After Tyler Clementi’s Death, His Parents Left Their Anti-Gay Christian Church

In 2010, Tyler Clementi, a gay college student, committed suicide after his roommate (and another student) secretly videotaped him hooking up with another guy.

Weeks later, the Illinois Family Institute — in all their Christian love — tried to pin the blame on everything they could think of revolving around his sexuality:

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.

Perhaps if the culture had not filled Tyler’s head with titillating homosexual images and fallacious ideas, his conscience would have been stronger than his impulses.

Perhaps if university life were not so decadent and hedonistic, students would not be engaging in sexual acts — heterosexual or homosexual — with the ease and frequency with which they do.

There’s no admission, of course, that Christian-led anti-gay bigotry played even a small part in Tyler’s wanting to end his life.

An article in today’s New York Times, though, suggests otherwise. Talking to a reporter nearly two years after the tragedy, it appears that his parents at the very least feel like the church they belonged to led them down the wrong path in handling their son coming out to them. The headline of the article is “After Gay Son’s Suicide, Mother Finds Blame in Herself and in Her Church“:

Tyler Clementi’s parents (Richard Perry – The New York Times)

The Clementis continue to blame the bad luck of a roommate lottery and the cowardice of students who failed to step up and say that the spying was wrong.

But their son’s suicide has also forced changes, and new honesty, upon them. They have left the church that made Ms. Clementi so resistant to her son’s declaration…

At the time Tyler sat down to tell his parents he was gay, [his mother] believed that homosexuality was a sin, as her evangelical church taught. She said she was not ready to tell friends, protecting her son — and herself — from what would surely be the harsh judgments of others.

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 — in the conversation about coming out, Tyler told his mother he did not think he could be Christian and gay.

She decided she could no longer attend her church, because doing so would suggest she supported its teachings against homosexuality. And she took strength from reading the Bible as she reconsidered her views.

“At this point I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love,” she said. “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.”

None of this is to say that you can’t be Christian and gay. No matter how you want to parse the Bible, there are far too many churches catering to the LGBT community to say that it can’t be done. It might require some bending of Bible verses to make that make sense, but Christians are pretty good at reinterpreting their holy book to suit their needs.

Also, even if his church was gay-friendly, it doesn’t mean Tyler could’ve avoided the “gay is not ok” thinking that led his roommate to spy on him.

That bigoted thinking starts somewhere. And evangelical Christians, more than most other groups, love planting those seeds no matter how untrue and hurtful they can be.

No Christian church can bring Tyler back. But what a shame it is that, even in the wake of all these suicides, all the famous, megachurch-leading evangelical pastors can’t bring themselves to admit that they might be wrong about this whole homosexuality thing. Nope. They cling to it even more strongly than ever before. To suggest otherwise would ruin the product they’re trying to sell.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Margaret Whitestone

    I’m glad they did so, but it’s sad it took such a tragic event to wake them up. 

    • Gary

      It’s terribly sad that so many people only “wake up” when it affects them personally.  I don’t see how anybody can read this story (or the many others like it) and not “wake up” themselves.   The tragedy is the complete absence of empathy in some people.

  • Travis Mamone

    “No Christian church can bring Tyler back. But what a shame it is that,
    even in the wake of all these suicides, all the famous,
    megachurch-leading evangelical pastors can’t bring themselves to admit
    that they might be wrong about this whole homosexuality thing.
    Nope. They cling to it even more strongly than ever before. To
    suggest otherwise would ruin the product they’re trying to sell.”

    You hit the nail on the head, man! When I finally admitted to myself that I am bisexual, I knew I had to leave my conservative LCMS church, even though I had gotten to know everyone there well for 5 years. I’m now at a queer friendly ELCA church and feel like I’m in a much safer place.

    • Margaret Whitestone

       Most of the churches will keep preaching that it’s being gay itself, rather than the virulent homophobia they contribute to, that leads to so many GLBT suicides.  

  • MarcAdams

    it is good to see them moving forward as a result of Tyler’s death.  I was the first person to speak at Rutgers following his suicide.  I hope people at that school get to read this.  My appearance at Rutgers and Tyler’s death coincided with @heartstronginc:twitter launch of our Youth Empowerment Project @heartstrongyep:twitter   Thanks to @foundbb:twitter for designating HeartStrong as their Q4 2011 Children’s Charity to help get YEP off the ground.  We have a long way to go, need to raise $50k for the entire project but we are doing everything we can to reach students like Tyler before it is too late for them to listen.

  • Miss_Beara

    “as her evangelical church taught.”

    This is the first rule for evangelicals. Shut off your brain, stop thinking for yourself because the church will do it for you. 

    • Guest

      Yeah, I remember a fellow who was a self-proclaimed evangelical.  He was just like that.  Of course he had a PhD in physics with emphasis in aerodynamics and taught Calculus at the university here in town, when not learning music by way of mathematics or picking up Russian as his fourth language.  But hey, religious – especially evangelical – equals dumb.  Atheism equals really, really super-smart.

      • MJS

        She didn’t say Christians were dumb. She said that the church/religion makes people suspend their critical faculties. My father in law is a computer programmer that writes guidance systems for missiles, but he also believes, against all evidence, that the earth is 6,000 years old, that animals can talk, that mankind was made from dirt, and that the earth goes around the sun.

        People (“smart” or “dumb”) wouldn’t believe that crap if they hadn’t been force-fed it or could evaluate the claims without being scared of eternal damnation.

        • Guest

          I would suggest that what she said was a stereotype sans data.   Oh, and does your father in law believe those things, or is that what you hear when your father in law says what he believes?   Just your statement that people wouldn’t believe that if they hadn’t been force fed.  Really?  How about former atheists who become religious?  How about my friend, who did not grow up in an evangelical household?  Again, all you are doing is invoking stereotypes and generalizations, ironically, approaching the issue with the same lack of interest in the actual facts that you accuse religious individuals of possessing.

          • MJS

            1. How about the youth study which correlates higher income and IQ with religious disbelief? (Nybourg’s study using data from the Longitudinal Study of Youth)



            2. Yes, my father in law believes as such. Apparently 36% of the US also believes accordingly according to Pew Research.

            3. Former atheists can become religious, however, there are more formerly religious people becoming nonbelievers than vice-versa.

            Often people can become susceptible to religious belief if their world has been compromised in some way and someone else exploits it. For example, if something traumatic happens, like a death, divorce, or breakup. I know when I had a nasty and very public breakup, I had three religious co-workers each invite me to their own churches.

            Sometimes it’s done just out of peer pressure. When I was younger and went to church, they had the altar call at every service, and I must have given my life over to Jesus about a half dozen times over 3 years because I didn’t want to be left out.

            In other words, there are other reasons people turn to religion than rationally believing (as the Cleveland Show put it) “that a virgin had God’s baby who then grew up to be murdered by the ‘Romans,’ so you and I could be forgiven for Eve eating that apple
            she got from the talking snake. Three days later, Jesus rose from the
            dead to tell everyone he was coming back someday to fight the devil.
            Then he flew up to his mansion in heaven where he sits in judgment of
            the gays.”

        • NeedingMoreFacts

          Yes you have.  Over and over, and over again.

          • MJS


      • Pedro Lemos

        Guess you gotta a point. We can´t generalize believers, as believer can´t generalize atheists.
        That said, I would think that not all evangelicals follow the said rule of shutting off their brains. Only the overwhelming majority of them.

  • LesterBallard

    At this point I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love”

    Good one.

  • Tardis_blue

     Also, even if his church was gay-friendly, it doesn’t mean Tyler
    could’ve avoided the “gay is not ok” thinking that led his roommate to
    spy on him.

    Right, but with the moral support and unconditional love of his family and church family behind him, he might have survived that event.  He would have been able to take his shame and grief to them and find support and comfort there. 

  • LesterBallard

    None of this is to say that you can’t be Christian and gay”

    I guess. If you have a powerful enough and large enough centrifuge to spin all of that fucking bullshit around until smells like daisies. 

    • Kevin S.

      Compared to some of the other stuff Christians have spun away, anti-gay sentiments in the Bible hardly take any effort at all.

    • John Hawkins

      For us it sounds ludicrous “Yeah my church taught that I was an evil abomination for almost the entirety of it’s history and only started changing in the last few decades when it became a big social issue and they started losing hordes of young members over it, but this is what the bible really truly meant all along and they were just misinterpreting before!”

      But once you’ve done the mental gymnastics to believe that your god is real and every other god to ever be worshipped is a hoax it’s relatively easy to convince yourself of something like that.

      Good for them and all if they’ve found a placce they fit in, but I’ve noticed a distyurbing trend among these types to whitewash their churhes history and claim they never hated gay people. I once saw a gay christian so devout in this belief that he tried to claim that oly ‘about half’ of Christians opposed gay marriage and that rop 8 had passed because of it’s overwhelming support from us atheists.

      • Guest

        Yes, because nothing defines idiocy more than concluding that only one answer among many answers to a question is right. 

        • Pedro Lemos

          Nah. But believing that an idiotic answer to a question is right is obviously idiocy.

          • Guest

            Sure, if it can be proven that it is an idiotic answer, then, of course, the burden of proof is on the individual making the claim that it is an idiotic answer.

            • Pedro Lemos

              Right, so any statement that can´t be proved otherwise is not an idocy, correct?
              Did you know that there are albino dwarfs living on the center of the Earth? And the reason it´s so hot there is because they fart all day, and their digestive system produces a combustion gas that they keep inflaming. Think it´s idiotic? Well, prove it then…

              IMHO, most of the times it only requires reason, knowledge and common sense to proof the idiocy of a statement. But sometimes religion beliefs and dogmas can cloud these things.
              If I say for an instance that the Earth is flat, anyone with a little knowledge and common sense will know that it´s idiotic. But the Flat Earth Society would surely disagree. Though it´s not a religious based belief, it show us that idiocy, albeit being subjective, isn´t democratic. Millions of people believed the Earth was flat centuries ago, but it didn´t make it objectively less idiotic.

              But what´s really important here isn´t your personal beliefs about something. What you think doesn´t really matter to society. But what you DO because of those beliefs does. If somebody wants to believe that gay people are sinful, wrong, terrible, condemned or whatever, they surely have this right. And I don´t really care if reasoning shows them it´s idiotic. What they can´t do is discriminate them, doing things like not allowing them the right to get married, like any other heterossexual couple, or inducing suicide on gays via a terror douctrine applied since childhood.

  • cipher

    That IFI article was written by Laurie Higgins. Haven’t you tousled with her before?

    Of course, one can’t respond to her. It never fails; Christian “institutes” and “think tanks” never implement a commenting feature. In their world, there is no discussion or debate; you take the “truth” as they present it to you, no questions asked.

    Those people are garbage. I’ve scraped less reprehensible things off the bottoms of my shoes.

    • Guest

      “Those people are garbage. I’ve scraped less reprehensible things off the bottom of my shoe.”

      Said the open minded and tolerant liberal who celebrates diversity.

      • MJS

        Reciprocity. You have to be tolerant (ie., at the very least, not accusing a sexual minority group for the downfall of western civilization) if you want to be tolerated. These Focus on the Family clone groups, however, will be as hateful and bigoted as they please and then plead ‘tolerance’ when people call them out on it.

        Do unto others, no?

        • Guest

          Then what you are saying is tolerance is dead.  If we only tolerate those who conform to our moral and ideological absolutes, then it could easily be said that there was no better example of tolerance than a Medieval Inquisitor.  Completely tolerant to everyone who conformed to his moral and ideological absolutes.  And if you say you’re only intolerant to those who cross this or that line, it’s still just the same.

          • MJS

            I find it funny that you’d choose an Inquisitor as your example,
            considering that it’s been *your* side who has, at various times,
            committed violence in the name of being intolerant of those who didn’t
            share in ‘orthodox’ religious belief.*

            *See the last 2000 years of world history.

            What does tolerance mean to me? To me, it means that if you don’t fuck with me, then I won’t fuck with you.

            However, your side’s imposition of the ‘traditional’ version of marriage and morality hurts me. My partner cannot be on my health insurance because of people like you. We cannot share dual custody of a child due to people like you. We can’t inherit from each other or visit each other in the hospital without a tangle of expensive legal paperwork that costs you and other straight people $50 and an afternoon at the courthouse.

            What does tolerance mean to you? Does it mean that I have to respect your right to deny me rights simply because you hold irrational bronze age viewpoints? Does it mean that I can’t ever get married because it would be offensive to you? Does it mean that I can’t hold hands with my partner in public?

            That’s not tolerance. My homosexuality hurts no one. My marriage, if it ever happens, would hurt no one. Tolerance should mean that you get to go to church on Sunday and worship your god, and  I get to stay in on Sunday morning with my partner, bake cookies, and have really great afternoon sex.

            Your version of tolerance sounds much more like the Inquisitor’s than mine does.

  • moother

    From all the way over here in Europe we can hear the sound of the church crumbling…

    Good times!

    • Guest

      Well, from all around the rest of the world, everyone can hear the sound of Europe crumbling.   And the only ones who don’t seem to see it live in Europe.

      • Felyx Leiter

        Ummm, what?  That’s news to this American.

        • Guest

          Then apparently you are an American who doesn’t follow the news.

          • Felyx Leiter

            1) You know nothing of my reading and/or news habits, but thanks for that completely unfounded and unevidenced assumption (after railing against other people doing so several posts up), 2) I work in finance, so I’m well aware of the issues that Europe is facing, but I think “crumbling” is hyperbolic and unwarranted–though apparently my disagreement with you means I don’t understand or follow current events, instead of merely disagreeing with a statement you made with no facts offered to back it up.

            • Guest

              Well, if you act stunned to find out that the US economy is in shambled, then I’ll assume you don’t read the news.  If you seem stunned that Europe is crumbling, and not just in economic terms, then I’ll assume you don’t follow the news.  If it were only the economy, but it is more, and anyone following the news is aware of that.  It is certainly no more hyperbolic than religion is crumbling in America, that’s for sure.

              • Felyx Leiter

                So it’s “crumbling” (as in “about to completely fall apart”) in terms other than the economy, but you can’t be bothered to back the assertion up.  Got it.

              • NeedingMoreFacts

                Guest – you should point out to Felyx that, while accusing you of making a statement with no facts to “back it up”, he has, himself, done the exact same thing pointing out that the church is crumbling.  What evidence does Felyx have to back that statement up? 

                I mean, what does “crumbling” mean, anyway?

                • Felyx Leiter

                  Yeeeah…moother made that assertion, not me.  Try again.

                  Still waiting, Guest.

      • NeedingMoreFacts

        For other reasons than why the church could crumble, but it is true Europe is crumbling under financial strain.  The US isn’t far behind.

        • Guest

          Of course other reasons, but crumbling nonetheless. 

  • Guest

    Though in all honesty, the disproportionally high suicide rate among gays is something that demands attention.  Even in countries in Europe, such as Holland, where homosexuality is more than acceptable, the suicide rate remains high.  Why?  This is in addition to the drug problem and the high levels of psychological issues.  Contrary to the Ozzie and Harriet treatment that homosexuality gets from popular culture, actual medical and mental health studies document a more troubling reality – one that is admitted by most gay activists.  So while the issue shouldn’t take away what is done to homosexuals out of ignorance or bigotry, the problems that seem inherent within the community should not be ignored, or if they are, it’s done at everyone’s peril.

    • Bball246165

      Nice try with the psycho babble. The only reason for high suicide and drug addiction is from the anti gay climate in society. Europe is more tolerant but only a little bit more. People leaving churches spouting bigotry toward gays is a start. Maybe one less death caused by christianity can be prevented.

      • NeedingMoreFacts

        “The only reason  …”

        You jsut negated you’re entire argument with that one statement.  There’s never “one” reason that everyone commits suicide.

        • Guest

          That is a good point.  So much of gay rights arguments seems to rest on ‘the only reason…’ as if humans aren’t complex beings that might be influenced by a host of factors.

      • Guest

        Yeah, Europe is more tolerant but only a little bit more.  I’m talking about specific countries – like Holland for instance – where it is completely pro-gay rights and yet the suicide rates are still high.  Oh, and does that mean suicide should be the logical result of anyone living in a culture where the group they identify with is ostracized? 

    • MJS

      LGBT people still live in heterocentric cultures where even though legal protections exist, there still may be a lag in the culture w/r/t how gay people are perceived and treated due to institutionalized and internalized homophobia.

      Please take a class on sociology before you post anywhere else.

      • Guest

        If the very existence of heterosexual normality is itself a threat, then there is a problem, I’ll grant you.  But why such a problem?  There are other things that are worse.  Take how we treat overweight people in our society.  From the government to media to advertising to society in general, there are few groups more reviled and put down as a matter of course.  And while some have committed suicide due to the low self esteem and constant belittling from all sides, the rates are still not close to homosexuality.  If even in societies where everything possible has been done to bring the majority into line with supporting gay rights isn’t enough, then perhaps there is another problem that needs addressed.

        • Pedro Lemos

          And that problem would be…

        • MJS

          The comments re: obesity are off focus. Obesity is an environmental construct for the most part — gayness is something that exists across cultures because as far as science can tell, it has a biological component (and even the Exodus Intl. people are getting wind of that, finally.)

          Question to you: even if you magically found something else intrinsic to homosexuality which causes LGBT individuals to have higher suicide rates, should homophobic language continue to be used and discriminatory laws still remain in effect? Should LGBT individuals not have the same legal protections as cisgendered and straight individuals? Should calling someone a ‘faggot’ or claiming that they will be punished forever not deserve the same amount of societal reproach as calling a black man a nigger or claiming that brown skinned people are lesser human beings?

          Even if there’s something intrinsic to homosexuality which would drive people to suicide (and I see no scientific evidence for such a trait)), no person deserves to be belittled or vilified because of a biological feature they possess, and doing so would then exacerbate an already existing problem of LGBT suicides.

          Telling people that they’re dirty, shameful, sinful, and whatever else you Xtians want to throw at them is not going to make LGBT come around to your point of view. If your view holds true that they are likely to commit suicide anyway, then all you’re doing is making things worse for them, and I hold you (and other people like you) as partially responsible for their deaths.

          • phantomreader42

            “Guest” doesn’t support homophobic language and discriminatory laws because gays commit suicide.  It does so because it is a vile sociopath who wants gays to commit suicide, and would personally rape, murder, and torture them for its sick amusement and that of its imaginary friend if it weren’t ALSO a complete and utter coward.

    • phantomreader42

      Hmm, what could possibly account for the high suicide rate among gays?  It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that christians constantly slander them, threaten them, make false accusations against them, fraudulently blame them for a staggering and contradictory array of societal ills (mostly either imaginary or caused by christians), pervert the law to declare them second-class citizens and deny them legal rights, regularly beat them (occasionally to death), and generally do everything possible to make life miserable for gay people.  No, no, there’s no way that anti-gay oppression, libel, and terrorism perpetrated by christians could encourage gay suicide.   No, no, it MUST be some moral failing on the part of teh ebil gheys!  There is NO OTHER POSSIBLE EXPLANATION!!!  Or, at least, none that the lump of shit “Guest” uses for its brain can comprehend. 

      Similarly, doctors and soldiers, who also have a disproportionately high suicide rate, must be horrible, horrible people!  It couldn’t POSSIBLY have anything to do with their jobs being stressful, the only possibility (that Guest’s empty head is capable of processing) is some moral failing on their part!

      Why does “Guest” hate our troops so much? And why does he keep coming back here to babble idiotic nonsense when he’s repeatedly lied and said he was leaving?

  • B_R_Deadite99

    Evangelicals are scum. And let’s be honest, the only difference between them and fundamentalists is that evangelicals are slightly more focused on evangelism but don’t like the word “fundamentalist” due to the unpleasant connotations it’s picked up over the last century. They’re the same shit-heads, just more PR-conscious.