Last week, New York policed pulled the body of Tyler Clementi out of the water. A few days before, he had committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Clementi was a student at Rutgers University. His roommate secretly taped an intimate encounter Clementi had with another male. His roommate then posted the tape on YouTube for the world to see. Clementi had been outed without his consent.
Tyler Clementi was someone who had a lot to contribute to the community. He was accepted in one of the toughest academic schools in the country. He was an accomplished violin player that held a lot of promise for the future.
The discussion on line and in the media has been about the violation of Clementi’s privacy. He had asked his roommate, Dharun Ravi, if he could be alone in the dorm room one evening until midnight. Ravi agreed, but didn’t tell Clementi that he had left his camera on in the room to tape the activity that took place. Ravi went to his friend’s room, Molly Wei, and started taping. After, the pair tweeted about the video and posted it on line. This is clearly a violation of Clementi’s privacy because he had requested the time alone and Ravi agreed.
But, that there something more fundamental about this story that is being over looked.
In the United States we vilify gays politically, socially and culturally. We leave little room for those that are gay to find any peace with their nature. Even the strongest and most confident gay individual who is out can find difficulty in many situations.
Straight individuals rarely find their sexual preference an issue. When they do, sexual harassment laws protect them in their job, housing and in other situations they may find themselves in. Gay’s do not receive the same universal protection.
Culturally and socially, where attitudes are out of the reach of laws, gays find themselves as close to evil as can be. They are harassed and bullied into submission, to the point that they stay closeted. Many stay in the closet for years if not a life time for fear of being shunned by the world around them.
It is no wonder that Clementi found himself in a trap that he could find no way out. Not knowing enough about him and the environment he lived in it is difficult to place blame. He was, though, an individual that only needed a little push to fall off the edge. Perhaps, family, friends, roommates and others in the world around him failed him in varying degrees.
But, culturally, we must also accept some of the blame. We must treat all people with respect and accept them based on their contribution to the community. If not, there will be more Clementi’s.