Dharun Ravi gets 30 days – Is it enough?

Dharun Ravi, as you may recall, bullied Tyler Clementi before he killed himself. After the talented Rutger’s freshman jumped to his death it was discovered that Ravi had set up a webcam to catch Clementi in a romantic encounter with the mysterious MB. When Ravi found out there was to be a second date, he Tweeted about it, urging others to watch with him. In his last hours, Tyler Clementi’s computer shows he visited Ravi’s Twitter page thirty-seven (37) times before leaving Rutger’s campus and driving to the George Washington Bridge.
     On May 20th, the New York Times published 
In Rutgers Spying Case, Voices for Gay Rights Urge Leniency
 an article about certain gay activists who thought sending Dharun Ravi to prison would send the wrong message. Quoting the article: 

Dan Savage, a gay columnist whose video campaign, “It Gets Better,”began in response to other suicides of gay teenagers just before Mr. Clementi, 18, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, argued that simply locking up Mr. Ravi was a lost opportunity to talk about the other institutions and people “complicit” in Mr. Clementi’s death. 

“What was he told about being gay growing up, by his faith leaders, by the media, by the culture?” Mr. Savage said. “Ravi may have been the last person who made him feel unsafe and abused and worthless, but he couldn’t have been the first. 

“The rush to pin all the responsibility on Ravi and then wash our hands and walk away means we’re not going to learn the lessons of these kids.”

     The very next day, May 21, 2012, the sentence was announced, as reported by msnbc in their video: Rutgers Trial: Dharun Ravi Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail
     The outcry in the LGBT world was immediate: the system had failed Tyler Clementi and other bullied gay kids. A thirty day sentence wasn’t nearly long enough, given the severity of the crimes he was charged with, and ridiculous compared to standing convictions of similar charges.
     I’m an activist when it comes to LGBT bullying by kids and young adults, I’ve written three novels about it. And Dharun Ravi is guilty of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation – which means the jury was convinced that he bullied Tyler Clementi.
     A jury convicted him. He’s guilty – that’s now a fact no matter how often he says he’s not, unless another court overrules the finding of twelve honest Americans. How many times a day are the words, “But I didn’t do it on purpose,” heard in courthouses? Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and neither is disdain for human decency.
     The Superior court judge sentenced him to:

  1. 30 days in jail
  2. $10,000 to support groups for victims
  3. 300 hours of community service

1.  30 days in jail may be nothing to a hardened, serial bully who searches for targets, but it’s a daunting sentence for a young man in a foreign country who acted arrogantly, rashly, and childishly. He was probably more bi-curious than anything else. In this instance, whether he realized it or not, he was being a bully. 30 days in jail, the conviction on his permanent record, and a scandal that will haunt him for the rest of his life is a harsh sentence for a kid’s act of stupidity, but quite appropriate for an act of bullying by a young adult that included not only private voyeurism but also the intent to cyber bully by sharing other episodes live on the internet.

2.  $10,000 to support groups for victims of bias intimidation: That’s a lot of money. Period. I don’t care who you are, $10,000 is a lot of money. I hope his parents will make him pay them back every cent of it, but judging from the rather stereotypical Indian mother/son dynamic (Little Prince Syndrome) expressed in the courtroom, I doubt it very much. They will pay for everything and then spend more in trying to have his record expunged.

3.  And the REALLY BIG part of Judge Berman’s sentence: 300 hours of community service, much of it to be served with LGBT groups. This is the real wisdom of the bench’s decision. Yes, Ravi is guilty of bias intimidation, but he doesn’t really realize it – even now. He understands the legal term, he understands the social ramifications, and he thinks he understands the intent – but he doesn’t. Not yet.
     300 hours breaks down to 7.5 forty hour weeks. Whether he performs the better part of two months work all at once, or spreads it out over the course of time he’s been given, he will be deeply embedded in the culture fighting bigotry and arrogant disdain for human beings who are different. His arrogance will be shaken, if not outright destroyed, by what he learns. Dharun Ravi will come away a much better man for the experience.
     And isn’t that the point? Our courts are about Justice with a capital J, not vengeance dripping in blood and demanding it’s pound of flesh. Judge Berman has made a wise and fair decision that will force Dharun Ravi to come face to face with fear (jail time in a foreign country), make financial restitution to society ($10,000 worth), and finally be forced to learn about the very people he so casually disdained, face to face and upfront and personal. He will never look at or consider LGBT folks in the same way again.
     Until LGBT people are given equal rights and protections under the law, anti-LGBT bullying will happen. It’s human nature for some people to enjoy humiliating and degrading others. But cases such as this one are bricks that build a solid foundation of legal status. With each decision reaffirming LGBT rights as equal citizens, the day when true equality will be the law of the land.
     Tyler Clementi was bullied to death, but not ONLY at the hands of Dharun Ravi. He’d been bullied for years, and thought college would free him of it. When he found out the culture of bigotry was pervasive and systemic, he killed himself. Ravi was only the final straw. If Tyler had just held on a little longer, or taken a different approach to his arrogant, dismissive roommate, he would have found out that after you leave the ivy walls of education it really does get better for most LGBT people. Clementi’s artistry would have freed him, but he gave up and killed himself before learning that. He died at his own hand, of his own volition, and was not shoved off that bridge by anyone. He jumped.
          Ravi volunteered to start serving his 30 day jail term tomorrow, May 31, 2012, before the appeals made by both sides are heard. He has been lambasted on the world stage by news agencies hungry for blood, passionate activists, and furiously grieving family, and will be followed as a curiosity for some time to come. He’s been bullied by the press and others demanding he carry the total weight of human prejudice, and serve the time deserved by many. This privileged young man who came to one of America’s finest universities in search of a degree that would grant him status and control over others, has come face to face with American Justice, with a capital J. 
     Dharun Ravi will get what’s coming to him, and because of the wise Judge Berman he still has a chance to become a good, decent human being. And while Tyler Clementi will never have that chance, we must remember that he took his own life, and was not murdered. He was driven to despair by the cruelty of a culture that said he wasn’t as good as his roommate, and he believed it.
     We have to change the system, and to do that we must start rounding up other bullies and making them pay now, not after another tragic suicide.

7 year old hangs himself due to bullying

I was working on another post for Writing the Good Write, when this news came in from USA Today:

7-year-old boy’s suicide shocks Detroit community

The seven year old, who has not been named by the press, was bullied in school, an unsafe place that he most likely tried to avoid. When he couldn’t avoid it, he went knowing he would be humiliated, hurt, or furious by the time he got back.

But even his neighborhood wasn’t safe for this first or second grader. After school and on weekends, he was bullied. Being the only boy in a houseful of eight women was most likely the fodder of many unkind comments at the boy’s expense. It was for my brother and he only had four sisters.

His ‘safe’ world had shrunk from the big world of school, to the much smaller neighborhood where he lived. Now his world was reduced only to home, most likely the only place he’d been happy in a long time.

We don’t know his family dynamics, or his relationships with his parents, but I’m going on the assumption that he was welcome and loved, given security and offered help. I don’t believe this child was ignored or unloved. His home was probably his only haven in a storm of abuse from the outside world.

I’m not presuming to guess at the unthinkable reasons this youngster had for hanging himself, but it seems reasonable to me that his parents separating, thereby making his one last safe place no longer stable and secure, was the extra burden his small shoulders couldn’t carry. It’s a tragedy.

In July, look for the release of my book for young readers about bullying in elementary school: Riding the Rainbow. Use that book to start conversations with your children about bullying, and offer it to your local school or public library. Until then, reach out to the children you know, no matter how young they are, and talk with them about bullies and bullying, and the need to tell someone so that they can get help.

Together we will make bullying unacceptable, but until then we can provide support to the bullied. The more people address local schools about the issue, the better. The more libraries that have books like Riding the Rainbow to start dialogues, the more children we can reach, who will always start their own dialogues.

My heart aches for the parents, family, and friends of this child. His death has forever altered the paths of their lives. Each will carry scars into their own futures, and make choices differently than ever before.

This was one small boy in a fantastically huge and largely unaware world, his life and death easily ignored. But remember the words of the Scottish poet, John Donne:

No man is an island, entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory was.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

And me.

Was Romney a typical school bully? Is he still one today?

The Washington Post report on May 10th: Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents ignited a firestorm, especially coming, as it did, on the heels of President Obama’s May 9th personal endorsement of gay marriage.

Kathleen Parker, opinion writer of the Washington Post, states that it’s all a great fuss over nothing important. She suggests that since the word gay had not yet been appropriated by the homosexual culture and the movement had not yet begun, then there could have been no gay bullying.

Let’s examine her reasoning with an excerpt from her May 11th WP A gay marriage proclamation? Bullying? Much ado about the wrong things. column:

Briefly, as told by a handful of boarding-school classmates, Romney led a group of boys who tackled and held down John Lauber and cut his longish, blond hair. Romney allegedly didn’t like Lauber’s look and decided to fix it. The subtext is that since Lauber later came out as gay, Romney is a not-so-closeted gay-hater.

Tackled. Held down. Unless applied to sporting activity, those are bullying terms.  Romney didn’t like Lauber’s look and forcefully changed that look, without asking or receiving permission from Lauber. That’s bullying.

For those to the premises more recently arrived, a quick primer on 1965, when this occurred. Nobody knew who was or wasn’t “gay,” a word that wasn’t yet in popular circulation as a noun and generally meant “merry.” Homosexuality wasn’t on most high school kids’ radar, period. If anything, Romney may not have liked Lauber’s “hippie” locks, which is the more likely case given the era.

1965 was a time of repression and struggles for freedom. Civil rights for blacks dominated the liberal news, and the unpatriotic, war protesting hippies dominated conservative news. Gays were so repressed they didn’t even have an identity as a group yet, and that’s with anywhere from 2 to 10% of the population born LGBT. The lesbians and gay men of 1965 hid out in Mafia owned and controlled bars, subjected to police raids regularly. Many homosexual men were so ill informed about their natural sexual orientation that they bought into the societal references to them as Nancy boys, fairies, and poofs. Those terms were around, even if ‘gay’ wasn’t. And any school, and perhaps especially private schools, had plenty of awareness of homosexuals. That’s why the terms were considered so offensive, because they declared the receiver as less than, other, suspicious, and perverted.

Whatever. Lauber obviously was a nonconformist in an environment that valued conformity, and Romney and his crew were indeed bullies. They shouldn’t have done it, but boarding schools until recently were not widely known as incubators of sensitivity. Today, of course, prep schools feature weekly diversity seminars and offer staff psychiatrists for the noncompliant.

At least she admits Romney and crew were bullies, even if she then rushes in with the old tried and truthyisms: But everyone else was doing it too. and They’ve changed a lot since then. First of all, it takes a certain type of mentality to bully. Someone who’s mind jumps the fence and believes that one human being is inferior to another. Not everyone has that mentality. And second, if a school has made advancements in their social behavior and code of ethics, it certainly does not necessarily follow that any of the students taught in the offensive culture have done so.

But five decades later, this is a campaign issue in a presidential election? Lauber’s family doesn’t think it should be — and they may be the only people who count in this particular debate.

Um, no. I’m terribly sorry if they’re embarrassed by the story and the play it’s getting, but when Romney decided to run for president he opened up his entire history to public scrutiny. Now that we the public know that Lauber was bullied by a group led by ‘poor Mitt’ as Kathleen Parker calls him, every single one of us who has ever been bullied, or seen, or loved someone going through it, count in this particular debate.

The real story, meanwhile, is the one that keeps getting pushed aside, which is that the country is going bankrupt and that 32 percent of young people (ages 18 to 29) are underemployed

Ms. Parker has a point about the urgency of the country’s growth and employment. But she shouldn’t worry – the 99% know how to keep the country from going bankrupt, and stimulate the economy – tax the 1% at a fair rate. When the economy starts receiving a steady infusion of income taxes from the ultra wealthy and large corporations, real small businesses (not the large corporations who find loopholes to claim they’re small businesses) will begin to thrive again. Solutions are all around us, and just an election away.

But as long as we’re talking about things like gay marriage and contraception — all forced to the fore by Democrats, by the way — Americans can avert their gaze from the evolving economic collapse, which will be anything but gay.

Forced to the fore by the Democrats? Is she flippin’ kidding? It has been Republicans uniformly who routinely put bills on state ballots to limit the civil rights of LGBT folks. Election after election gay folks have been brought front and center to bang the drum call for the ultra conservatives to show up at the polls. It has been a calculated ploy to bully us as a people, to garner and demand the loyalty of the people who have now become known as the Tea Party. And when the ground swell of support for gay marriage began to breach the 50% approval rating, suddenly the Republican lawmakers’ focus was back on contraception and women’s reproductive rights, presenting restrictive bills as fast as they can.

Oh, and I see what she did there at the end, funny huh? The use of the word gay to mean merry, only it doesn’t, see, because the country is going to hell in a hand basket over a tempest in a TEApot.

So that’s my take on the last half of Ms. Parker’s article of May 11. But it does raise another question, which is:

As a political leader, what are the ramifications of Mitt Romney being a bully?

Hmm – a sense of justification for current bullies and those newly inspired to bully? A ‘sanctification’ of abuse? Might bullies find a sense of ‘entitlement’ to pursue their bullying, as after all, Mitt Romney does it? Will kids be telling each other the story of Romney and the queer, as boys of earlier eras told the tale of Washington and the cherry tree?

I think it’s possible. And to keep that from happening I write books like The Boxer Rebellion.

Zero Tolerance Doesn’t Work

I’ve known this for a long time: Zero Tolerance is no deterrent to anything – but perhaps especially bullying. Zero Tolerance is just code for intolerance with a ‘z’. And as we all know, the intolerance is too often directed at the person being bullied, rather than the bully.

In the following article, Carolyn Laub, founder of Gay-Straight Alliance Network, tells you exactly why it doesn’t work, and more importantly, offers another, and perhaps better, way to deal with school bullying. It takes so long for this kind of thing to filter into the schools, I hope her words will reach the eyes of educators far and wide.

Why Zero Tolerance is Not the Solution to School Bullying

Ho Mo Faux Be Uh

From the World English Dictionary:
homophobia, n. intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality.

Today, May 17, 2012 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and to start the conversation I’m going to share a segment from the first chapter of my new novel,  The Boxer Rebellion on the subject.

Summary:  Nick is a new junior at Tranquility High. His family moved over fifty miles to give him a fresh start, away from the bullying at his old school where he’d been labeled gay. He’s feeling awkward, but determined to fit in. Penny Papadopoulos is assigned by the Homeroom teacher to show Nick to his next class:

Standing in the hallway, they compared class lists. Although Nick was in math during first period, and Penny was in English, the room numbers were only three apart: 306 and 309. Together they headed for the stairs. He looked at her shyly out of the side of his eye, and found her doing the same to him. They both laughed and he knew he liked her already.
Jostling kids going up and down the echoing staircase made conversation difficult with so many different voices speaking at once. “Did you see the new boy yet?” he heard Angela O’Shea ask someone while walking ahead of them.
“What a good looking stud he is, huh?” answered Margaret, tossing her braids and pushing up her glasses. The two girls were a few steps above him, completely unaware he was following. Nick blushed deeply, having never received a compliment like that in his life; he owed it all to the clothes. He ran a hand through his hair, tousling it a little.
Nick was trying to think of something to say to Penny when she beat him to it. “Want to have lunch together? All juniors have fifth period lunch. We both have fourth period world history with Mr. K. again, so we could walk to the cafeteria together from there.”
“Sure!” said Nick, grateful and pleased. He smiled and relaxed slightly. Things were going better than he’d hoped. Three girls were all paying attention to him before he’d even gotten to first period; it was a new world and a new day. A real smile claimed his face, his first in months.
I can do this. I can make friends and fit in. Maybe even have a girlfriend.
He and Penny started down the hall checking room numbers until she found 306. The two stood together talking before she went in.
“What other classes do we have in common?” Nick was asking, looking down at his class list when he was suddenly pushed from behind, throwing him upon a very startled Penny. She shoved him back, away from her.
Time slowed down to a crawl. Nick watched Penny’s dark hair swing as she moved to the side, her eyes growing wide at what she saw behind him. Moving as if underwater, he turned to see who had pushed him. He came face to face with Julian Cain whose arm was pulled back, fist closed, grinning horribly and prepared to punch his lights out.
Impossible! He had left Julian and all his barbaric pals behind in Styxwater. This wasn’t happening. He must be hallucinating. It just could not happen!
But it did. Julian’s fist connected with Nick’s gut, knocking all the air out of him in a rush and leaving him gasping for breath. Julian laughed and sent a swiping kick to Nick’s knee, knocking him to the ground. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here, faggot?” he shouted as students gathered quickly, gesturing at Nick clutching his knee on the floor. “He’s a God damned cocksucker.”
This isn’t happening to me. He couldn’t have found me, why would he want to? This must be a nightmare, it just can’t be real. I’ll wake up any minute.
Nick tasted vomit rising. He felt faint and worried he’d just wet himself. He wished a big hole would open in the floor and swallow him up, but he knew from past experience it wouldn’t. He rose quickly to his good knee, watching for another kick.
Brent Howard heard a familiar voice right behind him shout “faggot” and “cocksucker”. He cringed, afraid to turn around.
It’s finally happened, someone’s figured it out.
It was his deepest, darkest fear coming true. Every muscle in his body locked rigidly in place and his thoughts slowed to a crawl. Only his breathing sped up.
As the laughter began he stared at the locker in front of him, paralyzed. Sweat beaded his brow while he listened to jeers growing louder and louder. He wanted to cover his ears to block out the sound, but he didn’t dare. The laughter grew even stronger, and now he felt the jostling of other students as they jockeyed to get a glimpse of the faggot cocksucker.
They aren’t looking at me. No one’s staring at me. They’re looking at someone else, laughing at someone else. A half second later his frozen muscles melted and he finally turned around. Relief flooded him as he saw over the heads and shoulders of the gathering crowd a skinny little guy, the ‘faggot cocksucker’, rising from the floor, brushing at new jeans.
He didn’t recognize him, but Brent knew his attacker; it was his younger cousin, Julian, who had moved in with his family to play hockey at Tranquility High. He’d been sharing Brent’s bedroom all summer, getting in early practices with Coach Morgensen’s yearly hockey camp. One day Julian was going to play for the U of M, and later with the Wild. It was all but a done deal.
Brent laughed uproariously along with everyone else at the homo his cousin had chosen to pick on. Look at him kneeling there, his face all red and trying desperately not to cry, the little wimp. Stupid pervert had it coming, they all did, those damned queers.
He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t gay. Brent felt his heartbeat slow and his breathing ease. He had to get control of himself; there was nothing for anyone to find out because he simply was not, once and for all, never had been and never would be, gay. He might think about good looking guys once in awhile and imagine what it might be like, but he’d certainly never done it. Thinking about doing something isn’t the same as actually doing it, right?
What a relief. What a close call.
Still on one knee, Nick’s vision swam as he gulped in air. This is not happening. I’m in a new town, a new school, on my way to my first class. Julian Cain cannot be here. He glanced over his shoulder at Penny and saw her shocked face staring back at him. He stood up and found his own fists clenched, never a good sign.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded of Julian. “You’re not supposed to be here!”
“Oh and why’s that?” Julian Cain sneered at Nick. “Did you think this was a school just for fags and dykes? Who is that girl you’re talking to, anyway? Couldn’t be your girlfriend, ‘cause you only go for guys.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” screamed Nick quickly losing control, his fists clenching in rhythm with his shouts. Then without warning, he launched himself at the bully.
Julian grinned triumphantly and held him at arm’s length as Nick started flailing in rage, his reach two inches shorter. “What’s the matter, queer boy? Thought you could hide the truth here, start over with your secret still intact? Not going to happen, fag. You’re a perv and these good people deserve to know about you.”
“You can’t be here. This isn’t happening. Go back to Styxwater, go home.” Tears washed down his cheeks. “You won, God damn it!” shouted Nick. “Leave me alone!” His fists struck only air, or glancing blows on the arm holding him at bay.
“Fuck you,” answered Julian. “Tranquility has a ranked hockey team, and they want me to play. I need a scholarship to U of M so here I am and there’s nothing you can do about it, fag.” He laughed as Nick’s swinging fists missed time after time. “You should have known you’ll never get away from me.”


To me, homophobia can be blatant, or on the down low, an insidious or in-your-face attitude, a whispered word, or a huge sign paraded in public. It’s ugly, it’s extremist, and it’s cruel.

And it ALWAYS leads to bullying.

What do you think?

Do we share responsibility for each other?

That used to be a question nobody ever had to ask. What a sad statement of the times that I not only ask it, but I’m unsure of your answer.

When I re-read this poem again recently, it made me think about all the sheeple who watch bullying and do nothing. I’ve never understood it, being the kind of person who gets involved the moment I see bullying. But after writing The Boxer Rebellion and exploring the fear and guilt experienced by these watchers through the characters of Angela and Margaret, I don’t think they’re bad people, just people who get lost in moral ambiguity about responsibility.

By Charles Osgood

There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task.

Anybody could have told you that everybody knew
That this was something somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling. Anybody had the ability.
But nobody believed that it was his responsibility.

It seemed to be a job that anybody could have done.
If anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since everybody recognized that anybody could
Everybody took for granted that somebody would.

But nobody told anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And nobody took it on himself to follow through,
And do what everybody thought that somebody would do.

When what everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that somebody dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And everybody looked around for somebody to blame.

Somebody should have done the job
And everybody should have,
But in the end nobody did
What anybody could have.