Tyler Clementi, 18 at the time of his suicide, was a highly regarded violin player.
Family members of Tyler Clementi have been joined by several advocacy groups in condemning a statement from a spokeswoman for the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage who pointed to the example of the 18-year-old Rutgers freshman’s 2010 suicide to warn of the dangers of young gay people being influenced by others in the LGBT community.
“That kid Tyler Clementi who killed himself, who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge?,” NOM’s Jennifer Morse told a group of Catholic students at Iowa State University on February 17. “Do you know this story? Okay, then I’m not going to tell it. There was a much older man in the picture. There’s usually more to the story, right? And so I think friendship is what you have to offer. There are a lot of situations where people are doing something sexual that’s probably not the best thing for them and that would be better if they had somebody who would be friends with them without coming onto them or without judging them and that kind of stuff.”
Clementi killed himself after learning that his roommate and another student had secretly webcast two intimate get-togethers he had with a man in his 20s in the dorm room Clementi and his roommate shared. The roommate, Dharun Ravi, was convicted of multiple counts of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness and evidence tampering, and evasion of apprehension, and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
In addition to Morse’s veiled referenced to Clementi’s romantic partner, who was also spied on by Ravi, she warned that “confused and lonely” LGBT youth –– rather than being urged to practice “sexual restraint” –– are “getting help and support from the gay activists who have their own thing that they’re doing, which is not necessarily to help the individuals, but they’ve got some sort of political vision.”
In a March 4 written response to Morse, Tyler’s parents, Joe and Jane Clementi, said, “To exploit our late son's name to advance an anti-equality agenda is offensive and wrong. By doing so, National Organization for Marriage prove that not only is there no low they will not sink to to advance their cruel agenda –– but that neither they nor Ms. Morse have any grip on reality. The very idea that Tyler's tragedy happened because of too much support –– instead of not enough –– is ludicrous. Shame on them.”
The couple has established the Tyler Clementi Foundation to promote safe, inclusive, and respectful physical and online spaces for LGBT and other vulnerable youth. NOM is the leading national organization fighting against marriage equality and other LGBT partnership advances.
Joining the Clementis, Herndon Graddick, president of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said, “This is among the more reprehensible tactics we've seen from NOM, and this is a group whose internal documents touted the use of racially-motivated tactics to pit black and Latino people against their own LGBT friends, neighbors, and family members. Now they're using Tyler's story to pit young people against their own peers.”
The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Matters, an LGBT project of the Media Matters watchdog organization, also joined in condemning the statements by NOM’s Morse.