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My Awakening This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


Raised in a conservative Bengali Muslim family, I was taught to fear God and never do anything that went against His will. I knew how to pray by the time I was four and finished reading the Quran when I was nine.

Among many tenets I learned by studying the Quran was that under Islamic law, homosexuality is considered not only a sin but a crime. Most of my childhood was spent in Bangladesh, where I neither met nor even saw homosexual people; thus my understanding of them was entirely based on the Quran, my parents’ views, and the beliefs of my culture.

Born into a community that viewed homosexuals as the vilest of sinners, I learned to despise them from a young age. It wasn’t until I learned about Tyler Clementi’s death that my view on homosexuality took a 180-degree turn.

“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” was Clementi’s final Facebook status, posted just minutes before he plunged to his death from the George Washington Bridge in New York City. The 18-year-old Rutgers student committed suicide in 2010 after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a fellow hallmate used a webcam to spy on Clementi in his room with another man, then attempted to broadcast the images. The first time I heard about his death, I was watching CNN with my dad. When the reason for Clementi’s suicide was revealed, my dad changed the channel, saying, “Guess this Clementi boy should’ve seen it coming, huh?”

I was shocked. My dad is not an unkind person, so hearing him condemn someone because he was gay was something I couldn’t accept. All I could think was how a boy only four years older than me had killed himself because he was ashamed of his identity.

Despite my religious upbringing, I couldn’t agree with my dad that what happened to Clementi was okay. I wanted to talk to someone about this, but I didn’t know who. At home, my parents and siblings despised homosexuals, and in school almost everyone seemed to use the word “gay” as either an insult or to refer to something mockingly. So instead, I decided to do some research on how exactly homosexual kids are being affected by bullying.

I was beyond horrified by what I found. My whole body felt numb as I learned about the thousands of kids who committed suicide because they couldn’t stand being bullied for being who they were. I felt sick to my stomach as I learned about Asher Brown, an eighth grader who shot himself after he was physically bullied for his appearance and his religious beliefs, and accused of being gay. After reading about teens like Brown, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, and countless others apparently bullied to death, whatever prejudice I had against homosexual people disappeared. I realized that I could no longer use my religion, my parents, and my culture as excuses for my homophobic behavior. I was ashamed to think that all this time, I was no different from people like Tyler Clementi’s roommate.

Before I heard Clementi’s story, I knew very little about the plight of homosexuals and never bothered to form my own opinion beyond what the Quran had said: that they should be loathed. I was only able to overcome my prejudice after taking the time to learn and attempt to understand the struggles of homosexuals. In doing so, I have neither abandoned my religion nor thrown away my culture. But I have learned that all ignorant prejudice does is provide an illegitimate excuse for inhumanity.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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