My Life, My Beloved Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi, And You? | Jive in the [415] Blog | Gay LGBT News Political Commentary

March 21, 2012

My Life, My Beloved Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi, And You?

In The Daily Beast, Michael Medved Obsesses About Gay Sex At Rutgers And Beyond, While Trivializing The Issues

Any time that the Tyler Clementi tragedy is in the news, Rutgers is in the news too. I’m a rabid Rutgers sports fan, and incredibly proud of my alma mater. Women were first admitted to Rutgers College in the 1970’s, and it’s not very fitting, but the first line of the alma mater, written in 1874,  is My father sent me to old Rutgers, and resolved that I should be a man. I was thinking about that line this morning, and how circumstances have affected Tyler Clementi and Dharun Ravi. Neither will experience growing up and maturing “on the banks,” and becoming a man, as the alma mater implores, and that’s incredibly sad no matter how you slice it.

I was very affected by the Tyler Clementi tragedy, and it’s one of the reasons why I started writing this blog. I wanted homophobes, politicians, religious leaders, teachers and parents, to know how their slurs and homophobic rants hurt kids and adults alike. I was upset about all of the seemingly senseless and tragic LGBT teen suicides, that were spreading across the country, and wanted to do anything I could to try to change our culture. Like Tyler, and his roommate Dharun Ravi, I grew up in New Jersey and went to Rutgers University. The town where I grew up, and Tyler’s hometown, are just a few miles from each other..

I’m a WASP who grew up in a Navy family, with Republican party activists for parents. I went to a neighborhood grammar school, where I was never bullied or had any problems. When my family moved and I had to go to a new school, I was bullied mercilessly. When I got to high school, the bullying had stopped, and I had a great group of friends. 

I don’t know how or why it happened, but at some point in high school I became popular. I was active in student government, and was elected student body president. I sang in the choir, performed in school plays and musicals, lost my virginity to a woman, and was looking forward to college.

While I excelled at school academically and socially, at home there was a different dynamic at work. The bullying at school had ended, but hearing homophobic slurs at home brought up the same feelings that the bullying did.

I honestly don’t think the word “gay” was ever uttered at home when I was growing up. If someone had something to say about someone being gay, or acting gay, the comment was always derogatory and patently offensive. I don’t remember my brother or sisters ever saying anything particularly awful, but I can still hear some of the homophobic slurs that both of my parents frequently uttered.

It’s almost comical thinking about it now, but my parents went out of their way to instill some good values in their kids, to respect adults and be respectful of other religions, and to be blind to the color of one’s skin, but if you were a card carrying homo, you were persona non-grata. Go figure.

I know now that my parents were ignorant, and uninformed about all things “gay.” They didn’t know at the time that they had a gay kid. That doesn’t excuse their behavior, and they shouldn’t have said the things they did, because those things can stay with you forever. Aside from being hurtful, it has a negative effect on communication and trust, and creates lots of inner turmoil, confusion, and self loathing.

I know that Tyler Clementi had a difficult time coming out, and can’t say that his experience was similar to mine. I have no idea to be honest. It’s been written that his parents are active members in a local church that’s homophobic, and like many other anti-gay churches, he may have had to listen to sermons that were hurtful to him. Tyler came out to his parents just before he left for college. I’ve heard and read that his mother had a particularly difficult time accepting his sexuality. I also imagine that by the time he got to Rutgers - he was excited, anxious and eager to explore his sexuality.

That’s one thing we all have in common, as sexual beings. A desire to date, experiment, and ultimately find ourselves. Our heterosexual brothers and sisters get a head start because their relationships are “acceptable.”. They can dance with their sweetheart at the school dance, they can openly date, hold hands, and make-out at school. And most parents accept this activity as a rite of passage. When you’re LGBTQ, you don’t get to experience that. You feel isolated and alone, and some kids get depressed. Some kids don’t see a way out, and if they aren’t going away to college, they think they’re doomed.    

Unlike Tyler, when I arrived at Rutgers as a freshman, I was confused about my sexuality. My freshman year I had a girlfriend and a boyfriend. I went to see a therapist at the school health center to talk about my sexuality, and confusion, and the inner struggles I was having. He told me that he could make me straight, as long as I followed his rules. At the top of the list were rules about masturbation. If I masturbated, I had to think about a beautiful woman like Olivia Newton John or Cheryl Ladd. We know how that turned out - I’m queer as a three dollar bill - and have done alright. And I can relate to the Tyler's of the world, because of my experiences.

Tyler’s roommate Dharun Ravi surreptitiously recorded his first date with a web cam, felt compelled to editorialize and provide a running commentary, and tweeted about it, emailed people about it, and failed to recognize that he created a hostile environment in the place that they both called home.

Dharun Ravi’s actions were heinous, but they didn’t cause Tyler Clementi’s death. I’m sure it was one factor among many. New Jersey prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Dharun Ravi invaded Tyler’s privacy, which was motivated by a bias.

Was Dharun Ravi a raging homophobe? I don’t know,  I wasn’t in court and couldn’t say, but I’ve yet to see any evidence to support that. Did a bias exist? Without a doubt. Whether the defendant recognizes it as a bias doesn’t matter. He says he wasn’t motivated by bias, but only someone with a bias would do what he did.  

A right-wing conservative radio host, Michael Medved, wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Beast . It’s entitled “Tyler Clementi, Dharun Ravi, and the Problem With Hate Crimes Laws.” Right off the bat we know that he has a problem with hate crime statutes.

His first sentence says it all. He writes:

Hate crimes laws are supposed to promote ideals of fair treatment and equality. The tragic recent case of two Rutgers students, however, shows that instead of guaranteeing uniform standing to all segments of society, such legislation grants special protection and governmental favoritism to selected groups of victims.

Special “protection” for selected groups of victims--- he’s saying  LGBTQ members of the community, have special protection -- and that’s news to me. Hate crime laws are about the law, and consequences if you break the law, they do not promote “ideals.”

He thinks the Dharun Ravi verdict is outrageous, and illustrates his point::

To determine just how outrageous, imagine that Clementi’s intimate encounters had involved a 32-year-old non-student who was female. If Clementi had brought a woman he had just met on the Internet to his dorm room, and his embarrassed roommate had found her “creepy,” while worrying about theft and the invasion of his privacy, isn’t it conceivable Ravi could have set up a webcam to monitor the exchange of affection? And even if he made subsequent Internet comments about the gross nature of the incident, and attempted to broadcast a subsequent tryst some two days later, would anyone claim the commission of a heinous hate crime meriting 10 years or more in prison?

New Jersey law would seem to make such a prosecution impossible, as the “bias intimidation” statutes provide no special protection for lusty, heterosexual 18-year-olds. But those laws do guarantee that randy, adventurous homosexual teenagers must be defended from insult or harassment. In other words, the state has decided to grant special standing and governmental respect to one form of erotic expression over most others.

A hate crime is a criminal act motivated by prejudice, or intolerance, of someone’s race, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, or gender identity.  To speculate about what would have happened  if Tyler was straight, trivializes Tyler’s life and his struggles. Speculation obfuscates the many issues surrounding the Dharun Ravi case, and to suggest that an LGBTQ person’s erotic expression is favored over another, because a state government has hate crime laws on the books, is pure fantasy and poor conjecture.

I’ve heard the same things from other news publications and blogs. What if Tyler was straight? Tyler wasn’t straight! Asking “what If” is an exercise in futility,  purely speculative, and a lame attempt to cast doubt on the decision the jury made. Admittedly, I feel a lot of compassion for Dharun Ravi. I don’t think he deserves all of the derision he’s gotten, and it doesn’t serve anyone’s interest for him to be sentenced to time in prison. That’s what we should be discussing at this point, not erotic expression.

It’s almost funny that someone would reduce this tragedy to sex. Every institution in this republic of ours, is inherently biased toward heterosexual marriage, and old white men, and yet another Republican like Michael Medved writes and obsesses about gay sex.  

When we live together in a society where we respect and honor all religions and faiths, and there are no bias crimes related to race, sexual orientation, religion, sex, or anything else, and when there’s equality for everyone to love who they choose, without interference from the state,  and when every single child has equal access to an education, and every single student can go to school and feel safe - free from harassment and bullying, Medved might have a point. But right now he doesn't, and the Medved's of the world will be marginalized and on the sidelines, with nothing constructive to contribute, as long as the world I just described, and equal rights for all, is just a dream.

I’m telling my story to you , because I know there are many people with the same experience.

I’m sharing my story with parents, or parents to be, so that perhaps they might learn something. Straight couples largely get pregnant, give birth and stock the LGBTQ community with their offspring. Contrary to public opinion, we don’t grow on trees, so be kind to your kids!

To the kid who is thinking about coming out, and reads about Tyler, and thinks about harming themselves in some way, please don’t. Call the Trevor project. Find someone sympathetic to talk to, whether a cousin, sibling, or teacher. I know that your parents could be like mine were (past tense), and they might make fun of the “gays.” You might have a pastor or a Coach who puts us down. Try to remember that it’s just ignorance and fear, and a lack of knowledge, that breeds the slurs, the taunts and the teasing. Know that you’re smarter than that, and know that you’re special. If God didn’t want us here, we wouldn’t be here.

Most importantly - ignore the Michael Medveds and Rush Limbaugh’s of the world. Know that people change, and even the hardest of hearts, and most homophobic among us, can change their mind. I should know - that’s one of the reasons I’m here, and you’re reading these words.

It does get better. I promise.

straight talk in a queer world.  



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