The tragic suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi motivated an important conversation about bullying through the trial of his roommate, Dharun Ravi, who spied on his intimate moments with a webcam. But after nearly two years, Clementi’s mother, Jane Clementi, is opening up about some of her own guilt, because when Tyler came out to her, she still shared her evangelical church’s beliefs that homosexuality was a sin:
JANE CLEMENTI: People talk about coming out of the closet — it’s parents coming out of the closet, too. I wasn’t really ready for that… It did not change the fact that I loved my son. I did need to think about how that would fit into my thoughts on homosexuality.
In the wake of Tyler’s death, she has been troubled by the thought that he may have felt rejected, and she has since left her church:
JANE CLEMENTI: I think some people think that sexual orientation can be changed or prayed over, but I know sexual orientation is not up for negotiation. I don’t think my children need to be changed. I think that what needed changing is attitudes, or myself, or maybe some other people I know… At this point I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love. He spoke more about divorce than homosexuality, but you can be divorced and join a church more than you can be gay and join churches.
Many other parents have reached out the Clementis to talk about their own gay children, revealing how many families struggle with the shame imposed by their churches. Stigma and condemnation continue to prevent families from developing the understanding and appreciation they need to make sense of a child’s coming out, and in some cases, the results can be quite tragic.