Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Cyber Bullied Teen Dies After “Secret” Video Goes Viral; Boy’s Family Stonewalled by School System

Matthew S. Burdette, 14-year-old victim of cyber bullying and cyber voyeurism.

Matthew S. Burdette, 14-year-old victim of cyber bullying and cyber voyeurism.

San Diego, California – The family of a teen who took his life after a secret video of him in the school Men’s Room went viral on the web say bullying drove him to it–but his school refuses to communicate with them about it.  Matthew S. Burdette, 14, fell victim to a classmate at University City High School who allegedly videoed Burdette masturbating in the toilet by holding a phone over the top of the stall, and then blasted the images on the internet, according to ABC 10. Matthew left a note to his family detailing a storm of bullying targeting him as the reason for his fatal despair.  His aunt, Laura Burdette Mechak, said her nephew just couldn’t take the bullying anymore–but since she and his parents knew nothing of the video, they had no idea why Matthew took his life. He was a popular boy, working on his Eagle Scout rank, a member of the water polo team, and well-liked by everyone, so far as they knew. Then something happened at high school that he didn’t want to talk about. Mechak told ABC 10 about the contents of her nephew’s suicide note, “He said, I can’t do school anymore. I have no friends. I don’t want to kill myself but I have no friends.”

Since Matthew’s death in November 2013, his family has repeatedly tried to get answers from the school, but to no avail.  His aunt and his father took the suicide note with them to the school, and asked officials what they knew about whatever had driven their beloved Matthew to such despair.  The school dropped a cloak of secrecy over the incident for months, and refused to share information with the Burdettes.  The distraught family only pieced together what had happened to Matthew after classmates blew the whistle on the school, and revealed the existence of the excruciatingly embarrassing video.  Mechak said, “Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on.”  They told Matthew’s parents that after his antagonist spied on him over the stall, the student put the video he shot on Snapchat, Vine, and other sites on the web.  “It went viral. It went beyond his school. It went to other schools in California,” Mechak said. “Kids in the neighborhood who didn’t go to Matthew’s school had heard about it and seen the video that was taken of him.”  Then the weeks of brutal taunting and bullying started.

The bullying was unrelenting, according to Mechak, though Matthew hid his crisis from the family.  “Kids saw this video and began to tease Matthew mercilessly — they teased him, they harassed him. They made his life miserable over a two-week period,” she said. Then, he took his life.

Matthew’s parents demanded to know what the school had done about the boy who videoed their son.  Mechak says that she and they bear no ill will toward the kid who ignited all this sorrow.  It was only after the San Diego Police Department told them that the unnamed juvenile had been arrested and confessed to taking the video, and the District Attorney refused to supply the family with any more information about the case that the Burdettes secured an attorney to file a claim against the San Diego Unified School District, and bring their side of the story to the public.  “I don’t have hatred for the kid who took this video. He was a dumb kid who did a dumb thing. But these kids don’t get it. They don’t realize how big the cyber bullying world is,” Mechak told ABC 10.

sdusd-signThe Los Angeles Times reports that Matthew’s parents, Timothy and Barbara Burdette have filed a $1 million claim against the school system, alleging that a teacher, a school administrator, and possibly other school employees knew about the incriminating video and its creator, and did nothing to protect or help their son. In the claim, the Burdettes say that they are now “forced to bear the death of their son for the rest of [our] lives.”  The school system rejected their claim, so the family now has six months to file a lawsuit.  Their attorney says the school failed Matthew on several counts, and that the creator of the video may be guilty of breaking California’s anti-bullying law.  The District Attorney says that their will be a hearing for the young man who ignited this whole incident on July 23.

This past Monday, the San Diego Unified School District issued a statement expressing sympathy for the family, but continuing to stonewall them at every turn.  In part, the press release reads: “At San Diego Unified, the safety and well-being of our students is a top priority. The district also adheres to the privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations related to students, families and ongoing investigations.”

Bullying in schools remains at epidemic levels throughout California and the United States.  Matthew Burdette’s case shows that even athletic and well-regarded teens can fall victim to suicidal despair, whatever their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and presentation may be.  It is imperative that parents and friends know the warning signs of the onset of suicidal thoughts in teenagers.  The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), among others, have excellent online resources to help teens and families.  Their teen suicide prevention information may be accessed here. 

July 16, 2014 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, California, cyber voyeurism, harassment, National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), San Diego Unified School District, suicide, teen suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay New Mexico Teen Is Latest Victim of School Bullying

Carlos Vigil,17,  tormented to death by bullies during his senior year in high school.

Carlos Vigil, 17, tormented to death by bullies during his senior year in high school.

Albuquerque, New Mexico – A gay New Mexico teenager took his life, despairing after years of incessant bullying by classmates.  Carlos Vigil, 17, posted a heart-wrending Twitter post on Saturday, July 13, finally crumbling under the weight of the epithets and ridicule his classmates put on him.  The tweet, posted as a screen capture by EveryJoe.com, reads in part: “I’m sorry to those who I offended over the years.  I’m blind to see that I, as a human being, suck.  I’m an individual who is doing an injustice to the world and it’s time for me to go. . . I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to love someone or have someone love me.  I guess it’s best, though, because now I leave no pain onto anyone.  The kids in school are right, I am a loser, a freak, and a fag and in no way is that acceptable for people to deal with.  I’m sorry for not being a person that would make someone proud.”

Ending his tweet, Carlos texted, “I am free now.”  His father, who ironically had only recently returned from a conference in North Carolina where he had spoken out against anti-gay bullying in schools, saw the tweet, and rushed home, too late.  Carlos was sped to the University of New Mexico Medical Center in a coma.  Late Sunday night, his parents requested that doctors remove life support from their son, after his organs had been harvested to benefit others.

The pathos and horror of anti-gay bullying scream out from the story of Carlos Vigil.  His mother said to reporters that her boy had been bullied in some form or another for being perceived as different and effeminate since he was eight years old.  Lately, she said, Carlos had been dogged by hateful speech about his sexual orientation, his acne, his glasses, and his weight.  He and his family tried valiantly to withstand the bullying, complaining to school officials, and transferring from a nearby high school to Valley High where the latest wave of bullying crashed over him.  Carlos had counseled and consoled others who were verbally attacked, and his parents were constantly checking in to ask how he was doing.  He had spoken out against bullying himself.  But according to the New York Daily News, no one guessed at the depth of his own personal anguish until his sudden, untimely death.  Eddie Vargas, sports director of Warehouse 508, an Albuquerque youth entertainment and arts center that Carlos helped to establish, said, “It’s an eye-opener that it can happen to anybody. The people we think are the most confident can also be the ones who are hurting the most.” 

We should no longer be surprised that gay youth like Carlos who show compassion for the hurts of others often swim in oceans of despair that they alone are helpless to overcome.  Carlos had deeply supportive parents who loved him just the way he was.  But the depth of the pain of a youth who had been bullied since the third grade was beyond usual measures of love, support, and affection.  Prevention is the best remedy for the multitude of LGBTQ and gender variant youth who take their own lives as a consequence of the rejection and hate speech to which they are subjected in school among their peers.  Teachers and administrators, clergy, health professionals, lawmakers, and cultural icons must act decisively to stem the tide of gay teen suicide by refusing to see LGBTQ youth as “the problem,” and, while knowing and acting on the signs of youth in trouble, must defend vulnerable boys and girls by making any hint of school bullying a serious offense.  Bullies need help, too.  So do the families of bullies who often enact what they hear at home, or act out from experiences of torment themselves.

Now, Carlos’s family is asking for everyone to work hard to prevent another useless, senseless death like his.  Early this morning, apparently unable to sleep well, his father and mother tweeted this note on their son’s Twitter account: “Carlos is finally at peace! Thank you everyone for your support and prayers. Please don’t forget what he wanted STOP THE BULLYING!”

If anyone is in need of a listening, sympathetic ear, call the Trevor Project Helpline, 24/7, to speak to a real person who will reach out to you: 1-866-488-7386.  Don’t wait! Call Now!

July 17, 2013 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, gay teens, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, Internalized homophobia, Latinos, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, New Mexico, Slurs and epithets, suicide, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay New Mexico Teen Is Latest Victim of School Bullying

Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s Spying Roommate Found Guilty of Anti-Gay Intimidation

Dharun Ravi (l), found guilty of cyber-spying and bias intimidation against his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi (r).

New Brunswick, New Jersey – Dharun Ravi was found guilty today on the vast majority of counts for spying on his Rutgers roommate’s gay intimacies in 2010.  ABC News reports that Ravi remained emotionless as the jury brought back its verdict in one of the most closely watched anti-bullying trials in United States history.  He was found guilty of  invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering arrest due to his actions setting up a spy-cam to record a gay tryst between his freshman roommate, Tyler Clementi, and a same-sex lover on September 19, 2010.  Ravi was also found guilty of prompting others to spy on Clementi during a second tryst on September 21, 2010, and of intimidating his roommate for being gay.  He was found not guilty of some subparts of the 15 counts of bias intimidation, attempted invasion of privacy, and attempted bias intimidation, but needed only to be found guilty of one part of each count to be convicted. Ravi, who is 20, could face a sentence of five to ten years for his crimes.  Because he is a citizen of India in the United States on a Green Card, he could also face deportation.

Behind the proceedings, the suicide of Tyler Clementi loomed like a dark cloud.  Clementi was distressed when he found out that he had been videoed in his own room and exposed for being gay. His death by drowning after leaping from the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010, and the connections between his suicide and Ravi’s use of the spy-cam to invade his privacy and intimidate him for his sexual orientation made international news.  Clementi’s death, one of a long list of gay intimidation suicides, burst on the national scene with long-delayed urgency, calling attention to the loss of so many young lives to school and university brutality and intimidation.

Over the course of the 12-day trial, Ravi’s defense team argued that he was not homophobic in action or intent, and that his actions were those of an immature person who saw a chance to make fun of someone different.  They also argued that Ravi’s use of a spy-cam was to monitor Clementi’s male guest, whom Ravi felt was “sketchy,” according to reports in USA Today.  The jury did not buy the explanation.  As the verdict was read, Ravi’s mother burst into tears, and his father took notes about the particulars of the findings.  Ravi will be sentenced on May 21.

Tyler Clementi’s family spoke briefly at a press conference following the verdict.  They praised the work of the court, and affirmed how important this trial was to them, though they did not refer directly to the verdict or the case.  The family will now be able to return to their Ridgewood, New Jersey home in the knowledge that some justice has finally been done for their shy, musically gifted son.

March 16, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Bullying in schools, cyber voyeurism, gay teens, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, New Jersey, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Accused Cyber-Spies Withdraw from University in Tyler Clementi Bullycide Case

Wei, Clementi, and Ravi (CBS picture)

Rutgers University, New Jersey – Two 18-year-old freshman students accused of cyber-spying on Tyler Clementi have withdrawn from University, according to CBS News.  Dharun Ravi and Mollie Wei will not face university disciplinary charges, but must withdraw from school in the wake of the storm of controversy that broke over what many have called the “bullycide” of classmate Clementi.  Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei are accused of invasion of privacy by allegedly spying on Mr. Clementi during a tryst with another male in a dorm room on the Rutgers University campus, and then posting the event for the world to see on the internet.  Mr. Clementi drove to the George Washington Bridge, and threw himself off into the Hudson River as a consequence.  Mr. Ravi’s lawyer told the press that the university has told his client that he may reapply for admission at a later date, but that in reality Mr. Ravi’s career as a Rutgers student is over.  Commenting on the offer of reapplication for admission to Ms. Wei and his client, Attorney Steven Altman said, “Realistically, they couldn’t go back no matter what. He definitely plans to go somewhere else.”  Ms. Wei’s attorney said that fear for her client’s safety would keep her from seeking readmission to the school.  The New Jersey statute under which Mr. Clementi’s classmates are charged with invasion of privacy makes collection of nude or sexualized images of a person without that person’s consent a fourth-degree crime.  Broadcasting such images is classed as a third-degree crime.  If convicted as charged, both Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei could face up to five years in prison.  In the cyber age, Americans were supposed to enter a new world of exciting information technology for the advancement of the human race.  What this horrible incident reveals, however, is that the young, who are supposed to be the vanguard of a new and better future, may be technologically savvy, but suffer from a collapse of social and interpersonal boundaries.  The perpetrators of these crimes against Tyler Clementi were toying with human emotions, sexual orientation, and human life.  They were not scooping video news and images for another shabby reality show or a university version of Jack-Ass.  We have also learned that heterosexism and homophobia have not disappeared among the tech-savvy  youth of America, either.  Was what these perpetrators did a hate crime?  Unquestionably, it has had that effect, chilling the atmosphere throughout the nation for a whole segment of the population who are young, LGBTQ, and seeking to survive in a sometimes hostile world.  The attorneys for the defense are busy doing their best to seek advantage for their clients, which includes reducing sympathy for Clementi (or worse).  What must not be lost sight of in this case and in the raft of cyber-intrusion cases to come, is that the breakdown of social boundaries actually kills.  Whatever the outcome in the courts, the Clementi family, Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei know that shocking lesson all to well.

November 15, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Asian Americans, Bullying in schools, cyber voyeurism, gay men, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, invasion of privacy, Law and Order, Legislation, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, New Jersey, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Rutgers University, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unfinished Lives: It Gets Better Videos

Unfinished Lives Project would like to recognize author Dan Savage for founding the It Gets Better Project (http://www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject) in response to the tragic increase in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teen suicides.  The point of this project is for people to upload videos to let these teens know that, yes, it does get better.

And here at Unfinished Lives, we are cognizant of the fact that part of this “better” is not just social love and acceptance, but spiritual love and acceptance.  To help meet this need, a group of Brite Divinity School students and faculty have recorded their own messages of hope for the It Gets Better Project:

Dr. Steve Sprinkle: Director of Field Education at Brite Divinity School

Sam Castleberry: Student at Brite Divinity School

Egon Cohen: Student at Brite Divinity School

DeSorrow: Student at Brite Divinity School

The Brite Student It Gets Better channel hopes to have more videos shortly. We would also like to encourage any and all LGBTQ faculty, staff, and students in graduate theological education to record videos and to let GLBTQ youth know that it does get better and faith can help not hinder the process. Also anyone else who wishes to record a video should do so as well. For more information on LGBTQ suicide prevention see The Trevor Project

In the meantime, please spread the word, and vote for your favorite video by sending an email with the video link as the subject line (just the link) to: IGBP@savagelove.net.

October 2, 2010 Posted by | ACLU, African Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, Blame the victim, Bullying in schools, Domestic Violence, gay men, gay teens, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign, Law and Order, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, PFLAG, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments, suicide, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay University Freshman Commits Suicide After Privacy Invasion with Hidden Camera

Piscataway, New Jersey – An 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge September 22 after his roommate live-streamed his sex session with another male using a hidden camera.  The New York Daily News reports that Tyler Clementi, a renowned young violinist who had just enrolled at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, left his car on the New Jersey shore, walked to a spot on the George Washington Bridge near the New York side, and plunged to his death in the Hudson River.  His body has not been recovered.  Authorities say that he left a suicide note.  His roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, posted that Clementi had “asked for the room” at midnight, so Ravi enabled a hidden web cam, went to the room of his high school friend, Molly Wei, and switched on her computer to live-stream Clementi’s tryst.  Wei is also 18 years old.  “I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam,” Ravi posted.  “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”  The Twitter post went out on the internet on September 19, three days before Clementi’s suicide.  Ravi and Wei, both from Asian American extraction and Rutgers freshmen on the Piscataway campus, are charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy under a New Jersey law.  Illegally collecting or viewing images showing sexual contact involving another individual without that individual’s consent in the Garden State is a fourth-degree crime. Transmitting or distributing such images is a third-degree crime. Ravi has also been charged with two more counts of invasion of privacy for his attempt to broadcast another sex session Clementi is alleged to have had on September 21.  Both suspects surrendered peacefully to university police.  Ravi is free on $25,000 bond.  Wei was released on her own recognizance pending prosecution.  The top penalty the two web-voyeurs could receive if found guilty as charged is five years in prison for each count.  Officials of the university are making no comment on the alleged crimes so long as the investigations are proceeding.  Clementi is remembered as a wonderfully gifted musician.  His parents have been devastated, and are making no comment to the press.  Apparently the shock of being outed in such a public and humiliating way led him to such despair that he could not bear to live.  As Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin said, “It’s not just high school kids being bullied and humiliated to their deaths.”

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Asian Americans, cyber voyeurism, gay men, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ suicide, New Jersey, New York, suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alleged Murderer of Seaman August Provost Commits Suicide

Oceanside LGBT Memorial to August Provost

Oceanside LGBT Memorial to August Provost

Camp Pendleton, CA – Petty Officer Jonathan Campos, 32, has died from apparent self-inflicted asphyxia in the brig at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base.  He was being held for a number of charges primarily related to the murder of Seaman August Provost, a gay sailor, who was shot to death June 30, 2009 while on guard duty.  A routine check of his cell discovered that Campos was “unresponsive,” and attempts to revive him failed.  Campos had apparently choked himself to death with toilet paper, according to The Navy Compass, San Diego’s official Navy paper.  An autopsy has been ordered by the Navy to establish definitively his cause of death.  Both sailors served in the same Navy unit at Camp Pendleton, Assault Craft Unit 5.  Controversy has swirled around the Provost murder case since the discovery of his charred remains in the guard shack where he stood sentry.  Campos allegedly set the shack afire with Provost’s corpse in it to destroy evidence.  Family, the bereaved lover, friends, and LGBT human rights activists contend that the gay sailor, who refrained from reporting sexual harassment for fear of discharge from the Navy under DADT, was murdered because of his sexual orientation.  The Navy has repeatedly denied that Seaman Provost died as the result of a hate crime.  Now, since the issue will never be resolved in a court of law, the truth of why August Provost was shot to death will never be fully known.

August 1, 2009 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, California, DADT, gay men, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crimes, immolation, military, suicide, U.S. Navy | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alleged Murderer of Seaman August Provost Commits Suicide

   

%d bloggers like this: