We've never seen anything quite like the Tyler Clementi tragedy. While anti-gay bullying and taunting are, sadly, part and parcel of contemporary life, 18-year old's Clementi's story includes many dangerous elements that are rarely put together on the national stage, thus helping to illuminate the impact of the 21st century's brand of homophobia. The end result, if we're lucky, will be a revival of a seemingly outdated concept: civility.
"This is a highly rare occurrence," a Rutgers University official said about Clementi, the freshman who committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another student, Molly Wei, streamed his hookups with other men across the campus. They have been charged with invasion of privacy.
The events leading to Clementi's suicide unfolded online, starting with a computer camera and Ravi's Twitter account, through which he invited other students to watch, and ending with Clementi's Facebook message, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry." There also appears to be evidence of Clementi's anguish at the gay site JustUsBoys.
Gawker posted messages left by a user calling himself "cit2mo," who describes a situation very similiar to Clementi's: "the other night I had a guy over," he wrote, "[My roommate] tweeted I was using the room …And that he went into somebody else's room and remotely turned on his webcam." The reaction, according to cit2mo, was not good: repulsed people commented on the roommate's profile asking, "How did you manage to go back in there?"
The user cit2mo, whose postings match the time line of Clementi's struggle, goes on to discuss how he felt the entire thing was homophobic: "I feel like it was 'look at what a fag my roommate is'… And the fact that the people he was with saw my making out with a guy as the scandal, whereas, I mean come on, he was SPYING ON ME… Do they see nothing wrong with this?"
Sadly, too many people would focus on the "negative" aspect of gay sex, rather than the malicious invasion of privacy.
Cyber-bullying remains a persistent problem in America: over 40% of teenagers report being bullied online. As our lives become even more intertwined with the internet, age old homophobia will only continue to fester in virtual realms.
Just look at the Andrew Shirvell case: his own boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, calls him a cyber bully, again against a gay person. That doesn't mean, of course, that bullying doesn't exist in the real world, too.
In addition to showing the dangers of cyber-bullying, Clementi's story, rare for all the attention it has received in mainstream media, shows the dangerous repercussions of homophobia, something we all saw this week with the deaths of Asher Brown and Seth Walsh, both of whom committed suicide.
Clementi's life and death come just as Rutger's University launches its Project Civility, a series of lectures and discussions that intends to create a "more charitable campus culture" and provide an "ongoing inquiry about the nature of true respect for others."
In light of Clementi's suicide, unique, yet involving so many ubiquitous, oft-ignored themes – cyber-bullying, homophobia and suicide – Rutger's announced they will incorporate his story into Project Civility's programming. Hopefully all the attention will help spread civility to the general public, too, for they must sit up and realize that seemingly minor jabs or taunts, online or off, are fueling a crisis that's claiming lives.