Mother of gay teen blames religion for her son’s suicide

AFTER Tyler Clementi, a gay college student, committed suicide in 2010, an organisation called the Illinois Family Institute speculated:

Perhaps if Tyler had not been taught the bleakly deterministic view that he was ‘born’ homosexual, he would have had more hope for the future and would have been more likely to resist homosexual temptation.

A concert photo of Tyler Clementi hangs in his parents’ home. Photo: Richard Perry, NYT

Before the teenager jumped off the George Washington Bridge, Clementi’s mother, a devout evangelical Christian, reacted badly when he told her that he was gay. According to the New York Times, Tyler told a friend that the conversation with his mother had not gone well. His father had been “very accepting,” he wrote in a text message, but:

Mom has basically completely rejected me.

Now, a little late some would say, she has ditched the evangelical church she belonged to and, in an interview with the paper said:

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 …

In the months after Tyler’s death, some of Ms. Clementi’s friends confided that they, too, had gay children. She blames religion for the shame surrounding it.

Now the Clementi family, who have a middle son, James, who is gay, is devoting itself to a foundation promoting acceptance with the hope of preventing the suicides of gay teenagers.

There can be no doubt that gay bullying also played a role in Tyler’s death. He jumped from the bridge after his roommate (and another student) secretly videotaped him hooking up with another guy, and encouraged others to watch the act.

The Illinois Family Institute were reluctant to admit that this was a case of gay bullying, saying:

Despite what homosexualists immediately pronounced, there is no indication that the taping was motivated by anti-homosexual animus. It seems at least possible that the students who engaged in this unconscionable act would have done likewise even if it had been a heterosexual act.

Zach Stark is another US teen who experienced rejection – in this case by BOTH his fundamentalist parents – when he came out several years ago. They reacted by packing him off, at the age of 16, to  a“gay cure boot camp” run by an outfit called Love in Action, part of the Exodus International franchise.

Zach Stark

His plight became known when, in 2005,  Zach posted a cry for help on the social networking site, MySpace, saying he was being held in the camp, called Refuge, against his will. He said of his parents:

They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they ‘raised me wrong’. I’m a big screw up to them, who isn’t on the path God wants me to be on.

This sparked a wave of anger among both gay and straight people, who began protesting outside Love in Action’s campus. More importantly, his situation sparked the interest of film director Morgan Jon Fox, who began filming a documentary entitled This is What Love in Action Looks Like which was released to enormous critical acclaim earlier this year.

Significantly, the film also chronicles the dramatic change of view of the man who ran the camp, John Smid a married “ex-gay” conservative Christian who was Executive Director of Love in Action. In 2008 Smid ditched Love in Action and actually issued a public apology to anyone who may have been harmed by the programming at the facility.

In 2011, on his website, Smid stated that homosexuality is an intrinsic part of one’s being, and that “change, repentance, reorientation and such” cannot occur.

He noted that he had:

Never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.

In March 2012, Love In Action changed its name to Restoration Path. Exodus International has dropped its core doctrine of “praying away the gay”.

And  Zach, by all accounts is now “doing just fine” as a young gay adult.



27 responses to “Mother of gay teen blames religion for her son’s suicide”

  1. barriejohn says:

    It’s “resisting the homosexual temptation” that causes all the problems!

  2. Alby says:

    Tragic that religious bigotry drives people to such drastic actions. So much for charity, love blah, blah, blah. The quicker we are rid of such primitive beliefs the better.

  3. barriejohn says:

    The church once persecuted people who were left-handed (sinister). Their attitude towards homosexuality is no different.

  4. Matt Westwood says:

    Well when I was a teenager (70’s middle-class south-east England) the xtian message was that *all* sexual experience was evil, sinful, wicked and utterly, utterly disgusting. Even snogging was forbidden.

    We just got on with it anyway, finding whatever quiet corners we could (lots of convenient little patches of woodland around where I grew up) for an illicit snog and naughty feel-up, and then spent the whole of the xtian-message-time (all Sunday, basically) feeling guilty and hoping nobody knew what you got up to.

    Very similar, I would imagine, to what being gay is like in this day-and-age, the difference being that we horny teens indulging in heterosexual acts were pretty sure that everybody else was up to the same thing. When you’re gay it’s so easy to feel you’re in a minority, and sometimes completely alone.

    All hail to my friend Alan at school who was pretty and blonde and made no secret of his burgeoning gayness. IIRC everyone took it for granted and nobody bothered him and (from what I understand) grew into a well-adjusted punk-rocker living in a squat in Notting Hill. Perhaps we kids were more civilised than we realised.

  5. Trevor Blake says:

    The problem with these Christian groups is clear. They are praying for gay men, when the Bible clearly states they are to be murdered (Legiticus 20:13).

    I don’t get tired of reminding Christians of their self-declared duties. They sure don’t get tired of publishing Bibles for me to quote. They do seem tired of murdering gay men, as if God won’t notice that today they merely bully gays and hope for suicide. Lazy, lazy, lazy! The Muslims, now, that’s some old time religion when it comes to killing gay men.

    So all you Christians out there, roll up your sleeves and let the blood be on your hands. Just like God wants. Or maybe step away from the murder book and wonder if a superior set of morals to those of slave-owning illiterate goat herders might have developed in the past 3,000+ years.

  6. Broga says:

    The overwhelming feelings this situation arouses in me are disgust and rage at the christian bigots, pity for talented Zack and regret that his parents woke up too late. Here was a youth of high talent and a promising, productive and loving life ahead of him struck down by the efforts of these religious monsters. Poor Zack. What he must have suffered. I could weep.

  7. Broga says:

    Sorry! I meant Tyler.

  8. Georgina says:


    Right you are, weren’t never yet a temptation I didn’t regret resisting.

  9. Angela_K says:

    Religious bigotry is complicit in the death of yet another person. This sort of thing will never go away until gay people have genuine equality and all religions are stripped of political power and influence. How many more potential Tylers are there out there?

  10. Barry Duke says:

    Well Angela, here’s a step in the right direction (amazing what you find on fundie websites!):

  11. Barry Duke says:

    Yes BarrieJohn, you did, but so many other things have been jostling for attention that its impossible to keep up. Sigh! Anyway, “Culture campaign”, which I only discovered today, is sooo funny I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s a spoof site. Just look at this report headed Wrigley Sells Candy to Kids Using Bestiality:

  12. Mack says:

    Yes, it’s a spoof site. Here it claims an equality advocate tried to kill christians – ridiculous (fictitious news):

  13. barriejohn says:

    This guy is much more balanced, but the story that he is commenting on is also deeply depressing. You can’t show atheist families in a positive light in Texas!

  14. Har Davids says:

    Let’s just say that people who love their ‘god’ and its silly rules more than they love their children should never have been allowed to procreate.

  15. AgentCormac says:

    If in November Mitt Romney is voted into the White House don’t be surprised to see this kind of horrific event happening again and again.

    Right now America stands on a cusp between reason and what many of us in Europe would consider to be extremism – but in the US is considered to be just about normal (ie evangelical, theistic Nazism.)

    Seriously, there are legions of Tea Party zealots out there who want to turn the clock back as far as they possibly can. And once they have achieved their goals of making homosexuality something to hide and be ashamed of, abortion something women can’t have even if they’ve been raped, healthcare something only those with money can expect to benefit from and adherence to their own brand of superstition nonsense something that is a prerequisite to office, where will they go next?

    If Mitt gets in, I seriously wouldn’t want to be anything other than white, straight, christian and rich in the USA.

  16. jay says:

    “Never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.”

    Why are bisexuals (latent or open, leaning one way or the other) ignored? Why is it exclusively a dichotomy in these arguments?

  17. Buffy says:

    Perhaps if Tyler had not been taught the bleakly deterministic view that he was ‘born’ homosexual, he would have had more hope for the future and would have been more likely to resist homosexual temptation.

    More like if there weren’t bigoted fuckwits preaching hatred of gay people, making their own families reject them and their peers treat them like shit they’d have more hope for the future.

  18. barriejohn says:

    @jay: You are quite correct, of course, but the religiots would have a fit of the vapours at the mere thought of “bisexuality”. They consider homosexuality to be an “abnormality”, and are only interested in converting gays to the “normal” state of heterosexuality.

  19. Robster says:

    Imagine if all the godbots used their considerable energy and money to work toward actual good things, like feeding and homing the poor, like the baby jesus said (allegedly)and working to achieve some actual measurable goodness? They would then perhaps have something worth selling.

  20. barriejohn says:

    @jay: Don’t forget – “Male and female created He them”!

    @Robster: Read the gospels without the blinkers on. Jesus was a foaming at the mouth zealot who was going around denouncing Israel’s enemies, and announcing imminent judgment upon the “ungodly” and the establishment of his “kingdom” upon earth. The “nice” quotations have almost certainly come from elsewhere!

  21. barriejohn says:

    AgentCormac: I watched the Republicans in the early hours, and listened to Ryan’s speech. The audience were practically orgasming at every statement that he made. All very deeply disturbing and deeply depressing. I don’t think that Romney’s Mormonism (or moronism for that matter) is as much of a problem as many on the left had imagined. As one commentator said, he’s a religious man so that means that he represents the values of truth, honesty, integrity, industry – well, you get the picture. If he’s religious he must be a good man and on the side of “right”, as they are always trustworthy and never do wicked things, and religious doctrines and organizations (his words) are immaterial. He’s “on their side”! They’re even claiming that they’re the ones who will “take care of” the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society. I wonder what they could possibly mean by that?

  22. Angela_K says:

    @barriejohn. A touch of the Nuremberg rallies of the 1930’s about them, I thought – and we know what happened after those.

  23. tony e says:

    And the christians cry ‘persecution’ when all we do is point and laugh.

    It would be interesting to see, if they were to be genuinely persecuted, if they would be so happy to throw that word around so easily.

  24. barriejohn says:

    Angela: Romney is a Mormon, and it would be impossible for him to leave his beliefs outside the door if he entered The Oval Office. Mormons believe that they are direct descendants of “The House of Israel”; that the Jews are God’s “covenant people”; and that so-called “Biblical prophesies” are to be fulfilled literally. What this might mean for the prospects of peace in The Middle East is anyone’s guess. He has already visited Israel, and has left the convention in no doubt whose side he is on!

    The video concluded with footage of Romney saying in Jerusalem: “It’s a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”