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Ravi Finds Unlikely Defenders: Gay Activists

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Wednesday Apr 4, 2012

On March 16 former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi, 20, was found guilty of invading the privacy of Tyler Clementi, hindering apprehension, witness tampering and four accounts of bias intimidation. Because the jury convicted Ravi of acting with an anti-gay bias, the Indian citizen could face up to 10 years in prison. But not everyone agrees with the verdict and some say that the court is looking to make an example of Ravi, who has been portrayed as an "arrogant, mouthy, and insensitive, but not a malicious, homophobe," Bill Keller wrote in an op-ed piece for the New York Times.

In September 2010, Clementi, 18, jumped to his death after learning that Ravi, his roommate, along with Molly Wei, his hallmate, used a webcam to watch Clementi have relations with another man.

Although Clementi's case sparked numerous gay activists to come together to prevent suicide among LGBT youth (namely Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign), there are surprisingly several gay activists who are skeptical about the case and believe that Ravi is being used as a scapegoat and should receive a lesser sentence.

"Rutgers University ought to stand against prejudging this case or scapegoating anyone. That's the least it can teach its students, community, and the public. Others who know the dangers of vengeance should also speak out," gay activist William Dobbs said in a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rediff News points out.

Dobbs also told Rediff News about the small group of gay activists at Rutgers called Queering the Air. The organization feels that "giving too much attention to Ravi and Wei hid the larger picture." In a press statement the group said, "Recognizing that homophobia is a concern that goes well beyond these two people and that our criminal justice system is historically biased against people of color, the group is using this occasion to draw attention to these larger issues."

Gay activists weigh in
"The rush to judgment continued with demands by gay organizations and others for even more serious charges despite the fact that a full investigation had not been done. Amid all this, the county prosecutor brought a second indictment against Ravi with a long list of charges," Dobbs said. "Clementi's suicide remains a riddle and haunts the case; Ravi is not charged with the death. If Clementi was alive it is hard to imagine this incident would have gotten so much attention by the criminal justice system."

Gay writer J. Bryan Lowder recently wrote an article for Slate entitled, "Did Dharun Ravi Really Commit a Hate Crime?" where he examines what actually defines a hate crime.

"Everyone agrees that Ravi's actions were boorish and grossly insensitive, but, in large part because he did not testify, we don't know what Ravi thinks about homosexuality in his heart-of-hearts (just as, in the final analysis, we don't really know why Clementi jumped from that bridge)," Lowder wrote.

"Still, based on the evidence that we do have, the image of Ravi as a malicious homophobe getting his just deserts looks dubious at best, and our eagerness to cling to that simplification betrays an anxiety surrounding issues of bullying and culpability that we'd like to assuage as quickly as possible, even if it means locking up an misguided young man for a decade or more," he added.

’No matter how reprehensible Ravi’s actions were, he’s not to blame for causing Clementi’s suicide. Ravi didn’t kill Clementi.’

He also went on to say that he believes Ravi violated Clementi's privacy and that he should be punished accordingly.

"But the impulse to paint Ravi as some kind of unprecedented, hate-driven monster is a cop-out, considering that his brand of homophobic posturing is pervasive in our culture. Exiling him to prison won't absolve us of our complicity in that fact, and it won't heal the lack of empathy that Parker mentions," Lowder wrote.

Even Dan Savage has his doubts
Gay City News points out that newspaper columnist Dan Savage, who founded the "It Gets Better" project, "was particularly troubled by the idea that Ravi was being scapegoated for a range of factors that might have led the college freshman to take his own life."

"Middle and high school classmates who may have brutalized Tyler for years; school administrators who may have failed to protect him; religious 'leaders' and religious 'traditions' that pounded self-hatred into him. And I'm very sorry to say this but it has to be said: Tyler's own family may bear some responsibility for his decision to end his life," Savage wrote in the Seattle alt-weekly Stranger.

Gay author and journalist Eric Marcus wrote a piece for the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger that emphasized that Ravi did not kill Clementi.

"Of course, Ravi is responsible for what he actually did and what he did, as far as we can tell, may have inadvertently triggered an extreme response that no one could have imagined," Marcus wrote. "But no matter how reprehensible Ravi's actions were, he's not to blame for causing Clementi's suicide. Ravi didn't kill Clementi."

Ravi speaks out

In Ravi's first interview since the case began, he told the Star Ledger that hate was not a driving force in his actions, the Associated Press noted.

"I didn't act out of hate, and I wasn't uncomfortable with Tyler being gay," Ravi said. He also appeared on ABC News' "20/20" and told the program that he does not believe his actions caused Clementi to take his own life.

"The more and more I found out, it would be kind of obnoxious of me to think that I could have this profound effect on him," Ravi told ABC. "After all this time and reading his conversations and how and what he was doing before, I really don't think he cared at all. I feel like I was an insignificant part to his life. That's giving me comfort now."


  • , 2012-04-04 12:38:51

    03/17/2012 by Brandon Thorp Doesn’t Know Anything About Dharun Ravi And Tyler Clementi A lot of smart people have spent the last 24 hours explaining the significance of the Dharun Ravi verdict. (If you don’t know about the Dharun Ravi verdict, please click here.) One of those smart people is Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, the current "Carville Dickinson Benson Research professor of law" at George Washington University, and the author of Let’s Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice. Today, published his ruminations in the form of an essay titled "Rutgers Spying Verdict Won’t End Bullying." And while the claim made in the title is self-evidently true, it’s clear that Butler knows nothing about the Dharun Ravi case. In fact, Butler is so ignorant of the case that he manages to cram four falsehoods into a single three-sentence paragraph. That graf: As the whole world knows, Ravi secretly videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having sex with another man. He let some other people watch the video, and he tweeted that Tyler was gay. Clementi then jumped off a bridge to his death. Falsehood breakdown: As the whole world knows, Ravi secretly videotaped his roommate, Tyler Clementi ... There was no tape. It was a live webcam, turned on for just a moment. ... having sex with another man. Nope. They were just making out. He let some other people watch the video ... Nope. Only one person besides Dharun saw the webcam feed, and only briefly. ... and he tweeted that Tyler was gay. Clementi then jumped off a bridge ... Technically true, but cruelly misleading. Dharun first tweeted that Clementi was gay long before the webcam-snooping and the suicide. In fact, he did it before the school year had begun -- before he’d even met Clementi in person. Butler’s imputation is that Dharun somehow "outed" Clementi, which is nonsense. The only reason Dharun was able to tweet the words "Found out my roommate’s gay" so early on was that Clementi was already out’n’proud on the internet. It is the case that Dharun made another reference to Clementi’s sexuality on the night he spied Clementi and his lover on the webcam, but it’s insane to think such a reference might drive an out person to suicide. Butler should read Ian Parker’s excellent New Yorker article, "The Story of a Suicide," before writing anything else on the subject.

  • , 2012-04-05 13:18:08

    What’s your point? You note all the inaccuracies of Brandon Thorpe, but you ignore the charges against Dharun Ravi. FACT: Charged with spying: guilty. FACT: charged with tampering evidence: guilty. FACT: charged with witness tampering: guilty. Ravi DID all these things. He was found guilty. Let him pay for his reprehensible actions.

  • , 2012-04-05 21:19:47

    One jury could find guilty while 49 others wouldn’t find guilty of any. Ravi had rights to contact other witnesses about his harmless twitters which were no different than 10 million other like examples per week in our culture. They weren’t spurred by hate, but were an instant response to Tyler’s insistence on getting room privacy two days after first occurence. Ravi could have texted back "No" but he was going to be at practice for part of night, and didn’t know what effect a "No" would have unless Tyler talked with him directly about how many times per week he expected to have joint dorm room to himself. Suppose Tyler had been killed and cut up into pieces like happened to another New York roommate this week. I think Tyler who was a neat freak was disgusted by the unkempt older stranger he had invited over for sex, but all that has been kept "hush hush" by proscecutors who are known to hide evidence. Check out: SupportDharumRavi on Facebook and listen to the Adam Corolla piece. That’s where I stand.

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