The Suicide of Four Gay Teens is about Sexual Violence

 Dear Engaged Bystander:  I have been hearing about the series of suicides by gay teens in the last few weeks. I grew up in New Jersey, at a much earlier time when gay issues were just emerging, playing the viola from 2nd grade into college. So the suicide of Tyler Clementi hit me especially hard. 

If you are not familiar with that particular case, let me give you some details. Tyler Clementi was an accomplished violinist in his freshman year at Rutgers. One evening he asked his roommate if he could have the room alone from 8 PM until midnight. His roommate gave him the room, but then turned on his computers webcam from another dorm room to see what was going on. The roommate allegedly wrote on his twitter account, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”, and then streamed the images out over the internet. When Tyler again asked for the room a few days later, his roommate posted the following, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it's happening again”. Tyler turned off the webcam this second time, but the next day Tyler posted on his Facebook page, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." and then drove to the George Washington Bridge and jumped to his death. 
I am wondering why no one is talking about this as sexual violence? I hear gay activists demanding that this be considered a hate crime. I read about the dangers of bullying and comparing this story to the story of Phoebe Prince. All of these comparisons are true, but isn’t this what we consider sexual violence as well? If it was a group of fraternity boys filming unsuspecting girls having sex in their dorm rooms, wouldn’t everyone be up in arms against this kind of violation? I purposely use this word -- to me it is more than a privacy issue, bullying or a hate crime -- it is a violation. 
And I don’t want to dismiss in any way these other ways to address what happened. I think that we have a lot to learn from what is being done. Ellen DeGeneres put together an incredible short video asking people to get involved and not ignore the deaths of four different gay teens.  One of my favorite responses was from the columnist, Dan Savage. He has started the “It gets better project” based on the comments of so many older gay people saying I wish I could have spoken with him for just five minutes. These are short UTube stories of gay men and lesbians talking to teens about how it was hard for them too in high school but that it does get better.  All of these efforts are asking for people to get involved and not just say that these things happen. On a deeper level, they are also telling us that we ALL have a responsibility for our youth. It is OUR responsibility to begin to say something or do something.

We can all demand a better response next time, I think that these cases point to a deeper gap where we are not taking any responsibility for each other. 
So while I read the paper about the roommate who posted the video to the world wide web, I still have not yet heard a story about how any one of his friends who said that this is just not right. And while the investigation continues, Rutgers has launched a new campaign about respect and privacy, but it still has not taken responsibility for the lack of support for xx from the University. I wonder how he could have made such a huge decision and no one in his dorm, his RA, his circle of friends or professors really knew about it. 
I hope that the examples of Ellen and Dan will begin to inspire others to both respond AND take responsibility for making a difference in the lives of these teens. I hope that those in the sexual violence movement will also join in.


Submitted by slaskey on

Thank you so much, Joan.  We were just having this discussion in our office.  We would love to see people post their ideas of saying and doing something to the Bystander Success Story page.