The Thin Pink Line
If you had asked me what to do with, or to, Dharun Ravi, my first impulse would have been to say lock him up for a few years and then, upon his release, deport him.
Ravi’s May 21 sentencing was quite a lot milder than that, which is probably a good thing. In case you have just now returned from a stint of living as an ascetic in India, where Ravi’s family is from, and have missed Ravi’s trial, the long and short of it is that Ravi had a gay roommate named Tyler Clementi. In September of 2010, as a long and anguishing summer of gay teen and pre-teen suicides was grinding toward fall, Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey, became the object of actions that violated his privacy and made him the butt of anti-gay treatment online.
Ravi was the author of those actions, first spying on Clementi and another man, known only as M.B., with a webcam. Then Ravi posted word of having spied on the two, who were having an intimate moment when they were surveilled. Worst of all, Ravi seemingly planned to repeat his actions, setting up his webcam and sending out word that "it’s happening again," and inviting others to come and spy right along with him. Clementi derailed the plan, and the screen went dark on Ravi’s alleged plan to turn his gay roommate’s encounter into public entertainment, but that small victory may have paled next to the attitude Clementi seemed to have picked up on--an attitude in which, as Clementi blogged, his roommate was the one being asked by sympathetic fellow students whether he was okay.
Was Ravi okay? He was fine. Having a gay roommate doesn’t hurt anybody. But having a roommate who violates your privacy and then crows about it and issues a call for others to do the same? How hurtful is that?
Tyler Clementi ended up jumping off a bridge. His suicide brought the twin issues of homophobic bullying and gay kids killing themselves into sharp, blazing relief, and led to the creation of the country’s toughest anti-bullying legislation in New Jersey.
Clementi, and the other young gay martyrs who died that summer, and who died before and since, have paid a price they should not have had to pay simply for being gay. They have also prompted a lethargic nation that is largely unconcerned with the needs of minorities to do a little soul-searching. That those kids’ blood had to be spilled in order for the questions to be asked is bad enough, but it’s unforgivable that even now, in the face of such suffering and carnage, so little of substance has changed.
In order to panic voters into supporting Proposition 8, anti-gay activists created TV ads that linked the issue of marriage equality to the sexuality of pre-adolescent children. The ads claimed, falsely, that young students would be forced to learn about gay families in the classroom unless gay families were deprived of their legal status. The suggestion was that young kids can be "turned" gay, and therefore Tom and Bill, and Kathy and Shauna, should be denied family equality. The ads were pure hogwash, but they were also highly effective; Proposition 8 passed because of those ads, and those ads were later re-deployed in Maine, where a similar ballot initiative yanked marriage rights from same-sex families there in 2009.
When anti-gay bigots deployed their hugely misleading and fear-inducing ads to drum up support for those anti-gay ballot initiatives in California and Maine, they placed a heavy burden not only on gay adults who only wished to be recognized as members of committed, valid families; they also placed a painful cross right on the shoulders of gay youth, who wish, much as straight youth do, to grow up to become solicitous spouses and attentive, loving parents. In part, that burden stems from stealing the future from gay kids, telling them that they are not going to have families if they are gay. The law won’t allow it. (As if telling kids they were going to burn in Hell wasn’t bad enough.)