On the heels of my recent article about children being bullied at school – comes a tragic news story of a young college student who committed suicide because his sexuality was violated by two cyber bullies. Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, an accomplished violinist was literally pushed to end his life by jumping off a bridge. Tragically it ended his short life. A lawyer for Clementi’s family confirmed Wednesday that he had jumped off the George Washington Bridge. His body was later identified.
The catalyst igniting this tragedy was an invasion of privacy. An intimate encounter between Tyler and another young man was recorded by his roommate, then broadcasted all over the web. The entire world is now privy to his private and personal lifestyle. His roommate Dharun Ravia fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, has been charged for invading Clementi’s privacy. Some say if this had been a young man and women in an intimate encounter it would have been less dramatic however gay rights student organizations are infuriated by this incident. They say Tyler Clementi’s suicide makes him a national example of a problem they are increasingly working to combat: young people who kill themselves after being bullied and tormented over their sexuality.
Sadly this is not the first case of gay/lesbian/bisexual individuals being hurt, killed or driven to suicide by bigoted, small minded, hate-mongering groups. One of the most publicized cases was a young college student named Matt Shepard. While attending the University of Wyoming he was beaten to death by two anti-gay men. Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming. McKinney and Henderson offered Shepard a ride in their car. After Shepard said that he was gay, the two men robbed, pistol-whipped, and tortured him and tied him to a fence in a remote, rural area, leaving him to die.
The legal system states: “Collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime. Transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years.” But what happens when the individuals being bullied end their lives. What happens when the cruel actions of bullies drive their victims to suicide? Should they be charged with murder? Should laws mandate first degree murder? Would stringent laws and severe criminal penalties deter potential bullies from committing these acts of vicious harassment? What if the victims had been Muslim, Black or Hispanic? Would our legal system handle this situation differently? One can only speculate the outcome.
I realize most of these questions and statements are debatable nevertheless; bringing them to the table for general discussion and educational discourse may help to develop tolerance, respect and understanding for one another before our only recourse is suicide and murder.