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Monday, September 19, 2016

State v. Dharun Ravi: A Culture of Homophobia

Dharun Ravi existed in and contributed to a suffocating culture of homophobia. It helped keep Tyler Clementi in the closet and devalued Tyler's life to the point where Mr. Ravi and his friends consciously or subconsciously felt that Tyler did not deserve a right to privacy. This is the context in which LGBTQ individuals (and many women and other marginalized groups) live: they are seen as "less than" and less deserving of equal rights. For many, it is easy to harass them, assault them, ignore their protests, and invade their privacy because their second-class status means they don't really exist as fully realized humans. The cavalier way in which Mr. Ravi and his friends approached invading Tyler's privacy contrasts with the particularly grave consequences of "outing": openly gay individuals face latent and overt discrimination in society that could make coming out terrifying and dangerous.

There were several pieces of evidence to show that Mr. Ravi himself was explicitly uncomfortable with gay people. When he heard that his roommate might be gay, he texted to a friend, "Fuck my life. He's gay" (8). He tweeted a sarcastic "yay" after seeing Tyler make out with another man on September 19 (12). His sent a dismissive tweet--"they're at it again"--on September 21. He was "shocked" at what he saw when he spied on Tyler on September 19 (20) and did not want to go back to the room afterward, suggesting he was creeped out or that there was something dirty about what Tyler did (20).

Mr. Ravi also participated in a particularly nasty homophobic exchange with a high school friend.

M.H.: hahahahha your gay roomie that. . . did you really see him make out with some guy lmao

DEFENDANT: Yeahh omg [M.W.] saw it too. He was older and creepy and def from the internet

M.H.: that's so nastyyy ew watch out he might come for you when you're sleeping! hahaha jk

DEFENDANT: Omg everyone keeps telling me that. I haven't seen him since then

M.H.: hahaha good luck with thatt

DEFENDANT: He just texted me asking when I was coming home omg.

M.H.: maybe his gay friend is in your Ed bed*

DEFENDANT: I set my computer to alert me if anyone is in it when I'm not there LOL

M.H.: really?? how lmao that's so cool

DEFENDANT: My webcam checks my bed hahaha. I got so creeped out after sunday

M.H.: hahaha that's so crazy

DEFENDANT: Yeah keep the gays away

M.H.: I saw a lesbian Asian couple today but they were like nerdy fobby asian and it was gross

DEFENDANT: Ewwww. When we were in ny we saw two guys making out on a stoop

M.H.: NY that's pretty normal though hahha one of my friends is this gay Asian guy who has his ear pierced lol I mean bellybutton pierced*

In addition to this evidence suggesting that Mr. Ravi looked down on gays and contributed to the culture of homophobia at Rutgers, there is even more evidence that Mr. Ravi knew that antigay stigma permeated his group of friends. His friends said they were "shocked" and that it was "scandalous" two men would make out with each other (11, 14). One called it "weird" (11). Everyone was gossiping and laughing about it (14). There were at least 6 people who were gossiping and whispering and pointing to the man with whom Tyler hooked up (26). One student tried to brag that being told Tyler was gay "should have fazed" her (18).

Perhaps most indicative of the fact that a culture of homophobia contributes to a devaluing of gays lives is that everyone thought what Tyler was doing in his dorm room was their business. Mr. Ravi's friends wanted to "grab a glimpse" (19). They were "curious" (14). Mr. Ravi thought nothing of purposely positioning his webcam to focus on Tyler's bed (10, 19) and tweeting out invitations to his friends to watch the sexual encounter (18, 20). And his only response to a friend asking if Mr. Ravi actually spied on Tyler was "LOL" (23).

By the end of this story, more than 18 people knew that Tyler was gay and that Mr. Ravi could spy on him. This number included Ravi's friends from high school (7-8, 21), a young woman across the hall (9), her boyfriend at another school (12), her roommate (13), a friend from class (13-14), friends of the young woman's roommate (14), other friends from college (17, 19), and the members of Mr. Ravi's ultimate frisbee team (20, 21). When Tyler found out that Mr. Ravi had been spying on him, it would be hard for him to deny that his secret was out. He decided to commit suicide shortly thereafter.

Mr. Ravi cannot be directly blamed for Tyler's suicide. But the homophobic context in which he acted and to which he contributed should be relevant when considering both the gravity of the invasion of privacy and Mr. Ravi's state of mind. Mr. Ravi remained willfully blind to the consequences of his actions.

Should willful ignorance of the effects of invading the sexual privacy of a closeted gay person should be enough for sentence enhancement? That is clearly not the way the New Jersey statute invalidated in Pomianek was written; that statute made the state of mind of the defendant irrelevant. But could a re-written statute include both intentional targeting and willful ignorance of the effects of such targeting? Antigay bias is not just using antigay rhetoric--"I hate gays" or "Gays deserve to die"--and then purposefully acting on those impulses. Antigay bias includes contributing to a culture of homophobia that devalues the lives of gay persons. 

What do you think about an antibias sentence enhancement provision that gets triggered either when someone purposely acts to discriminate on someone's identity or when someone acts with reckless disregard for the discriminatory consequences of his or her actions?

Posted by Ari Ezra Waldman on September 19, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Information and Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink

Comments

Leaving aside the obvious free speech issues, do we really want to criminalize the infantile banter that is exemplified by the quoted exchange? Isnt this proposal just "Broken Windows" on steroids? Just as graffiti and fare jumping supposedly leads to a culture of criminality, here the comments of Mr. Ravi and his friends "contributed to the culture of homophobia."

Not everything that incrementally contributes to a negative outcome should be criminalized.

Posted by: gdanning | Sep 19, 2016 11:58:55 AM

I wonder whether this should affect how colleges assign roommates?

Posted by: Brian L. Frye | Sep 19, 2016 1:10:16 PM

"It helped keep Tyler Clementi in the closet and devalued Tyler's life to the point where Mr. Ravi and his friends consciously or subconsciously felt that Tyler did not deserve a right to privacy."

Evidently in Mr. Waldman's mind, Tyler Clementi was 'in the closet' because he did not go running up and down the halls clad in jock-strap and shaving cream screeching 'I'm gay'. That his homosexuality was not the least bit confidential seems not to impinge on Mr. Waldman's evaluation.

Mr. Waldman's either very distant in time from the thought-world of adolescents or he has a very poor memory. Clementi's roommate pranked him and some chums of Molly Wei had a brief look at the half-nekkid Clementi and his assignation via a web cam. They're not doing any conceptual thinking about his 'right to privacy'. They are ogling a spectacle. (And, while we're at it, college dorms are suboptimal loci to enjoy a 'right to privacy', another feature of how adolescents interact).


"Perhaps most indicative of the fact that a culture of homophobia contributes to a devaluing of gays lives i"

Strange as it may seem to you, not everyone adheres to the view that homosexuality is something precious or that bringing a scruffy 31 year old man to your dorm room in order to sodomize him is without its amusing or gross moments.

Posted by: Art Deco | Sep 20, 2016 3:39:11 PM

"What do you think about an antibias sentence enhancement provision that gets triggered either when someone purposely acts to discriminate on someone's identity or when someone acts with reckless disregard for the discriminatory consequences of his or her actions?"

You seem to think your mascots are everyone' mascots, or are the mascots of anyone whose viewpoint is worth taking into account.

Tyler Clementi wasn't terribly well-equipped to cope with a social world where not everyone had the same regard for his sensiblities that his mother did, or the concatenation of events caught him in just the wrong way at the wrong time. Attempting to hyper-regulate mundane human relations to prevent exceedingly rare problems is likely to leave everyone worse off.

Posted by: Art Deco | Sep 20, 2016 3:44:46 PM

"I wonder whether this should affect how colleges assign roommates? "

He asked for a re-assignment, then jumped off the GW bridge before the RA could put that into effect.

Posted by: Art Deco | Sep 20, 2016 3:47:24 PM

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