You almost certainly have heard about the case. Here’s a brief summary from the NY Times:
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — A former Rutgers University student was convicted on Friday on all 15 charges he had faced for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man, a verdict poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.
“It’s a watershed moment, because it says youth is not immunity,” said Marcellus A. McRae, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.
The student, Dharun Ravi, had sent out Twitter and text messages encouraging others to watch. His roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days after the webcam viewing, three weeks into their freshman year in September 2010.
Ravi now faces up to 10 years in prison and/or deportation.
A lot of activists – in a addition to lbgt advocates – are praising the verdict. So I have been surprised at seeing a number of dissenting words, some of which seem cogent.
One, from the Chronicle of High Education, argues for a complex thesis: we do not know what the link, if any, there was between Ravi’s actions and Clementi’s suicide, while at the same time we are mistaken about the more significant cause. Bullies, one person argues, are symptoms, in this case of a society with lots of homophobia casually present in many different contexts. The verdict lets us wrap the guilt up and stick it on Ravi, not us.
The Guardian** makes a related point, but it points more directly to the political promulgation off homophobia:
Which of the following homophobic actions and statements do you find more despicable and more deserving of the most severe punishment possible: an 18-year-old in his first term at university spying with a webcam on his gay roommate and sending out tweets such as: “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”
Or: a 53-year-old man on a high-profile political stage saying that gay marriage will cause America to “fail”; that homosexuals do not perform activities “that are healthy for society” and therefore do not deserve certain “rights” such as raising children; that gay “sexual activity” is not “equal” to heterosexual “activity”; that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is “playing social experimentation with our military … And that’s tragic”; that gay marriage is analogous to polygamy and, most infamously, bestiality.
Both of these examples are utterly horrible and it is a decidedly depressing state of affairs that they happened at all. So to compare them is not to say that one is, relatively speaking, forgivable. Yet when one results in a now 20-year-old man facing up to 10 years’ imprisonment and possible deportation, and the other leads to this particular politician doing unexpectedly well in the Republican presidential primaries, one does have to question, shall we say, the consistency of national attitude, and what, really, is condemned and condoned.
Turning from this utterly tragic case involving what Ravi’s lawyer memorably and doubtless rightly described as “a jerky kid” in a dorm room whose actions resulted in a conviction, we turn to the national political stage, involving grown men whose statements result in balloons falling from the ceiling. Being against gay marriage, gay adoption and gay soldiers serving openly in the military is pretty much de rigueur for a Republican presidential candidate these days, as is inferring – obliquely or very openly – that being gay is a perversion and therefore not deserving of full rights. Rick Santorum has been the most vocal about this although, to be fair, sex in all of its forms appears to repulse him judging from his beliefs regarding contraception and pornography. Yet his statements about homosexuality have been especially disgusting, hardline and toxic.
Should we give air time to Santorum, while jailing and deporting Ravi? Or are these apples and oranges? What do you think?
**the article has lots of links that didn’t get copied. If you want the source for a particular homophobic expression, you should follow the link to the article