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The Tragedy of the Student Who Killed Himself After Roomate Livestreamed His Sexual Encounter With Another Man

This post first appeared on Shakesville. [Trigger warning for sexual assault, homophobia, and suicide.] By now, you've probably heard the details of the terrible incident at Rutgers University, in which 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and a friend secretly filmed and live-streamed Clementi making out with another young man. Naturally, a lot of people have reasonably concluded that the "merry pranksters" who broadcast Clementi's private sexual acts, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, were homophobic. But a longtime friend of Ravi's says this is not true:
[Michael Zhuang told ABC News] the media portrayals of Ravi as possibly homophobic or a serious prankster are not true. "I'm in shock, I didn't expect this to happen and I am just speechless. He's normally very nice and I don't think that this is a representation of him," said Zhuang. "He's very very open minded and he, like if it had been a girl in the room it wouldn't have been any different," he said.
See that? Ravi isn't homophobic; he's an equal opportunity sexual assaulter. Oh, pardon me: An equal opportunity privacy-invader. Ravi and Wei "have been charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy." You know you're living in a rape culture when the proffered evidence of someone's decency and open-mindedness is that he'd have callously violated his roommate's privacy if he'd been intimate with a girl, too. Naturally, the phrase "if it had been a girl in the room it wouldn't have been any different" is absurd for another reason: It might not have been any different for Ravi (a dubious claim in the first place, frankly), but it certainly made a world of difference to his victim, by virtue of the fact that we live in an institutionally homophobic culture where straight people generally needn't worry about violent retribution or familial ostracization or any of the other potential consequences many gay/bi men and women might face after evidence of their sexuality is broadcast to the world. The things Clementi evidently feared enough to take his own life.