We have yet another tragedy of a gay student bullied to the point that he committed suicide. Tim Ribberink, 20, left a note saying that he simply could not take the teasing and isolation anymore despite his love for his parents. His image puts another face on the costs of homophobia and intolerance. Ribberlink was studying to be a history teacher.
Tim’s parents published his final note which is brief and poignant:
“Dear Mum and Dad, All my life I have been ridiculed, abused, bullied and excluded. You guys are fantastic. I hope you’re not angry. Until we meet again, Tim.”
Gerrit and Hetty Ribberink want the police to find those responsible for bullying messages on the Internet, including one that appeared last summer stating: “I am a loser and a homo.”
In the United States, such a message could not be a criminal matter. However, some countries have criminal laws against hateful or insulting speech directed against groups or individuals. I have been critical of such laws due to the threat to free speech. Yet, such attacks are potentially subject to civil liability in the U.S. — an issue that we discussed with regard to the Megan Meier suicide. The difference here is that Eric was older than Megan, but the sense of isolation appears the same.
In the Netherlands, the criminal code prohibits insulting a group (article 137c) and inciting hatred, discrimination or violence (article 137d).
Article 137c states:
He who publicly, orally, in writing or graphically, intentionally expresses himself insultingly regarding a group of people because of their race, their religion or their life philosophy, their heterosexual or homosexual orientation or their physical, psychological or mental disability, shall be punished by imprisonment of no more than a year or a monetary penalty of the third category.
Article 137d states:
He who publicly, orally, in writing or graphically, incites hatred against, discrimination of or violent action against person or belongings of people because of their race, their religion or their life philosophy, their gender, their heterosexual or homosexual orientation or their physical, psychological or mental disability, shall be punished by imprisonment of no more than a year or a monetary penalty of the third category.”
Local pastor Marinus van den Berg spoke for many in addressing Tim’s parents: “Tim was not weak or pathetic,” they said. “He was strong. That is how we knew him, and that is how he would want the world to remember him.”
I do not believe that even such tragedies call for criminalization of such insulting speech. However, it should further motivate us all to combat homophobia and intolerance in society. This should include pursuing some of these homophobes for civil liability when they falsely assume identities or spread stories about victims.
As for Eric, it is too late.
Source: Irish Times