From the New York Times:
The jury also found Mr. Ravi guilty of tampering with evidence and witnesses for trying to change Twitter and text messages in which he had encouraged others to watch the webcam.
Mr. Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days after Mr. Ravi viewed him on the webcam. The case became a symbol of the struggles facing gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers and the problem of cyberbullying in an era when laws governing hate crimes have not kept up with evolving technology.
I am genuinely troubled by this verdict.
Without having met Mr. Ravi, it is hard to know exactly what kind of person he is. I don’t really know if he hates gay people. After having read about the whole case pretty extensively after it happened, and more recently in an in-depth article in the New Yorker, I have my doubts. What does seem pretty damn clear is that he’s kind of an asshole. Or, at least, he behaved like one. As someone who has done indubitably asshole-ish things in my life, I don’t believe he’s irredeemably evil or warped, but what he did was invasive and disgusting and shameful.
But was it criminal?
The Clementi suicide occurred within of a series of suicides attributed to anti-gay bullying. I’ve actually given talks at professional conferences about the topic, and I know that it garnered a tremendous amount of nationwide attention. I think the attention to the issue is overwhelming for the good, and I do not mean to downplay the seriousness of how hard bullying can be on gay teenagers. I was, after all, a gay teenager once myself. The myriad positive responses to the problem are sincerely heartening to me, and it is immensely gratifying to know that people actually take the issue seriously and care enough about gay and lesbian youth to want a change to happen.
But I also wonder if the attention has led to an unjust outcome in this case. To me, what Ravi did was reprehensible, but not in the same category as someone who would beat the tar out of a kid for being gay. If Clementi hadn’t committed suicide, but had instead complained loudly to the Rutgers administration, Ravi would have (one certainly hopes) faced strict discipline for violating the privacy and dignity of his roommate, but it would have stayed at that level. When the story became part of the larger narrative sweeping the country, I fear it lost its proper proportion.
Now, do I think there would have been the same meat-headed, juvenile sniggering if Clementi had brought a woman back to his dorm room? Almost certainly not. But I’m not so incredibly naive as to believe that gay sexuality doesn’t hold a perverse, nigh unto comedic fascination for a certain kind of immature, unsophisticated straight male. For a lot of dudes out there, seeing two guys kiss would be the stuff of a gross-out movie. Is this attitude hateful? I don’t think so. Exasperating, frustrating and stupid? Yes. But not hateful.
When I contemplate the ultimately doomed but credible presidential candidacy of a man who would happily tell me that I should never have had the right to adopt my son, and that I should expect no legal protections for my family whatsoever, I see hatred. And dangerous hatred, at that. When I contemplate the tragedy of Tyler Clementi’s death, I see the consequences of his roommate’s adolescent idiocy spun way out of control. And I worry that calling it hatred dilutes our understanding of what hatred really is, and how we should really be fighting it.