The verdict in New Brunswick NJ on the trial of Dharun Ravi is in. Ravi was convicted of a hate crime after setting up a webcam to tape his roommate Tyler Clementi in a homosexual encounter. He then tweeted the link so that others could watch. Humiliated and hounded, Tyler killed himself two days later.
No one intervened on Tyler’s behalf in two days. No one spoke up about the”joke”.
Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 300 hours community service, 3 years probation, and $10,000 in fines, plus court fees. The media debate is now about whether that sentence was severe enough. It’s not our job to comment on the fairness of the sentence. Our job is to focus on the continuing effect of bullying of gays on straight spouses and our families, and the attitudes of acceptance surrounding it.
Judge Glenn Berman aptly noted that despite the leniency of the sentence, he has not observed any sign of regret or remorse from Ravi. The prosecution will appeal the sentence. Ravi is appealing the conviction. Meanwhile, we have noticed disturbing comments in the general online media. Some are calling for Ravi to be treated as a murderer, which he is not. Some are blaming Tyler’s family for his suicide – the old “if only they’d accepted him his life would be perfect and he’d have had no problems” mantra. Still others believe that Ravi really did nothing wrong.
The truth is that for many young adults, any discussion of sex with their parents is difficult. It’s not that the parents are bad or narrow minded or abusive or intolerant – it’s just that it’s really difficult to tell your parents your business! Straight teens don’t come out to their parents; gay teens have an additional step to take when talking to their parents openly about their sexual activity. It’s a process that takes time in many families.
The truth is that Tyler was bullied. The truth is that dorm life in freshman year can be a very difficult adjustment. The truth is that his roommate was not happy about living with someone who was actively gay. The truth is that his roommate deliberately set up the webcam, the broadcast, the tweet. The truth is that his roommate intended to shame and humiliate him.
The truth is that if there were resources available to Tyler, he likely was unaware of them. The truth is that other students knew. No one did anything about stopping the sharing of the video. No one did anything to warn or help Tyler.
No one can blame a young college freshman for being irritated at a roommate who has sex in the room, especially if being around gay sex is new, especially if it involves someone who is not a student. But roommates have had these conflicts for years, and not resolved them through bullying, shame, public humiliation.
It’s time for college residence life counselors to recognize two things: one, that gay students or those perceived as gay still are targets for harassment, bullying, shaming; and two, that some students may have a difficult time living with a sexually active gay or lesbian student for reasons other than “hate”.
Those issues have to be owned. It has to be safe in a college dorm to be gay, or to not want to be close to gay sexual activity in your personal living space.
There must be honest and open ways to resolve these incompatibilities without forcing someone to be bullied, or to be politically correct but very unhappy and uncomfortable. College residence life must be safe for all.
The alternative is uncomfortable silence, pretending this was just Tyler’s fault, pretending that Ravi is a hateful murderer or pretending that its OK to assume he did nothing wrong, he just got caught.
Gays and lesbians are part of a family. Hopefully, as more families and straight spouses speak out about our lives, the idea of bullying someone for being gay will become socially unacceptable – because the gay person could be our brother, sister, son, daughter, parent. But first, it will have to be safe for families to speak out. And in a college dorm, admitting you have a gay sibling or parent could be difficult, and open you up to more harassment.
This is the world we live in. Let’s change it through honesty and compassion.
What About the Kids?
Lately, in the USA it‘s news that gay people can create children. Its news that they can parent children. And it is beyond the stretch of many people to realize that they can have children without marrying a straight spouse.
The children of straight spouses have a gay parent. They may also have a gay step parent, and a straight step parent. Some of our children live with us, the heterosexual parent. Some of our children live with the gay/lesbian parent. Some of these children may themselves be LGBT. Our children face many of the same issues in their lives as children of any other divorce. But they also face something unique.
At least one of their parents is gay. And for some, that affects how other people view them. Peers, teachers, neighbors, parents of peers. Sometimes its a pretty easy transition. Many times it is not.
Even if children of mixed orientation families are not bullied by their peers, it can take some adjustment for the families of those peers to accept their gay parents. Sometimes children of gay people are bullied by their peers and we straight parents must cope with school personnel who do nothing or who blame the victim – or blame us and our gay spouses. Sometimes children of gay parents see their parents being treated hatefully by others for loving a partner. Sometimes they arent bullied directly but hear constant “thats so gay” insults among their peers and wonder if they will be targeted because they have a gay parent. They live in a hostile and indifferent world that often denies their existence or the more positive realities of their familiy life. Sometimes, our children are gay themselves.
And sometimes, our children from our mixed orientation marriages are living with the gay parent, being raised by a gay couple in joint custody with us. Many resources have evolved to support gay parents, and to lift up the public perception that they are truly capable of having and raising children. There still remains scant awareness of the straight parent, or the parenting and step parenting conflicts that can commonly result and be resolved.
When we straight parents are the primary custodians of the children, we face dilemmas such as telling the children about the other parent’s homosexuality in an age appropriate way, communicating with the other parent and new same sex partner or spouse in a constructive way, and supporting our child with the social adjustment. We also face frustrations. We may delay getting involved with a new relationship but find that the gay spouse has moved on very quickly. Sometimes our children will notice multiple new friends, and ask us the questions they dont want to ask the gay parent.
The Straight Spouse Network is here to support us through these transitions, build bridges, help us find solutions. Our families matter.
The attention to pressures on young gay and lesbian people and on bullying in general in the past two weeks has been unprecedented. It’s clear that with the leadership of such media stars as Dr Phil, Ellen DeGeneres, and Anderson Cooper, colleges and schools will have a much more difficult time turning aside complaints, requests for room changes, and defending the policies they already have in place which are often ineffective.
We’ve also noticed a strange attitude that says that bullying isn’t just about gay people, it’s been around for years, but now only gets attention to “further the gay agenda”. To that we say “Enough is Enough!”
Meantime, school boards, colleges and universities object to new oversight, because after all, they already have policies to prevent bullying or harrassment due to sexual orientation. The policies in effect are clearly not working, and it is time to examine why that is so. Could it be that the procedures are so unclear that the students don’t know how to seek assistance? Could it be that the climate of fear, ridicule, and repercussion is so severe that students are afraid to report incidents, or feel that seeking help might further endanger their safety?
We believe that putting an end to bullying in general, and in particular the harassment of people who are gay or perceived to be gay, is not just a matter for the “gay agenda”. It is a matter that affects us all, and needs to be on ALL our agendas.
Straight spouses come to our organization for support with their own issues about having a gay husband or lesbian wife. However, those issues go beyond the relationship; they extend to family, to children. In our confidential settings, the following incidents are composites of stories that have been shared repeatedly by many:
- A. A father comes out, and is open about his sexuality in the general community. He’s seen at school events with his new partner. Both of them come to parent meetings, football games, to show support of the middle school age son and daughter, who live with their straight mother. The son tells his father to never bring his partner to football games, because he hates him. While those are his true feelings in reaction to the divorce, the son is also getting razzed by teammates about being gay, just like dad.
- B. A 20 year old girl feels she has to “warn” every guy she becomes romantically involved with that her mom is a lesbian, in a committed relationship. She loses a lot of potential relationships that way. Finally, she meets a guy who tells her he’s in love with her, not her mom. It’s a huge realization to her that she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation, or a “warning”.
- C. A college freshman has profound anger over his parents recent divorce, and needs time to adjust to his father’s marriage to a new gay partner. College is a chance to get away from all the stuff in his household, and have a new start. He’s assigned a roommate who is openly gay, and realizes he isn’t ready to deal with gay culture and activity in his dorm room. He requests a room change and is lectured about homophobia. The room change is denied. He is given no options for alternatives. By the end of the semester, he has shut down so completely he flunks out.
- D. A group of students target another student for “jokes”. They set up a series of “gay dates” to meet the student in public places or at his home, even though the student says he is not gay. Over a few days, the situation escalates, and when the student attempts to walk away, the group corners him physically so he can’t get away. The student reports the assault, which results in arrests. The student is afraid to report that the harassment is gay related. No one knows that one of the bullies has a closeted gay father with a history of spousal abuse. No one knows this, but no one asks the bullies what their problems are.
We believe it is time for every school, from preschool through university, to not only adopt rules against bullying and harassment, but to also specify that bullying, intimidation, and harassment of another student for their sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, or a family member’s sexual orientation is not to be tolerated. This needs to be specifically mentioned, not just swept away in a nicey nicey statement about “respect”.
We believe it is time for colleges and universities to effectively communicate their policies to their students. This means that students should know what the next step is AFTER they tell the RA who either does nothing or responds inappropriately. This also means that colleges should pay attention to WHY someone is bullying a gay student, and consider that the bully may indeed be gay, or struggling with unresolved issues toward a gay parent or sibling. It isn’t just “homophobia”.
We believe it is time for our world to end the of harassment and intimidation of gay people, their families, and those who are perceived as being gay as a human issue, not just a gay issue.
Safety, freedom, respect, healing, sanity.
That’s our agenda, and we’re sticking to it.