Student's Suicide Makes Deadly Point About Intolerance The suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi is a tragedy that has sparked outrage, sadness and reflection about bullying, public humiliation, privacy and tolerance. Host Scott Simon speaks with Judy Shepard, the mother of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, about her organization's efforts to promote tolerance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.
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Student's Suicide Makes Deadly Point About Intolerance

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Student's Suicide Makes Deadly Point About Intolerance

Student's Suicide Makes Deadly Point About Intolerance

Student's Suicide Makes Deadly Point About Intolerance

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The suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi is a tragedy that has sparked outrage, sadness and reflection about bullying, public humiliation, privacy and tolerance. Host Scott Simon speaks with Judy Shepard, the mother of hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard, about her organization's efforts to promote tolerance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Judy Shepard joins us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Mrs. Shepard, thanks so much for being with us.

SIMON: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What do you see in this case?

SIMON: Well, a tragedy, a lot of confusion, terrible loss of life, reckless actions - hateful actions, even - by a young man's roommate and friend, a terrible invasion of privacy in a society that somehow, made those two young people think it was OK to do that to Tyler. Just really hard to believe.

SIMON: Do you see it necessarily as - hate crime wouldn't be the case - but a hate-inflicted suicide?

SIMON: I don't think we know enough now to know whether this is actually a bias-related crime, a hate crime. I think it's a crime that's hateful, but technically can't really call it a hate crime yet.

SIMON: Is it possible that it was a hateful action where gender orientation wasn't at issue? I've seen some interviews with friends of the young man and woman who say they weren't hateful people; they weren't homophobic.

SIMON: You know, we know teen suicide is just, the numbers are just out of control. And you throw in sexual orientation or perception of sexual orientation, and the numbers just go up exponentially.

SIMON: Can't kids be cruel across all kinds of distinctions? I mean, they can be as scheming as Stasi agents. You know, if a kid has curly hair, they get ridiculed about it; if a kid is overweight or has acne, they get kidded about it.

SIMON: Sure. No, that's absolutely true. Even in my childhood, which was so many years ago I don't remember that much about it, teasing was a different thing than bullying. Bullying has become a phenomenon that we did not face - or at least, I didn't - in my youth. And now we have the advent of the Internet and cyberbullying and text messaging and those things, which give a feel of anonymity - that you would do things that you would never do to someone's face.

SIMON: What do you tell youngsters?

SIMON: Well, that's a really hard question. You want them to be honest with who they are and about their future, and to recognize that you are who you are and you love who you love, and that's just the way it is. My advice to young people is to find someone who can mentor them that they can talk to most, most honestly - whether it's parents, sibling, counselor, teacher, minister - someone who has a true understanding of what they may be going through.

SIMON: Mrs. Shepard, can you tell a youngster: Look, I know these are difficult months and even years; but hold on, it gets better?

SIMON: I try that. I try that. I try to equate it in the words of a person who's lived a life where things, as you look back on, really were an eyelash in time but at the time, seemed to be just forever. Junior high and high school are a blink compared to your entire life. And I think one of the most important things we need to remember is to be true to ourselves. The most important thing in your life is not to be like everybody else; it's to find out who you are and to be that strong individual, that good citizen who cares about other people.

SIMON: Judy Shepard is the founder, with her husband, Dennis, of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Thank you so very much, Mrs. Shepard.

SIMON: Thank you, Scott. It was very nice speaking with you this morning.

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