Why the Tyler Clementi indictments leave me in doubt

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I'm not happy about the indictment of Dharun Ravi.

In case you don't know, he's the guy who — along with fellow student Molly Wei — was brought to trial for the suicide of Tyler Clementi. He was Clementi's roommate, and with Wei he recorded and broadcasted Clementi's (same-sex) sexual encounters in their dorm room at Rutgers University. After discovering what Ravi did, Tyler jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge. Ravi faces up to five years in jail.

And I find myself asking, is this the best we can do? It's a question I admit I feel supremely conflicted about. I started a Gay-Straight Alliance in high school; I was president of the Pride Alliance at my college; sometimes I get so angry about homophobia I could spit. Part of me, the angriest part of me, feels like I should be trumpeting this news, when in truth it just makes me sad.

Don't get me wrong: what Ravi and Wei did was terrible. For one thing, Clementi is dead, and that fact is inextricable from this situation. And for another, you should never intentionally shame someone simply for an intrinsic trait. That seems to me like the baseline of human decency, no matter how often we dip below it.

But still: is this the best we can do? Clementi may have been motivated by Ravi's actions, but if he didn't live in a culture that made him so scared to be himself, would those actions have driven him to such lengths? If other people didn't speak of homosexuality like it's some kind of spiritual disease, wouldn't this be just another malicious piece of college gossip, the kind you're embarrassed by but eventually live down?

I think it's just too easy to put two kids — and, in our society, eighteen-year olds are still treated like kids and act accordingly — away for a few years and wash our hands of this ordeal, as if we really made made a change. But we didn't. If you think back to your teenage years, I bet you can find at least one time you acted like a total ass to someone else. Maybe you're just lucky that wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back. 

So maybe these kids will go to prison. I doubt whatever time they serve will compare to the knowledge that their actions prompted a person's suicide, but the law, in the end, is the law. And yet it doesn't feel like progress to me.