Today a jury has found Dharun Ravi guilty of intimidation, spying, and witness tampering among other charges in the events that led up to the death of Tyler Clementi. Clementi was an 18 year gay college student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after a tape of him kissing another man was streamed and commented upon on twitter. This case had garnered national attention about cyber-bullying and gay-bashing among teenagers.
What hasn't been made clear in much of the news coverage is that Tyler was out of the closet. He told his family that he was gay. Ravi had also met his boyfriend before the taping took place on one previous occasion. A text that was sent to Tyler around the time he jumped from Ravi said the following:
"I've known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don't want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it's adding to my guilt. You have a right to move if you wish but I don't want you to feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation."No one knows if Tyler read the text before he jumped to his death.
There are also other parts of this story that are not getting a great deal of media attention. One being that his mother was having a difficult time accepting her son being gay. She was saddened to learn that he wouldn't be getting married and starting a family. She loved her son and wanted to be part of his life, but her dreams for him were not going to be as she had envisioned. She needed some time to make that adjustment. Another point that isn't getting enough media coverage in all of this is the fact that the school bears some responsibility in this death as well.
Tyler went through the proper channels to get a room change. While it isn't easy to change rooms once a semester is underway, it would seem to me that they could have at least tried harder to understand that boy's discomfort with living with a guy that was spying on him. It wouldn't have been any more pleasant had the video showed him kissing a girl. The act of his privacy being invaded doing something so personal is enough that they should have realized that these two young men could no longer share a room. I would also think that the school would have been justified in kicking him out of the dorms for what he did.
Tyler didn't leave an explanation as to what motivated him to take his own life. Was it his mother's disappointment? Was the fact that people at school had confirmation that he was gay, or was it the school not being willing to help him get out of his living with someone who was spying on him that made him think that jumping off that bridge was the better alternative? We will never know since he is not here to answer those questions. But we do know that none of these things were something so terrible that he couldn't have gotten beyond them had he given it some time.
What we also do know is that a young man will be facing 10 years in prison for a hate crime that it seems to me wasn't proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Don't get me wrong, he needed to be charged with a crime. But I am not sure that him spending his 20's in prison is an effective use of our resources.
This case is indicative of why I find hate crimes to be a bad idea. You can not ever know for sure what is in someone elses heart and mind at any given moment. Tyler's death is a tragedy, we just compounded it by this outcome.
I hope that Tyler's family can get a measure of peace now that this trial is over.