Tyler Clementi’s roommate indicted on 15 counts

Tyler Clementi

Prosecutors in New Jersey released an indictment claiming that Tyler Clementi’s roommate at Rutgers University, Dharun Ravi, destroyed evidence and sent false tweets in the days after Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge, according to ABC News.

Ravi secretly videotaped Clementi having sex with another man last fall and streamed the video live on the Internet, which led Clementi to commit suicide.

Ravi has been indicted on 15 counts, including charges of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and tampering with evidence by a Middlesex County grand jury. Prosecutors claim Ravi videotaped Clementi’s sexual encounter and streamed it online for the purpose of intimidating Clementi because he was gay. Then when Clementi died and Ravi started worrying that he might be charged with a crime over the incident, prosecutors say, Ravi sent false tweets and tried to delete tweets from his Twitter feed to mislead investigators.

Prosecutors also say Ravi tried to convince other students not to testify against him.

Ravi’s alleged accomplice, Rutgers student Molly Wei, also faces possible charges, but evidence against her has not yet been presented to the grand jury.

—  admin

Tyler Clementi’s parents say they don’t want harsh punishment for classmates

Tyler Clementi

Associated Press

NEWARK, New Jersey — The parents of a university student who killed himself after authorities said his intimate encounter with a man was captured by a webcam want his classmates’ invasion-of-privacy cases prosecuted, but they don’t want them to receive harsh punishment.

Tyler Clementi’s parents, Jane and Joseph Clementi, issued a statement Tuesday, six months after he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey and New York.

“The past six months have been the most difficult and painful of our lives,” they said. “We have done our best to deal with the grief and pain of the death of our son Tyler, in awful circumstances while dealing with the crush of media attention, the pending criminal investigations and, of course, our own unanswered questions.”

The Clementis have not granted any interviews, but have released a few statements to reporters. The latest one was sent first to The Star-Ledger of Newark.

Clementi’s roommate at Rutgers University, Dharun Ravi, and classmate Molly Wei are each charged with two counts of invasion of privacy. Authorities said that last September, they used a webcam to watch part of Clementi’s encounter with another man. Within days, Clementi killed himself.

Family attorney Paul Mainardi said the Clementis feel it’s important to establish it was not “a college prank.”

Gay rights and anti-bullying groups seized on the suicide and made it a symbol of the movement to take bullying, particularly of young gay people, seriously.

The charges against Ravi and Wei do not link the alleged spying to Clementi’s suicide.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has weighed additional bias intimidation charges, but no decision on those more serious charges has been announced. Mainardi said he believes the investigation is substantially complete.

Lawyers for the students, both of whom have since withdrawn from Rutgers, have said their clients are not guilty of any crimes. The lawyers did not immediately return calls on Tuesday.

The fallout from the case has been immense. The Point, a scholarship-granting group based in Los Angeles, has announced a scholarship in Clementi’s memory.

The Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and the Bergen Youth Orchestra, where Clementi, a violinist, had been a member, have had performances in his memory and named concertmaster chairs after him.

His parents say they are also starting a foundation that would raise public awareness of bullying, assist vulnerable young people and encourage research and awareness of the effects of electronic media.

Rutgers has decided to allow men and women to be roommates in parts of certain dorms — largely as a way to make gay, lesbian and transgender students more comfortable.

And celebrities from President Barack Obama to entertainer Ellen DeGeneres have campaigned publicly against bullying.

—  John Wright

Rutgers to offer co-ed dorms in response to gay student Tyler Clementi’s suicide

Associated Press

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — New Jersey’s flagship state university has decided to allow male and female students to share rooms in three dorms in an effort to make the campus more inclusive for gay students after a highly publicized suicide last year.

Starting this fall, all students — whether gay, lesbian, transgender or heterosexual — can choose either male or female roommates under the pilot program. Men and women will share bathrooms.

A similar, but smaller, pilot program is being launched at the Newark campus.

A number of other schools, including the University of Maryland, New York’s Columbia University and Washington’s George Washington University, offer similar housing options, according to the National Student Genderblind Campaign.

The organization is pressing for more programs like them, saying they’re a way for students to have roommates they’re comfortable with.

Rutgers got wide attention last year after freshman Tyler Clementi killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. Authorities say that days before, his roommate in a dorm used a webcam to capture Clementi during an intimate encounter with another man.

The roommate and a third freshman have been charged with invasion of privacy in the case. Their lawyers say they’re not guilty of any crimes.

Gay student groups have pushed for Rutgers to be friendlier to gay, lesbian and transgender students — including by offering gender-neutral housing — since Clementi’s death.

—  John Wright

Top 10: Teen suicides put spotlight on bullying

Flash1
NOT FORGOTTEN | Suicide victims, back from left, Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas, and front from left, Raymond Chase, Zach Harrington, Asher Brown and Tyler Clementi. (Kevin Thomas/Dallas Voice)

No. 1:

View all of the Top 10

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve heard the adage practically all our lives, but 2010 proved beyond any doubt that words can, indeed, be lethal, as a wave of teen suicides grabbed headlines and focused attention on an epidemic of anti-gay bullying in schools.

And for the first time, it seemed, mainstream America came to terms with the reality of statistics showing that LGBT youth are three to four times more likely to take their own lives than their straight peers.

On Sept. 28, media across the country picked up the story of Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from Houston who days before shot himself to death with his stepfather’s gun. That same day came word that Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from Tehachapi, Calif., had died after spending nine days on life support after he hung himself in his own backyard. Both boys endured months of anti-gay bullying at school, and both families said officials had ignored their repeated pleas for action. But by the time candlelight vigils took place around the country in memory of the victims, two more names had been added to the list: 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Ind., committed suicide after months of being bullied at school; and 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another student secretly videotaped him having sex with another man and broadcast it on the Internet. On Sept. 29, 19-year-old Raymond Chase hung himself in his dorm room at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Then there was Cody J. Barker, 17, of Wisconsin, who died Sept. 13; Harrison Chase Brown, 15, of Colorado, who died Sept. 25; Felix Sacco, 17, of Massachusetts who died Sept. 29, and Caleb Nolt, 14, of Indiana, who died Sept. 30.

Finally, there was Zach Harrington, 19, of Norman, Okla. Harrington’s family said the young man had attended a Sept. 28 City Council meeting that included a public hearing on a resolution to recognize October as LGBT history month. A number of residents attended to speak out against the ordinance — which was eventually passed by the council — and Harrington’s parents said their son was so hurt by the hateful rhetoric that seven days later he took his own life.

Gay journalist and blogger Dan Savage had already started an online video project called the “It Gets Better Campaign,” in which people of all ages, from rock stars and actors to government officials to other gay teens sitting in front of their computers in their bedrooms, told their own stories of overcoming struggles and surviving to see their lives get better. They urged young people considering suicide to hang on and not give up hope.

Then on Oct. 12, one week after Harrington’s death, gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns took time during a meeting to address the issue. His voice choked and strained with emotion, tears running down his face, Burns read a speech he had scribbled down hastily during his lunch hour that day. He told of growing up gay in Crowley, Texas, and the bullying he endured, and how he, too, had come close to taking his own life.

But, Burns said, “It gets better,” and he continued by talking about how he had survived and thrived, about his loving family, his husband and how wonderful his life has become.

By the next morning, video of Burns’ speech had been posted to YouTube and was collecting thousands of hits. And Burns was invited to appear on The Today Show, Ellen and more. He had become the face of efforts to end the bullying and save young lives.

Around the same time, the Dallas school board began discussing how to improve its own anti-bullying policy. Activists noted that while most of the suicides making headlines involved LGBT youth, the district’s proposed new policy didn’t specifically protect those young gays, lesbians and transgenders.

Meanwhile, Andy Moreno, a female transgender student at North Dallas High School, was fighting to run for homecoming queen.

Moreno had been nominated by classmates, but school administrators said she couldn’t run because she was officially enrolled as a boy.

Although Moreno herself said she hadn’t experienced bullying by her classmates, LGBT advocates pointed out that she was being bullied by administrators because of her gender identity, and that school district policies did not specifically protect her.

On Nov. 18 the DISD board approved a fully inclusive new anti-bullying policy. Officials with the Fort Worth Independent School District announced that they, too, would be revising their policies to specifically protect LGBT teens.

As December began, State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth announced she had prefiled legislation to address bullying in the state’s public schools, and that unlike a similar bill prefiled in the house by Rep. Mark Strama, her bill was fully inclusive of LGBT teens.

On Dec. 16, Equality Texas held a press conference in Austin, releasing results of a poll on LGBT rights that showed nearly 80 percent of Texans support inclusive anti-bullying legislation.

Chuck Smith, Equality Texas’ deputy director, said that anti-bullying bills had been introduced in the Legislature each session since 1997 but none of the measures had ever passed. But this time, as the death toll has continued to rise and the country has been forced to acknowledge the ongoing damage, Smith said he believes inclusive anti-bullying legislation has its best chance ever of passing in Texas.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

2 arrested in anti-gay beating at famed gay bar

JENNIFER PELTZ  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — A patron at the Stonewall Inn, a powerful symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was tackled to the floor and beaten in an anti-gay bias attack over the weekend, authorities said Monday, Oct. 4.

Two men were arrested in the early Sunday beating, which came little more than a day after a group of male friends bidding an affectionate good night to each other were attacked in another anti-gay assault elsewhere in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

The attacks came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month, including a New Jersey college student’s Sept. 22 plunge off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online.

But the attack prosecutors described at the Stonewall Inn especially galled and saddened gay rights advocates, some of whom wondered whether a place known for a defining moment in the history of gay rights might spur a new push for tolerance.

For the Stonewall’s owners, the episode was a sharp and upsetting contrast to its legacy.

“We at the Stonewall Inn are exceedingly troubled that hate crimes like this can and do still occur in this day and age. Obviously the impact of these men’s violent actions is even deeper given that it occurred on the premises of the Stonewall Inn,” an owner, Bill Morgan, wrote in an e-mail.

The victim was using a restroom at the Greenwich Village bar around 2 a.m. local time Sunday when a man at the next urinal, Matthew Francis, asked what kind of an establishment it was, prosecutors said. On being told it was a gay bar, Francis used an anti-gay slur and told the victim to get away from him, assistant district attorney Kiran Singh said.

“I don’t like gay people. Don’t pee next to me,” Francis added, according to the prosecutor.

Francis, 21, then demanded money, punched the victim in the face and continued beating him after a co-defendant blocked the door, tackled the victim and held him down, Singh said. The victim was treated at a hospital and was released, she said.

Francis said nothing at his arraignment Monday. A defense lawyer said that Francis wasn’t the aggressor and that the episode wasn’t motivated by bias.

“Mr. Francis is not a violent person. Nor did he try to rob anyone,” said the attorney, Angel Soto. “There may have been a fight, but it certainly wasn’t a hate crime.”

Francis was held on $10,000 bond. His co-defendant was awaiting arraignment.

Just before midnight Friday, Oct. 1 several male friends hugging and kissing each other good night in Manhattan’s gay-friendly Chelsea neighborhood were confronted by a group of more than five people who used an anti-gay epithet and told them to go home because “this is our neighborhood,” according to a court document filed by prosecutors. Two other men lashed out with fists as Andrew Jackson hurled a metal garbage can into one victim’s head, prosecutors said.

Jackson, 20, was arraigned over the weekend on hate crime assault and other charges. His lawyer, Anne Costanzo, declined to comment Monday.

The Stonewall Inn became a rallying point for gay rights in June 1969, when a police raid sparked an uprising in an era when gay men and women were often in the shadows. Stonewall patrons fought with officers, and several days of demonstrations followed, in an outpouring that became a formative moment in the gay rights movement.

“The riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day,” President Barack Obama said at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception at the White House in June 2009.

The Stonewall riots’ influence also is reflected in the names of some gay resource organizations, including student groups at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

For the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others, assaults like this weekend’s remain all too common problems. But the attack at the Stonewall Inn reverberates with a particularly disturbing resonance, executive director Sharon Stapel said.

“Even in a bar like the Stonewall Inn, which started a huge part of the gay rights movement — even the Stonewall Inn is not immune to this sort of violence, despite all of the work that they do to create a safe and tolerant atmosphere,” Stapel said. “It’s incredibly sad.”

But she said she hoped the incident and the atmosphere of concern about anti-gay harassment would spark new conversations about how to respond.

The Stonewall Inn has raised money for the Anti-Violence Project and other groups, and managers strive to make the bar inclusive, Morgan said.

“We do our best to run a nice, welcoming establishment where anyone can and should feel safe,” he said.

—  John Wright

Rutgers holds vigil for gay student who killed self

Tyler Clementi

Associated Press

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Rutgers University held a silent vigil Sunday night to remember a student who committed suicide after his sexual encounter with a man in his dormitory room was secretly streamed online.

The tribute to 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi drew a few hundred people, many holding candles, to the school’s campus in New Brunswick.

While some area religious officials briefly addressed the crowd during the hour-long vigil, few words were spoken by the participants. Most in attendance took the time to reflect on what had happened to Clementi, sharing hugs and holding hands with others in a show if unity.

Among those attending was Rutgers student Julie Burg, who said she wanted to spread the message that help is available for students in crisis.

“There are many groups anywhere you go to that could help support you,” Burg told WCBS-TV in New York.

Burg was joined at the vigil by her mother, Annmarie Burg, who was saddened by the events leading to Clementi’s death.

“It had to take such an unfortunate incident like this to create, probably, an even larger awareness,” the mother said.

Prosecutors say Clementi’s roommate and another student used a webcam to broadcast on the Internet live images of Clementi having the intimate encounter.

Clementi, a promising violinist, jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River three days later. His body was identified Thursday.

Rutgers President Richard McCormick said the vigil was an opportunity for students and staff to come together and “reaffirm our commitment to the values of civility, dignity, compassion and respect.”

The vigil was the latest in a series of remembrances for Clementi at the university that included the establishment of a Facebook group, In Honor of Tyler Clementi.

On Friday, students wore black and were encouraged to leave flowers or mementoes at a makeshift memorial for Clementi. The Rutgers Glee Club marched to the memorial and performed a rendition of “Rutgers Prayer,” which is traditionally sung when an important member of the Rutgers community dies or a tragedy happens at the university.

On Saturday, the school had a moment of silence for Clementi before the start of its homecoming football game against Tulane.

Clementi’s death was one of a string of suicides last month involving teens believed to have been victims of anti-gay bullying. On Friday, more than 500 people attended a memorial service for Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old central California boy who hanged himself after enduring taunts from classmates about being gay.

—  John Wright

Judy Shepard statement on gay-bullying suicides

There’s a national conference call under way as we write this to coordinate vigils in honor of the four gay-bullying suicides of the last three weeks. Since we’re not taking part in the call, we figured we’d share this statement that just came across from Judy Shepard. We’ll update you on any plans for local vigils as soon as they’re announced. Shepard is, of course, the mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998. Here’s her statement:

Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide

Our family, and the staff and board at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, are all deeply saddened by the devastating report of at least the fourth gay or gay-perceived teen to commit suicide in this country in the last month.

Reports say that Tyler Clementi, 18, leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge near his New Jersey college campus after a roommate allegedly broadcast him in a same-sex encounter behind closed doors in his dorm room, and apparently invited others, via Twitter, to view it online. Regardless of his roommate’s alleged tweet, Tyler had apparently made no statement about his own sexual orientation. I’m sure we will all learn more about this terrible tragedy as legal proceedings unfold, but the contempt and disregard behind such an invasion of privacy seems clear. In the meantime, we send our thoughts and prayers to Tyler’s family as they mourn their loss.

In the last month there has been a shocking series of teen suicides linked to bullying, taunting, and general disrespect regarding sexual orientation, in every corner of America. Just a few days ago, Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., passed away after 10 days on life support after he hanged himself. Police say he had been mercilessly taunted by fellow students over his perceived sexual orientation.

Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself a few weeks ago at his Indiana home after years of reported harassment by students who judged him to be gay. Asher Brown, a 13-year-old in Harris, TX, who had recently come out, took his life with a gun after, his parents say, their efforts to alert school officials to ongoing bullying were not acted upon.

Many Americans also learned this week about Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old boy in Ohio who decided to join a cheerleading squad that had been all-female. As a gymnast, he was interested in the athletic elements of cheering. He was taunted with homophobic remarks and had his arm broken by two schoolmates who apparently assumed him to be gay. He told “Good Morning America” that since returning to school, he’s been threatened with having his other arm broken, too.

Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Suicide is a complicated problem and it is too easy to casually blame it on a single factor in a young person’s life, but it is clear that mistreatment by others has a tremendously negative effect on a young person’s sense of self worth and colors how he or she sees the world around them. Parents, educators and peers in the community need to be vigilant to the warning signs of suicide and other self-destructive behaviors in the young people in their lives, and help them find resources to be healthy and productive. We urge any LGBT youth contemplating suicide to immediately reach out to The Trevor Project, day or night, at (866) 4-U-TREVOR [866-488-7386].

Judy Shepard
President, Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors
September 29, 2010

—  John Wright

Did Chef Gordon Ramsay’s harsh criticism drive Oak Cliff’s Rachel Brown to suicide in 2007?

Rachel Brown

More than three years ago we published this short story about the apparent suicide of Rachel Brown, an Oak Cliff-based personal chef who’d been a contestant on the Fox reality show Hell’s Kitchen.

This Tuesday, we noticed that for some strange reason, our story about Brown’s death was experiencing a remarkable surge in online readership (with now more than 3,000 page views in the last two days). When we looked into it, we discovered that the main “entry source” for recent readers of the story is the Google search phrase, “Rachel Brown Hell’s Kitchen.” But why, we wondered, is everyone all of a sudden searching this? Well, for one thing the new season of Hell’s Kitchen began last week. But a much bigger factor has surely been this story from CBS News, prompted by the recent suicide of another cooking show contestant:

Joseph Cerniglia, 39, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., apparently leaped to his death yesterday from the George Washington Bridge, the New York Post reported. The owner of a restaurant in suburban New York, Cerniglia had appeared in 2007 on “Kitchen Nightmares,” a show that subjected struggling restaurateurs to harsh criticism from English foodie Gordon Ramsay.

In 2007, 41-year-old Rachel Brown reportedly shot herself to death after appearing on “Hell’s Kitchen,” another show that featured Ramsay.

Ramsay is famously tough on contestants.

“Your business is about to f – - king swim down the Hudson,” Ramsay told Cerniglia, the married father of three, according to the Daily Mail.

Does that kind of talk drive people to kill themselves?

Probably not, says the former president of the American Academy of Suicidology, Dr. Robert Yufit.

“My guess is that both of these people had major problems before appearing on the show,” Yufit told CBS News. “I would almost bet that the show itself should not be held responsible. I would say say that the show might have tripped off something else that was going on in their lives.

—  John Wright