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As a gay man, I’ve faced harassment many times in my life. I’ve also been beaten into a pulp because I happened to be stepping out of a gay bar with some friends one night. I know the kind of hate that exists toward gay people and it’s something that I hope we’ll overcome as a society over time. I do believe that a lot more people are enlightened than they were back in the 70s when I first came out of the closet and first started going to gay bars.
Unfortunately, homophobia still exists and it will continue to exist. But I also believe that it will take time for many to learn to understand and not look upon gay people as some kind of abomination and an abnormal lifestyle. Being gay is not a lifestyle anyway; it goes much deeper than that.
Tyler Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi was recently convicted of hate crimes committed against Clementi. Tyler Clementi committed suicide by jumping off of a bridge after Ravi set up a webcam that Clemente wasn’t aware of when he had a man in his room for a sexual encounter. Several people from another room, watched as Clementi had sexual relations with the man. Though what Dharun Ravi did was despicable and showed a clear ignorance toward Clementi’s privacy as a gay person and insensitivity to his feelings, I don’t feel it rises to the level of a hate crime.
Should Ravi be held responsible for what he did that led to Clementi’s suicide? Sure, but not to an extent that completely destroys the young man’s life. What the Indian-born Ravi did was a form of bullying though I don’t believe it was completely out of a hate toward gay people.
I’ve met many people over my life time that simply has never been around out-of-the-closet gay people. Because of what they’ve been taught or what they’re use to hearing about gay people may cause them to have some preconceived ideas concerning gay people but those preconceptions usually change once they’re around a gay person or gay people over an extensive length of time. Preconceptions do not constitute hate but just ignorance.
The question is: Did Dharun Ravi act out of hate toward his roommate because he was gay? I don’t think so; ignorance yes but not hate. To me what Ravi did was childishly bullying his roommate by exposing him to ridicule by his peers. “Childishly” is the word here because Ravi was not acting like an adult but like a child who saw an opportunity to get a laugh at the expense of his roommate Clementi whose sex life he found to be alien to him.
So far I haven’t heard how Dharun Ravi feels about Tyler Clementi’s suicide and if he feels responsible and remorse for his actions that led to it. The sentencing process should bring that forward and even though it would serve the defense to show Ravi as being remorse, I’d like to hear from the young man myself and see his demeanor on the witness stand. Has his former roommate’s suicide opened his eyes to the cruelty of what he did that caused his roommate to kill himself?
In any case, I do believe that the judge in this case needs to be lenient toward Ravi in sentencing. A young man is dead because he took his own life after being exposed by his roommate in a cruel and insensitive way. Still, what led him to take his own life may well have been caused by more than the embarrassment caused by his insensitive roommate but by a sense of low self-esteem and a shame of his sexuality long before he became roommates with Dharun Ravi.
What we as a society should learn here is that gay teens need to feel good about their selves and not ashamed of their sexuality. His family is responsible here to some extent because if they had shown Tyler Clementi the acceptance and love that he should have felt before he decided to take his own life, then the actions of Dharun Ravi may have had much less of an impact on him.
Growing up gay can still be tough, even in these enlightened days and some teens still face feelings of guilt and shame for what they come by very naturally which is their sexuality. We can’t change what some conservative families teach their children and the kinds of values they instill in them but as a society and as a nation we can make sure that gay teens are aware that there is a place and someone to turn to when they feel all alone.
Maybe the parents of Tyler Clementi understand now but there had to be a break down somewhere in their relationship with their son or else the young man wouldn’t have been so fragile at the time his roommate Ravi decided to do what he did. I do believe that the judge in this case should consider this before sentencing Dharun Ravi, thus realizing that Ravi’s actions alone should not have caused the young man’s suicide if there had been a strong support system from his family. By harshly sentencing Dharun Ravi, we not only have one young man’s life ended at a such a young age but another one destroyed for his foolish actions that hopefully has already taught him a lesson he will never forget.