Raymond Chase was an aspiring culinary artist. Tyler Clementi was an accomplished violinist. Asher Brown was a straight-A student. Seth Walsh loved everything about the performing arts. Billy Lucas had a smile that could light up an entire room.

Even though these five young men grew up in completely different parts of the country, they each had a similar story to tell — one that involved relentless bullying, endless torment and ultimately suicide. Given the tragic circumstances that surrounded each of their deaths, it’s not unreasonable to think that in the final moments of their lives, each boy could have thought the same thing: What makes gay life worth living?

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, Dr. John Corvino will tackle that question. A distinguished writer, speaker and philosopher from Wayne State University, Corvino will engage the campus community in a much-needed discussion of what, if anything, makes gay life worth living. He has been invited by the Center for Ethics in Public Life to talk about the recent spate of teen suicides in the LGBTQ community and the implications of this trend for everyone. Corvino has written extensively on a number of topics including same-sex marriage, the philosophy of love and the philosophy of religion. As president of one of the organizations co-sponsoring this event, I have no doubts that his lecture in Rackham Auditorium will be insightful, thought-provoking and incredibly powerful.

Of course, all of this raises another important question: So what? Why should anyone attend a lecture about a group of people who some say make up less than five percent of the world’s population?

Consider, if you will, that Tyler Clementi was someone’s son. Asher Brown was someone’s best friend and Billy Lucas was someone’s neighbor. They were no different from you and me in the sense that they all had dreams, hopes and aspirations. But unfortunately, none of these boys will ever have the opportunity to realize them. Seth Walsh will never celebrate his fourteenth birthday much in the same way that Raymond Chase will never enjoy another summer vacation. That should concern each and everyone one of us.

It should concern us that these boys took their own lives not because they were physically or emotionally weak, but because they were physically and emotionally tired. They were tired of being bullied, beaten and harassed. They were tired of feeling helpless, hopeless and alone simply because they dared to be different. Drowning in a sea of desperation, with seemingly no one reaching out to save them, these young men saw suicide as the only way out. Unfortunately, they are not alone.

Boys and girls across the country, and indeed around the world, are suffering in silence. It is estimated that for every one suicide completed by a young person, there are at least 100 to 200 attempts. And according to a 2006 Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. I know the reality of these statistics all too well. Growing up in a predominantly white, predominantly heterosexual suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada, I know exactly what it’s like to feel as though you’re an outsider constantly looking in.

What makes gay life worth living? The same thing that makes all life worth living: the opportunity to have a happy and meaningful existence. Of course, what constitutes such a life will vary from person to person. But as University of Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum notes in her book “From Disgust to Humanity,” “people have to be able to imagine what gays and lesbians are pursuing, and see it as relevantly similar to their own search for personal and sexual integrity and expression.” It’s only when we realize that though you and I may differ in our choice of sexual or marital partners, at the end of the day, we are both pursuing the same intrinsically valuable thing: companionship.

Like Corvino, I believe that having open and honest discussions about our differences will bring us one step closer to realizing that you and I are nowhere near worlds apart. His lecture will be a genuine exercise in mutual respect and understanding. Hopefully, by coming together in solidarity, it will become resoundingly clear that gay life is indeed worth living.

Noel Gordon can be reached at noelaug@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.