important and loved.
I’m so heartened to see Channing’s school and community recognize that. By speaking up on behalf of these young people, we can create a positive shift toward kindness, respect, and empathy for those who are different and vulnerable to harassment.
I know from firsthand experience that speaking out on a tragic but preventable situation will not do anything to change what happened and cannot bring back those we lost. There is nothing that anyone can say to make this heartbreaking moment better. What happened was wrong, and Channing deserved so much better. Someone so incredible should never have been made to feel so worthless.
I miss Tyler every day.
But working to change the culture where you are, standing up to bullying behavior happening around you, and being brave and providing comfort, reassurance and friendship to someone who is bullied – those things can make an immediate difference and have a lasting impact.
Tyler’s memory motivates me and my family, and I know that Channing’s life is already motivating his peers, his community and his family to change culture for the better. This is our work now. To create schools, workplaces and faith communities centered on respect for individuals and kindness toward others. For Tyler, for Channing and for the next young person who is struggling to be brave in the face of bullying – we have to keep going.