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.
The entire community of the Straight Spouse Network is deeply saddened and troubled by the death of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University. Our condolences, thoughts, and prayers are with his family and friends.
Tyler’s suicide is deeply troubling to us, the heterosexual spouses and ex spouses of gay people, because it goes to the heart of the experience of many of our families. Our spouses come out, and we and our children are driven into a closet of shame and ridicule. Our children discover that suddenly their playmates are not allowed to visit them at the gay parent’s house. Or they are called names because their parent is found out to be gay.
Many of us are raising gay and lesbian children and teens. We are called as parents to love them for who they are. Many of us are resolved to not pressure them into making the same mistake of marrying a straight person to deny who they are.
Many of us are raising heterosexual children and teens who struggle to accept a gay parent and the sudden change in their family, or who struggle with a complicated relationship with a closeted gay parent in denial. If they are college freshmen with unresolved feelings of shock, shame, and anger paired with a gay roommate the result can be disasterous. When they ask for a room change, they are lectured about homophobia. They aren’t “full of hate” but they need time to regain their own equilibrium. Given time, they can accept gay students, be friends with them – but not live with them just yet in the close quarters of a college dorm room. Without acknowledgement of their needs and experience, they disengage from the college experience, just like their gay counterparts.
Gay students also ask for room changes, and the results in many colleges are equally devastating. They are ignored, or worse, ridiculed. One Rutgers senior told ABC news that when he came out to his RA as transgender during freshman year, she outed him to the entire building. Rutgers gay students petitioned housing to create “safe zones” for LGBT students, and according to ABC news “were given a flat out no”.
We’re not advocating “segregation” of LGBT students, but we believe that residence life college personnel need a thorough education about the total reality of young people’s experiences with homosexuality.
“Transitions are inherently stressful times, and there’s been a lot of research done on how to help college students deal with this stress,” says George J. Hill, an Academic Advisor in the Health Careers and Retention Center at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY. “Being an 18 year old male entering college is tough. Not only are you dealing with being independent from your parents for the first time, but there are also social pressures. Many teenagers are still wrestling with their sexual identities, and struggling to find who they are”. A married heterosexual, Hill is a member of Safe Zone, a organization comprised of over 60 faculty and staff, who have undergone special training to be sensitive to LGBTQ students. “If a student is to develop and grow, the student must be provided with just the right amount of challenge”, Hill continues. “If a student has too little challenge, they will not grow and become independent, but if they have too much, they will disengage. Therefore, a college must provide just the right amount of support, to ensure that while the student is challenged, they also do not disengage.” Hill concludes that most disengaged students fail or drop out, and that suicide is the ultimate “disengagement”.
If there is a perception that coming out, reporting harassment, or requesting a room change will lead to further persecution, then the “zone” is not safe. Yes, “respect” is important, and certainly the prank played on Tyler could have been played on a heterosexual couple. But “respect” is not enough if “gay” is not specifically mentioned, or if all the voices and perspectives are not heard and acknowledged.
We also find it disturbing that in many comment sections to news stories, Tyler’s family is accused of being homophobic and unsupportive. Many families of gay teens are loving and supportive, but find in the aftermath of a tragedy such as this that they are accused of “hate” by those who project their own experiences on the grieving family. Such judgment and condemnation by strangers only adds to the pain and grief of an unimaginable loss.
Society has made great strides in recent years in accepting families like ours, which include people who are gay, straight, and unsure. But clearly, not enough progress has been made so that gay people and their families are safe from harm.
We love this video statement by Ellen Degeneres.
It will get better. It has to.
We have a lot of sympathy this week for Marie Osmond and her family, in the aftermath of the suicide death of her son, Michael Bryan. Recent speculation that Marie’s son was a closeted gay man in agony has been fueled by Roseann Barr’s vicious blog entry. The internet is abuzz with criticism of the Osmond family and that poor unloved gay son, the Mormon church’s anti gay stance, and accusations that the Osmonds must be hypocrites if they draw strength and faith from their church.
This really doesn’t have much to do with straight spouses – but it’s about family, and how families are judged. We straight spouses sure know a lot about that. We are so often judged by people who never have experienced having a spouse reveal that they are gay. People who just know that this would never happen to them. People who know what they would do if they were us. People who know just what we oughtta do.
We know all about the judgments of folks who think it’s no biggie to find out your spouse is gay,
Or who think you ought to just join up with the fight for gay rights,
Or who think that your children should never be allowed near those people,
Or who think that you had to have known, what, you stupid or something,
Or who think that having a lesbian wife is so hot you lucky man.
Constantly, straight spouses are judged by people who actually KNOW NOTHING.
A time of loss and profound grief has been publicly responded to with unwarranted personal attacks on Marie, her family, and their religion, all in the name of gay rights. There’s a powerful amount of judgment going on, and any denial of these so called “truths” is met with cynicism and hateful sneers. Many straight spouses know EXACTLY how this feels, including the ones who are Mormon, or former Mormons.
Here are some facts:
1. There are no news reports that Marie’s son was gay. His closest friend denies that he was.
2. Gay or straight, he’s dead. He suffered from depression, addictions, and was estranged from his father. Gay or straight, that’s enough to send any young adult out the window.
3. Marie has given public support to her daughter who is openly lesbian.
4. Marie has stated that she supports gay marriage.
5. Marie is taking steps to move forward with her life.
The death of a child is one of the most profound losses any parent can experience. The entire process is flooded for many parents with doubts, what ifs, should haves. The know it alls who are poised to tell a mother that if only she’d left her church her son would have been “accepted” and not committed suicide, are a mindless, thoughtless, cruel rabble of bitter, twisted hatemongers.
When Marie’s daughter Jessica came out, this blog gave Marie a bouquet of “paper roses” for her public support. We do not get to choose being parents of gay men and women, or husbands and wives of people who have a latent realization that they are gay,lesbian, bisexual, or transsexual. It happens in our families. All our families. How we deal with it is what matters.
It’s very hard to deal with your grief at the death of your child when people you don’t know are blasting you for hating gay people all over the internet. Especially when you’ve said you don’t!
So Marie, from us to you – here’s another bouquet. With our heartfelt sympathy for your grief and loss.
We want to send an appreciative note with some real cyber roses to Marie Osmond. Her recent interview concerning her lesbian daughter touched a lot of hearts here at the Straight Spouse Network. Some of us who have gay and lesbian spouses also find we have a gay or lesbian child. Marie’s response that she loves her daughter and is true to her Mormon faith struck some resonance with many of the people in our network.
The experience of having a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered spouse or other family member crosses cultures, countries, religions, languages, and all social boundaries. When this experience happens to a famous family known for conservative values, the typical mainstream media reaction invites an “ah ha! gotcha!” response from the general public. Witness the media reaction to Senator Larry Craig’s adult children and their awkward but sincere defense of him, in which followup stories reported on their divorces and failures. Some years back, there was the celebrated feud over gay rights between Candace Gingrich and her brother Newt, the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time. Our guess is that the Gingriches are not the only brother and sister to ever fight publicly!
There was the outing of Eagle Forum Founder Phyllis Schlafly’s son in 1992 by a now defunct gay activist publication, and the ensuing outcry. Later, Vice President Dick Cheney just continued to publicly accept and love his daughter Mary, who became a mother with her lesbian partner in 2007.
News flash, world. Gay people happen. Everywhere.
The fact is that gay people happen in all families. Perhaps if their families were all as accepting as the Osmonds, Cheneys, and Mrs. Schlafly show to the cynics, there would be more gay and lesbians living honest lives and fewer straight spouses coping with deceit, shame, doubt, and despair. Families are all different, with unique relationships and strategies for communicating and coping. The judgement of a harsh world on individual family values and beliefs does not help any of us.
Marie’s words have also indirectly provided encouragement for some straight spouses who are Mormon, and who struggle to reconcile what has happened to their families with the continued profession of their faith.
We like real people too, Marie. All the people mentioned above are real. Thank you for reminding a polarized, cynical and sometimes sneering world of just how real we all are. So, no paper roses for you, because as you say, those are imitation – you get the real cyber roses from us for the sweetness in your heart!