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Monday 10 October 2011

The tragedy of Tyler Clementi

Posted in: Health & HIV
By Craig Young - 6th October 2010

Tyler Clementi
Tyler Clementi was a year younger than mine and my partner's own daughter, Nat. I think that's why this tragedy has affected me so deeply. What does the background tell us about LGBT youth suicide?

Tyler was a first-year student at Rutgers University, New Jersey. He committed suicide on September 22nd, 2010. His death reinforces persistently expressed concerns and research about the context of gay youth suicide in both the United States and New Zealand, which often involves antigay bullying, harassment and development of depression. Any teenage suicide is a tragic waste. Tyler was a violinist and had played in two local symphony orchestras at high school.

At a time when UniQ, the New Zealand University Students Association and other student representatives are expressing concern about National and ACT's dogged determination to ignore the overwhelming majority of submissions against Roger Douglas' anti-student union bill, this is a stark reminder of what could happen to vulnerable LGBT youth at tertiary institutions if this foolhardy bill goes ahead.

I am not sure whether Rutgers University had its own comprehensive student union, but Clementi complained to a resident assistant three times about the inappropriate and illegal behaviour of hall of residence inhabitant Molly Wei and particularly, his roommate Dharun Ravi. Ravi videoed Clementi having sex with other men repeatedly, despite the fact that that illegal and non-consensual sex videotaping carries at least a five year prison sentence under New Jersey criminal law. It was allowed to continue, however, with tragic consequences. Ravi was arrested and is now awaiting trial for his role in this tragedy.

New Jersey's Governor, Rutgers University, the US Human Rights Campaign, LGBT youth advocacy group GLSEN and Ellen De Generes have all expressed sadness at this tragedy. So, what is the current condition of US youth suicide prevention services insofar as LGBT adolescents are concerned? Not good. Due to the malignant geriatric bigot South Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, the Report of the Secretary's Task Force into Youth Suicide (1989) was suppressed, although later reprinted by Gary Remafedi and Alyson Press in 1994. In New Zealand, Barry Taylor did valuable work on the subject for the National Youth Council back in 1989. LGBT youth were more than four times likelier to commit suicide, suffer from ancillary undiagnosed depression and substance abuse problems according to US research.

What role did social networking sites, play in the tragedy of Tyler Clementi's suicide? Writing in AOL News, Adam Hanft worried that with nearly instantaneous communication technologies like social networking sites, the absence of time delay means that impulsive behaviour can have highly destructive and disproportionate consequences. As it did in this instance. It has now destroyed one young life and may scar the perpetrators of the bullying and harrassment that led him to take his life.


Barry Taylor: Gay and Lesbian Youth Services in New Zealand: A Discussion Paper: Wellington: Youth Mental Health Project, National Youth Council: 1989.

Gary Remafedi (ed) Death by Denial: Studies of Suicide in Gay and Lesbian Teenagers: Boston: Alyson: 1994.

Adam Hanft: "Opinion: How Social Media Killed Tyler Clementi" AOL News: 01.10.2010:

Watch the response of Ellen De Generes to Clementi's death below:

Craig Young - 6th October 2010

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