Alex Blaze

Gay student commits suicide after privacy violation

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 30, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living

There was a tragic suicide at Rutgers University recently as a student, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from a bridge after his roommate secretly filmed him having gay sex and transmitted the movie via internet:


amd_dharun_ravi.jpg"Roommate asked for the room till midnight," Ravi wrote on Twitter that night. "I went into Molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."

Authorities say Ravi streamed the action on the Web to friends - an illegal video transmission.

Two days later, in another Twitter post, Ravi indicated he had plans for a sequel.

"Yes, it's happening again," he wrote, inviting people to watch between 9:30 p.m. and midnight. The second streaming attempt failed, authorities said.

When Clementi learned of the vile voyeurism, he couldn't handle it and methodically planned his own death.

The roommate and the friend who helped transmit the video are facing privacy violation charges and could be imprisoned for up to five years.

This early in the investigation, I would caution against drawing too many conclusions here and labeling this an anti-gay death-by-bullying just yet. Was his suicide caused just by the violation of privacy, or was there other stuff going on in his life? The suicide rate on college campuses is higher than for the population generally, and the transition from home life to college life can lead to depression. A neighbor mentioned that he "kept to himself" on campus; the social isolation that can come with the transition to a new environment may have had an impact here.

Was his roommate motivated by anti-gay animus, or something like immaturity or voyeurism? A commenter on The Advocate who identified himself as a Rutgers graduate says that this is a common prank on that campus, taping roommates having sex. I don't remember that at all from college, but maybe this is Rutgers's thing. Or maybe he just didn't like having to give up his room.

And what did the school do or not do to address these privacy issues? Were they talking with students about this? Do they have clearly stated rules? I wonder because people don't just get the idea to broadcast someone else having sex, especially people who may be in a position to have their privacy violated one day as well.

Just, caution. This suicide, like all suicides, is tragic, and we should attempt to do what we can to prevent another. But it's too early to know what the right lessons to learn are.

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This is all over the web:

While I was very out in college (& this was pretty much pre-internet), I think having yourself streamed online having sex would be incredibly mortifying. Even (assuming) Clementi identified as gay, I could see why this would cause anyone, gay or straight, to want to commit suicide.

The roommate probably was trying to "embarrass" or humiliate Tyler. This is an interesting case and could possibly be considered a Hate Crime.

We don't know what Ravi was thinking. We will soon. If he suggests that he thought what Tyler was doing was "wrong," it should become a hate crime and credit should be given to religion, again.

Excellent post Alex, but…

I’m reminded of FDR’s infamous quote “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Recently in North Jersey a 29 year old trans-woman was shot to death nearly 3 weeks ago and law enforcement stonewalls New Jersey’s LGBT community when asked why there aren’t any suspects let alone arrests!

A friend of mine has a pre-teen child who is afraid that schoolmates, teachers and school administrators might find out that this pre-teen child’s parent is transgender. This child is afraid of being beaten up!

Fear is an extraordinary motivator. On the surface it appears that Tyler Clementi’s fear of being “outed” by video illegally obtained and illegally distributed led to his conclusion that his life was over. Yes we must wait for further investigation but whatever that probe turns up Tyler Clementi did in fact jump from the George Washington Bridge from several hundred feet into the cold, rapid currents of the Hudson River to end his life! I’m lucky. I prefer to live and force the rest of society to enforce my constitutional birthrights or else! Tyler obviously hadn’t arrived at that conclusion for himself.

I stopped being afraid of “fear” about 10 years ago. Tyler didn’t get that far in his life. Victoria White who was brutally murdered in New Jersey almost 3 weeks ago transitioned, had her surgery and was liked, likely loved by most of her family and friends though law enforcement in Essex County New Jersey chooses to ignore her murder.

My friend with the pre-teen child is stuck with a far more difficult situation than mine. My children are all adults so I gave them my “loving ultimatum” but my friend can’t. The ultimate solution is to once and for all end homophobia and transphobia on this planet so no more Victoria White’s or Tyler Clementi’s need not die for just being themselves, ourselves!

The "fear" comes from the "idea" that being LGBT is "wrong." Religion teaches that. We'll learn more about Tyler in the coming days, but religion is always very close to "fear," that's why they invented Hell.

You can make whatever excuses for the malicious acts of Ravi & Molly, but their actions contributed to the death of Trevor. They are adults, and immaturity is no excuse. These two college age bastards acted with full intent to cause Trevor harm. I hope both of them carry the memory of what they did to their graves. I hardly consider a 5 year sentence as excessive. The facts are known. If Trevor were alive to file a complaint it would not change the facts as to their actions. The lesson to be learned is to stop making weird ass excuses like the school doesn't have a written rule against what Ravi & Molly did to harm Trevor....or, well it is a common practice on campus to secretly film your fellow students having sex in private & then broadcast it on the internet. Like any of that crap is an excuse or makes it right. Tell that to Trevor and Seth and Asher and Billy. I ran out of forgiveness tonight. Too many dead young victims too fast for me to absorb or forget.

None of that was presented as an "excuse" or to "make it right." I was saying that before we use someone else's suicide for political purposes that we at least have the facts. We really don't have them just yet.

And, to clarify, there is already a policy against these recordings, plus they're illegal. I was asking what Rutgers had or had not been doing to prevent this, since it sounds like this isn't the first time it happened.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 1, 2010 3:43 AM

This is the fourth or fifth, if my count is right, suicide of a young gay man in as many weeks. These 'suicides' are, one and all, murder by religious bigotry. Religion and the politicians of both parties who pander to religious bigots are the direct and sole cause of discrimination, harassment, violence, a terrible suicide rate and murders. Cult leaders and their political allies are the real criminals in these cases.

The greatest failure of our movement is our inability to protect our young. Young LGBT folks are our children and we fail them time and again by not taking aggressive action to sue everyone in sight when this happens. They continue to pay the price for our inattention.

We need first and foremost to mount a campaign to insist that Lambda Legal, NCLR and the ACLU handle these cases on a priority basis, duplicating the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center who broke the back of KKK, no easy task, with a robust campaign of lawsuits on behalf of the victims of racism.

Secondly we need to demand the Congress criminalize hate speech because it promotes discrimination, harassment, violence, a terribly suicide rate and murder.

Third, we should contribute to the Trevor Project and find ways to get the Projects phone numbers and e-mail address to GSA and GLSEN groups, in Centers and slip to them into library books that might be of interest to young GLBT folks.


" The greatest failure of our movement is our inability to protect our young." Or simply our failure to protect them. Hear, hear.

To state what should be obvious: queer kids are the queers most vulnerable to societal homophobia, because of (usually) being immersed in it , with no escape , while at the same time having a young person's greater practical and emotional needs for acceptance . Confronting this directly, and advocating directly for queer kids in whatever specific context they face, should be the top priority of a humane LGBTQ movement. Why isn't it? Because we are embattled in our own lives? Because we may not see these kids, or feel that we know how best to be effective on their behalf ? Because we may be afraid of the accusation of trying to "corrupt" or "recruit" young people, or of being "intolerant," (in essence, of the "rights" of christians or others to abuse their own LGBTQ children and youth? )

Just some things I am thinking about.

Pam Daniels Pam Daniels | October 1, 2010 11:12 PM

You’re correct Harold. We don’t yet step up to the plate to protect our young. Unfortunately our LGBT young don’t find out they have elders who care for and love them until it’s too late. Our LGBT community must change this. We must reach out to gender congruent heterosexual parents who have LGBT children and teach these parents to love and accept their gifted children and nurture them. We must become the village that helps gender congruent heterosexual parents mentor their LGBT children. All potential bullies must realize that tormenting any LGBT peer has serious consequences

"societal homophobia."

It is religious bigotry. It is taught to children and Christians continue to do it. Sooner or later, Christians have to stop killing children. To do that, they must stop teaching that homosexuality is "wrong." They continue to sanction bigotry - bigotry that continues to take the lives of innocent young lives.

Aubrey Haltom | October 1, 2010 10:48 AM

On the national morning news shows a Rutgers official said this incident happened on the day a privacy seminar was scheduled for students. The official was saying the right things - tho' post-suicide.
News reports also indicated Ravi was 'stunned' and 'confused' - basically indicating it was a college prank gone wrong. The "Yay!" twitter comment suggesting he was happy his socially awkward roomie was 'hooking up'.
Obviously we don't know anything yet.
It is unbearably sad that Clementi thought suicide the only recourse.

This story makes me wonder about what kind of social/institutional climate these students were living in and how this affected the situation. The spying roomate and his apparent accomplice did something horrible and should be punished for it (publicizing what they knew to be a private encounter), so I'm not in any way excusing their actions.

However, it also appears that the reaction to the first voyeristic incident was so positive that Ravi planned another! A NY Times story notes a dorm resident saying that it became a topic of gossip in the dorm , and Gawker mentions online posts by someone who was probably Clementi (also mentioned in a later NY Times article), upset that people expressed sympathy for the roomate for having to live with a gay guy instead of outrage at Ravi's invasion of Clementi's privacy .

It seems to me that part of what makes bullying/harassment so awful for victims is that people don't take it seriously or support the victim until after a suicide or some awful outcome--only then are people "shocked, shocked," that the bully would do something like that--before that, it's just a joke, etc. Where was the shock and horror at Ravi's actions the first time around?

I was so distraught last night reading about these suicides, I began calling Tyler Trevor.

@Alex, I apologize if my tirade sounded like it was directed at you. I am angry with the culture in high schools & colleges that accept these abuses of gays to be normal, cute, playful pranks, and kid stuff.

Any of us who have looked into the coffin of a dead young friend asks why & how did this happen. We ask our selves over & over if we could have done something, anything, to help them. We can't bring them back to make things better.

Perhaps, once the shock, loss, and grief have become less overwhelming, we can resolve to do everything possible to keep other young people from being destroyed by the hate they encounter in school. At the moment, that resolve seems meaningless & empty. I can't see what good can come from these tragedies.

The fact of the matter is this was out on the Internet. Think of the repercussions this could have. Trying to gain employment,recommendations,trying to attend another school, loss of friends or family thanks to a homophobe. People see this stuff and would probably hold it in any way against this kid. The perpetrator did a mighty fine job of ruining Tyler's life. What needs to happen is that Ravi is given the harshest allowable sentence and then put in a cell with Bubba.

Wendell Cochran | October 1, 2010 4:33 PM

What about the other student who was in the room with Tyler at the time the video was being recorded. One would hope that he comes forward to press charges and sue the crap out of the room mate and his accomplise. Laws are only as effective as the penalties imposed. Likewise, laws meaningful to the extent they are enforced. This is one definite case where the two student violators need to be used as warning examples for other students to consider in the future.