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Ravi Finds Unlikely Defenders: Gay Activists

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday April 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."