18 year old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi shocked America last week when he tragically ended his own life because of a gross invasion of his privacy. Clementi's college roommate Dharun Ravi and his friend Molly Wei videotaped Clementi having sex with another man in his dorm room. The students then posted the video online. Whether it was a hate crime or a college prank, the video had tragic consequences. On the night of September 22 Clementi took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
This tragedy has been viewed as a call to arms by many. MTV news, Ellen Degeneres, former NSync star Lance Bass, and How I Met You Mother star Neil Patrick Harris are speaking out about their views on the situation. On her show on Friday, Ellen stated "My heart is breaking for their families, for their friends and for our society that continues to let this happen . . . We can't let intolerance and ignorance take another kid's life."
The mother of Matthew Shepard spoke to CBS news, explaining how Clementi's death has brought back Matthew's death. Shepard was an openly gay student from the University of Wyoming. He was brutally murdered at the age of 21 twelve years ago by two men because of his sexuality. Following her son's disturbing murder, Judy Shepard has become an activist for gay youth. She has brought about The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands federal hate-crime laws to include crimes movitivated by a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Shepard's parents have also founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation to "combat hate and intolerance."
The unfortunate events of last week are a chance for us as a nation to rethink our view of privacy and come to terms with our growing problems with homophobia as a culture. In fact, even here at URI we are experiencing concerns about this issue. Beginning at midnight last Wednesday, about a dozen of URI's GLBT center began a peaceful sit-in at the 24hour room in the library. The students had a list of seven demands, including a new GLBT center, increased funding, and sensitivity training for faculty and RA's. The students ended their sit-in after a week and a day of their peaceful protest. An agreement was reached and the students goals were met, reported president of the gay-straight alliance Brian Stack. It was agreed that more sensitivity training for students, staff and faculty would be added to the University, GLBT students will be given a voice on several university committees, the schedule for adding a chief diversity officer to the administration and another staff member to the GLBT Center will be accelerated, Ruggles House on Upper College Road will be turned into the group’s new center and have apartments available to rent, numbers rather than names will be used to identify cases referred to the Bias Response Team, and an advisory commission will be created to explore and advocate for LGBT issues. Across America, people are becoming more informed and sensitive to issues such as these.