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Remarks By Pro-Marriage Group Leader Infuriate Clementi’s Family

Tyler Clementi - Photo: CBS

Tyler Clementi (credit: CBS)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The family of Tyler Clementi on Tuesday denounced remarks by a representative of the National Organization for Marriage, who brought up Clementi’s suicide in a discussion that questioned the effect of gay rights supporters on young people she characterized as having “gender confusion.”

Clementi, 18, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010 after his roommate at Rutgers University videotaped his sexual encounter with another man.

In a Feb. 17 speech to Iowa State University students, Jennifer Morse, president of the National Organization for Marriage’s Ruth Institute Project, said: “That kid Tyler Clementi who killed himself, who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge?… 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.”

Morse went on to say gay rights activists are the wrong people to help what she called “confused” young people.

“When you really get down to it, a lot of the young people are confused and quite lonely, and need help and support, and they’re getting help and support not from the Christian community. They’re 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 visions,” she said.

Morse advised the Iowa University students to “be friends with people… and give them some support for sexual restraint, for example, which they might not get from anybody else,” adding that people with “gender confusion” might be under pressure to become sexually active “even in situations that aren’t going to be good for them.”

But Morse discouraged “advocating abstinence, because it seems like you’re on the soapbox, and they’re down here.”

In a news release Monday, Clementi’s parents accused Morse and her organization of exploiting their son’s name.

“To exploit our late son’s name to advance an anti-equality agenda is offensive and wrong,” Tyler Clementi’s parents, Joe and Jane Clementi, said in the news release. “By doing so, the National Organization for Marriage proves 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.”

Multiple gay rights groups likewise denounced Morse’s remarks in the release. Herndon Graddick, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, accused the National Organization for Marriage of “using Tyler’s story to pit young people against their own peers,” while Human Rights Coalition vice president of communications Fred Sainz urged the group to “do the right thing and immediately apologize to the Clementi family.”

The Ruth Institute that Morse heads up says on its own website that its mission is focused on “making marriage cool,” and passing on values such as “Marriage as the proper context for sex and child rearing, “respect for the contributions of men to the family,” and “marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.”

The larger National Organization for Marriage was founded in 2007, in what it called “response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage in state legislatures.”

Clementi was just weeks into his first year at Rutgers at the time of his suicide.

His roommate at the time, Dharun Ravi, served less than a month in jail after he was convicted last year of 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He is appealing his conviction.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) reintroduced federal anti-bullying legislation invoking Clementi’s name. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act would require all colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to have in place anti-harassment policies

Holt reintroduced the measure last week after it failed to pass in the last Congress. The same measure was also introduced in the senate by New Jersey’s senior senator Frank Lautenberg.

Also last month, Clementi’s parents helped Rutgers dedicate the Tyler Clementi Center. The center will offer lectures, symposia, and seminars on topics relating to cyberbullying.

What do you think about Morse’s remarks and her mention of Clementi? Please leave your comments below…