This past week, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old college student at Rutgers University, jumped to his death after finding out that his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly broadcast Clementi having gay sex over the Internet. Clementi posted about the incident — and told his dorm’s resident adviser — before jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
While we can’t ever know how much — if at all — Clementi’s roommate’s actions had to do with his decision to kill himself, we can say that Clementi is one of a frightening epidemic of gay teens committing suicide in recent weeks. Ravi used Twitter to ridicule Clementi and inform friends that “Roommate asked for room until midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Ravi then broadcast his webcam video online. Some days later he invited his Twitter friends to video chat his computer while Clementi was again using the room.
Friends of Ravi say that he’s “a good guy” who made a poor decision. And, they say, he never intended to broadcast Clementi’s tryst online.
Either way, Clementi’s death marks the fifth suicide by a gay teen in the past month. Justin Aaberg, openly gay and just 15, committed suicide after being bullied in school. Billy Lucas, also 15 wasn’t out, but was mercilessly bullied in school. He hanged himself. Asher Brown, 13, who told his parents he was gay the morning he shot himself in the head, was also bullied. And Seth Walsh, also just 13, hanged himself after suffering from years of bullying.
Some are calling for Clementi’s roommate to be tried as a murderer. Whether Ravi’s actions truly drove Clementi to commit suicide, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that bullying can have unintended consequences. Bullies often don’t think about how what they’re doing will be received by the victim. They don’t consider what else might be going on in that kid’s life, or how much pain angry words can cause. If they did, perhaps they’d think again before lashing out. Perhaps, but probably not.
These disparate but connected cases remind me that we should be advocating not for tolerance — which denotes “putting up with” — but support for gay and lesbian teens. Because while all teens have a hard time, gay teens have it harder than most. Dan Savage knows this — he’s launched the It Gets Better Campaign. As Savage notes, gay teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. And so does Ellen Degeneres, who made the video below: