“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry”
That is, I hope, the most chilling Facebook status update you’ll ever read. Posted by Tyler Clementi, a young college freshman whose privacy and trust had been shattered by his trollish roommate. It was moments later that he would walk from his car onto the George Washington bridge and jump off, killing himself. Suicide in response to a personal crisis is never a rational act. So there is no understanding of it. Media reports have sentences like this one:
His exposure on the internet as gay caused him to kill himself.
There is obviously no doubt that the unbelievably heinous act of his roommate did drive this college freshman over the edge. It is also impossible to know what else contributed to this outcome. I’d rather we all just said, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand.” But we have to remind ourselves that when people are robbed of their human dignity, they can be robbed of their rationality too.
Who robbed this nice young man and talented violinist of his dignity? His roommate, Dharun Ravi. Both he, and his accomplice Molly Wei thought it would be great idea to surreptitiously broadcast Tyler’s intimate encounter with another male over the internet. Note: it is not a “prank” to so wantonly invade someone’s privacy who had placed their trust in you. It is a crime.
Clearly Ravi and Wei harbor negative attitudes toward homosexuals. This is despite their befriending gays in high school. Media reports:
[S]tudents described [Ravi and Wei] as kind people from loving families. Both had gay friends, they said.
It seems odd to have two simultaneous and completely contradictory attitudes about homosexuality, doesn’t it?
New Jersey governor, Chris Christie (R). Reaction:
“Well, first of all, as the father of a 17-year-old, I can’t imagine what those parents are feeling today – I can’t,” said Christie. “You send your son to school to get an education with great hopes and aspirations. … I have to tell you, I don’t know how those two folks are going to sleep at night, knowing that they contributed to driving that young man to that alternative.”
“I also believe marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman. While, I have no issue with same sex couples sharing contractual rights, I believe that marriage should remain the exclusive domain of one man and one woman. If a bill legalizing same sex marriage came to my desk as Governor, I would veto it. If the law were changed by judicial fiat, I would be in favor of a constitutional amendment on the ballot so that voters, not judges, would decide this important social question.”
No doubt Ravi and Wei deserve sleepless nights ahead, and much more. But if Christie and the Republican party he belongs to is sleeping like a baby, …sorry. It is time for them to lose some sleep too. Is there no such thing as cognitive dissonance on the right? How do you express outrage at a promising young teen’s suicide and not consider that you use homosexuals and the bullies who intimidate them as pawns in your beloved culture war? How do you hammer away at a “wedge issue” and not realize you’re dehumanizing real people and providing cover for people like Ravi? How do you shop for votes from so-called evangelicals when they have some of the worst homophobia of anyone in the world? How do you blow the dog whistles and yet act shocked when the dogs return with real prey. No, I don’t want to oversimplify Clementi’s suicide. But some the “leaders” in our political system need to ask themselves whether dividing people along sexual orientation lines, then making the case that one group is better than the other, make the problem of tolerance in our society better or worse.
Clementi’s death made September’s death toll of LGBTQ youth at the hands of bullies to four. The Rutgers Symphony will play tonight with an empty chair in the violin section where Clementi would have sat. And three other dinner tables will also have an empty chair. And countless others as year after year this destructive and needless culture war, waged from the right, grinds on.
Clementi was a talented musician, so I’ll end with a song. Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” seems oddly appropriate. Take it away Thom.