Tuesday, October 16, 2012

LGBT History Month: Tyler Clementi

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Tyler Clementi was born December 19, 1991; less than 3 months before his 19th birthday, on September 22, 2010, he took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.  Clementi was a talented violinist, playing with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra in New Jersey and serving as concertmaster in the Bergen Youth Orchestra.  He was attending college at Rutgers University.

Clementi had just come out as gay to his parents shortly before leaving for college.  Although his mother had mixed feelings, both parents were supportive, and his mother even described him as confident and comfortable.  But an incident with his new roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a fellow hallmate, Molly Wei, left him more than uncomfortable.

Clementi had requested the use of their room the evenings of September 19th & 21st.  Ravi left the room the first evening, but turned his webcam to Clementi's side of the room and left his computer so he could access it remotely.  Which is what he did from Wei's room, long enough to see Clementi and his guest kissing.  Later, Wei turned the camera back on with others in the room, though Ravi wasn't there. This time they saw the two young men kissing with no shirts, but with their pants on.

The next day Clementi saw the twitter message that Ravi had sent just after the first viewing.  "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."  It was then that Clementi first requested a new room because his roommate was using a webcam to spy on him.

The evening of the 21st, Ravi sent another tweet, inviting people to watch his webcam while he was out of the room that night.  He said later he had put his computer in sleep mode so the camera would be disabled, but Clementi saw the camera turned toward his bed and unplugged it.  He reported the incidents to his resident assistant (RA) and 2 other Rutger's employees, requesting not just a room change but also a punishment for Ravi, stating, "I feel that my privacy has been violated and I am extremely uncomfortable sharing a room with someone who would act in this wildly inappropriate manner."

Clementi wrote several online posts in forums about the incidents and his last sounded hopeful that the RA was taking it seriously.  However, at 8:42 pm on the night of September 22nd, Tyler Clementi posted from his cell phone to Facebook, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." His body was found September 29th in the Hudson River just north of the George Washington Bridge.

Tyler Clementi was just one of four teens who committed suicide after being teased or bullied for their homosexuality that month.  Tyler's parents created the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which "promotes safe, inclusive and respectful social, environments in homes, schools, campuses, churches and the digital world for LGBT youth and their allies."  Anti-bullying legislation was introduced at the state and federal levels. Brittany McMillan worked with GLAAD to create Spirit Day in memory of the young LGBT people who lost their lives to suicide.

Molly Wei took a plea bargain that in exchange for dismissing the charges she would testify against Ravi, serve 300 hours of community service, go to counseling for cyberbullying, and take classes on dealing with people of alternative lifestyles.  Dharun Ravi was convicted on all 15 charges and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 3 years probation, 300 hours of community service, a $10,000 fine, counseling for cyberbullying, and classes on alternate lifestyles.


Also this month:

~ October is also National Bullying Prevention Month.

~ October 10th was Unity Day; wear orange to show your support and remind others about the importance of bullying prevention.

~ October 11th was National Coming Out Day when we celebrate coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or as an ally. See the Human Rights Campaign website for resources on coming out.

~ October 19th is Spirit Day; wear purple on this day to support LGBT youth & stand up against bullying.

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