"We've only just begun to live." Perhaps we all have. Today is the first day, it is said, of the rest of your life. For us, we are beginning to live, but for Tyler Clementi, September 22, 2010 was the last day of his life.
Tyler's story has been all over the news: Rutgers freshman, gifted violinist, 18 years old. perhaps gay, perhaps bisexual--almost certainly questioning. Tyler's 18-year-old roommate Dharun Ravi and his long time friend Molly Wei took a video that violated Tyler's rights. The video they posted was of a very private moment that Tyler was having with another person-another male-a moment that should have been about discovery, connection, and the answers to some questions that may have been lifelong. The moment came to be about such a crushing humiliation and the willful robbery of innocence and what should have been a magical time was ruined, along with a life that should have been in bloom.
The real crime, as I'm writing this, is that the State Prosecutor says that these adults may not be charged with involuntary manslaughter or anything more than invasion of privacy. Was this a hate crime? While it's difficult to say, since Tyler did not seem to be "out," friends who are Rutgers alumni say that bullying is very overt and the actual problem may be more subtle and elusive.
Imagine, or remember, when you were a college freshman. The campus of Rutgers New Brunswick/Piscataway is huge. Tyler lived on Busch Campus and friends say that, while there are buses that transport students among the various campuses, it's disorienting sometimes when you're learning-if you take the wrong bus, you're far away from where you should be. Adaptation to classes and campus life can be challenging for even the most sophisticated freshman, and Clementi, Ravi and Wei were all adjusting to their first month or so of what they expected to be a four-year journey to a degree.
"A kiss for luck and we're on our way." Violations of privacy are rampant in early campus life in freshman dorms. Some students have never shared a room before and, now, the room that is being shared is likely half the size of what one had at home to oneself. People can barge in and out until boundaries are developed and signs of when and when not to disturb someone are determined. Tyler had indicated he wanted privacy in the room until midnight. He and Dharun had worked it out. But Dharun's curiosity got the best of him and he dialed in to his own webcam to spy on his roommate.
The atmosphere in a community, a dormitory, a campus, can be more devastating than overt bullying. If people call us out with words like dyke, faggot, whore, scumbag, etc, most of us have some armor to deal with this name-calling, a mechanism to defuse it. It won't prevent us from being angry. What about hatred NOT directed to us per se? What about someone calling someone else "faggot," when what they mean is "jerk?" What about someone who says, "All those faggots and dykes in RU Pride should be driven out of town"? Those comments are not directed toward an individual, but rather a group that someone listening might be part of and when you substitute "faggots and dykes" with "spics, hebes, kikes" and other words Archie Bunker used, but educated people no longer do, then you can begin to see how sticks and stones and words as well can maim and bruise and hurt.
What about the other victims? What about the other young man in the video with Tyler? Who is helping him deal with the grief, and hurt and death of someone he cared about? Who is caring for the damage he has suffered? What about the six other young men we've heard about so far-Billy Lucas, 15, in Greensburg, Indiana; Asher Brown, 13, in Cypress, Texas; Seth Walsh, 13, in Tehachapi, California; Tyler Wilson, 11, in Ohio; Raymond Chase, 19, in Monticello, New York; and Justin Aaberg, 15, in Anoka, Minnesota-who killed themselves for either being gay or being perceived as gay? What about the young women in similar circumstances- teased because they do not look like or act like other young women? Where is the support network for these young people? Where is the support network for the people in their prime whose lives change when they have an epiphany about whom they love? LGBTI people don't want your tolerance. We want to live our lives. We want to live out loud and have the same opportunities other people have to be fully themselves. We are all different, and that is what makes life full, and interesting and rich. Let's all start thinking in color and dimension instead of flat black and white.
Several activist organizations local to NJ and nationally are taking up the cause of LGBTI youth and suicide. What do YOU plan to do? Myself, I will not permit hate speech to occur no matter which group is the target. We demean ourselves when we don't speak out. We demean ourselves when we don't speak out against hateful language that diminishes the person using it as well as those hearing it.
We all have opportunities throughout a day to be better and to encourage others to do the same. Join me in being better, little by little and day by day. All people should feel their worth.