by Dan Savage
on Sat, Oct 2, 2010 at 10:39 AM
There was another boy in the room with Tyler Clementi that night. That other boy, so far as we know, hasn't been publicly identified.
He also hasn't committed suicide.
A mob mentality has set in. People—gay and straight, liberal and conservative—are calling for the heads of the two Rutgers students who cruelly and thoughtlessly invaded Tyler's privacy. Facing charges that could bring them fives years in prison isn't enough: people are calling for Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei to be charged with manslaughter, even murder. But the other boy didn't commit suicide. So there had to be something else going on, some other contributing factors, that drove Tyler to such a point of despair and hopelessness that he took his own life. And this one incident of anti-gay bullying, however traumatizing it may have been (and Tyler's emails and web posts immediately after indicate that he was upset, but not destroyed, by what his roommate had done), were not enough to do it. The other boy hasn't committed suicide. This one event did not take a healthy, well-adjusted, well-loved gay kid and convince him to throw himself off the George Washington Bridge.
I'm convinced that this—the cruelty of Tyler's roommate—was the last straw.
There are questions that need answers before we crucify Ravi and Wei: Was Tyler bullied in middle school? Was he bullied in high school? Was Tyler, like so many gay teenagers, bullied at home by homophobic parents who thought they could fix their son by heaping condemnation and disapproval on him, by abusing their child emotionally? Was Tyler forced to attend a church where he was subjected to spiritual bullying? Was he surrounded by children who took the hatred of homosexuals, as expressed by their parents and preachers, as a license to abuse and torment the gay kids in their schools?
The rush to crucify the two Rutgers students who were involved in streaming Tyler's encounter with another boy—who has not harmed himself—is more clearly revealed to be, with each passing day, nothing more than an effort to deflect blame by shifting all responsibility for Tyler's death onto the shoulders of a couple of foolish teenagers. But it is clear—the other boy did not commit suicide—that there were other people who contributed to Tyler's death. Indeed, other people may be more culpable: middle and high school classmates who may have brutalized Tyler for years; school administrators who may have failed to protect him; religious "leaders" and religious "traditions" that pounded self-hatred into him. And I'm very sorry to say this but it has to be said: Tyler's own family may bear some responsibility for his decision to end his life.
There needs to be a broader reckoning. We need answers. And things have to change. Anti-gay bigotry kills, and increasingly it kills kids—children who are vulnerable and alone and being bullied emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Chris Christie, the anti-gay governor of New Jersey, was quoted as saying that he can't imagine how the two students accused of secretly filming Clementi can sleep at night. I'm wondering how Christie sleeps at night—and Barack Obama. When the president says he opposes gay marriage because when it comes to marriage, "God is in the mix," that sends a harmful message to gay children and their parents and their classmates.
Tyler's roommate did not act alone. There are accomplices out there: uncaring teachers, criminally negligent school administrators, classmates who bullied and harassed Tyler, "Christian" churches and hate groups that warp some young minds and torment others, politicians on the right and left who exploit and perpetuate anti-gay prejudice, perhaps even Tyler's own family. We need to learn more. And more charges need to be brought. Not just criminal charges against a couple of stupid teenagers who should've known better but didn't. But ethical charges need to leveled against adults and institutions that knew better but didn't care.
Ravi and Wei did not act alone. We have to recognize that there were others involved in destroying Tyler Clementi. And we need to start calling the effort to pin all the blame on Ravi and Wei exactly what it is: a coverup.