U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said Wednesday he'll introduce legislation requiring colleges to adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment following the suicide of a student whose gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was broadcast online.
Lautenberg, D-N.J., made the announcement at a town meeting on the Rutgers University campus in memory of 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi.
Clementi, a promising violinist, jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River on Sept. 22 after the intimate images of him with another man were webcast, and his body was identified days later.
Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and another Rutgers freshman, Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invasion of privacy, and authorities are weighing whether bias crime charges should be added.
Clementi's death has prompted a national discussion on the plight of young gay people and bullying. The Rutgers event, organized by the university and the gay rights activist group Garden State Equality, drew about 300 students and others, including U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and actress/comedienne Judy Gold, a Rutgers grad and gay activist who won two Daytime Emmy Awards as a writer and producer for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."
"No one could have heard about this degradation he suffered without feeling pain themselves," Lautenberg said. "This is a major problem, and we're going to fix it."
Gold expressed outrage at the pain inflicted on Clementi.
"What happened to him was not just an invasion of privacy. This was just sick," she said.
"It is our responsibility to let people know yes your neighbor is gay, your uncle is gay, your teacher is gay," said Gold.
Other bully victims spoke out at the meeting, sharing their stories of humiliation.
"I was pushed down the stairs thrown into a wall and choked.l SOT "I began cutting myself and ultimately sent to a psy hospital for considering suicide"
The most poigniant moment in the town hall came when kids who've been bullied for being gay told their stories.
"I was pushed down the stairs thrown into a wall and choked," said Daniel Jacobson. "I began cutting myself and ultimately sent to a psychiatric hospital for considering suicide."
Lautenberg said his bill would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to create policies prohibiting harassment of any student. Such policies are not currently required by federal law, he said. The bill also would provide funding for schools to establish programs to deter harassment of students.
Clementi's death was one of a string of suicides last month involving teens believed to have been victims of anti-gay bullying. Just days after Clementi's body was recovered, more than 500 people attended a memorial service for a 13-year-old central California boy, Seth Walsh, who hanged himself after enduring taunts from classmates about being gay.
Earlier Wednesday, Ravi's lawyer, Steven D. Altman, issued a statement saying he was "heartened to hear" that investigators are taking their time "to learn all the facts before rushing to judgment" about whether to file bias charges against his client. Altman said he hoped the public would do the same.
"I am confident that nothing will be learned to justify, warrant or support the filing of any bias criminal complaint," Altman said.
Middlesex County prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said earlier this week that he wouldn't rush the investigation into Clementi's death. His spokesman said Wednesday there was nothing new to report.
Lawyers for Wei released a statement Tuesday saying she was innocent and extending sympathy to the Clementi family.
"This is a tragic situation," the statement said. "But this tragedy has also unfairly led to rampant speculation and misinformation, which threaten to overwhelm the actual facts of the matter. Those true facts will reveal that Molly is innocent."
Ravi, of Plainsboro, and Wei, of Princeton, each could face up to five years in prison if convicted on the invasion of privacy charge.
Clementi's family has said little. In a statement last week, it said it hoped the tragedy would "serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity."