Fighting gay and lesbian hate crime

8 Feb

Hate crimes are an all to regular occurrence not just in the United States but around the world. A hate crime as defined is not just a physical attack, but can take place as mental or emotional abuse, the denial of rights, or as speech which is rooted in a bias created by the perceived differences of a person. Everyday at least three gays are the victims of a hate crime in the United States alone. Hate crimes are the truest form of crimes committed in ignorance.

Just to establish a few facts about hate crimes in the gay community before discussing how to fight them, the fact is that in 2005 the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) had labeled just over fourteen percent of all hate crimes in the U.S. as attacks motivated by sexual orientation. This fell in just behind crimes based on race and religion. Some believe crimes based on sexual orientation may actually exceed those based on religion due to misclassification and the reluctance of many gay victims to report hate crimes against them. Furthermore nine murders under FBI jurisdiction alone were attributed to sexual orientation in that same year. According to statistics from TYFA (Transgender Youth Family Association) one transgender person has been murdered in the U.S. every month since the spring of 1996 when tracking of violence against this segment of the LGBT began. I include this because to a large portion of society the transgender community is one and the same as the gay community. Also worth noting is that a higher portion of hate crimes based on sexual orientation are against gay men than lesbians. It is quite evident that hate crimes are a problem that needs a proactive solution.

When people hear the words “fighting” or “combating” thoughts of a physical battle often are the first that come to mind. In the case of combating hate crimes however fighting fire with fire is not the solution. Hate crimes are crimes of ignorance. Therefore the best way to fight hate crimes is through education and legislation. The two work hand in hand. Only through improvements and expansion of existing initiatives and the prosecution of perpetrators of hate crimes under the existing laws can we begin to end the cycle of hate. It is the responsibility of everyone to get involved, not just legislators and victims. Even within the gay community there is more that needs to be done. We have to be willing to stand up an talk about this issue, make it more visible, and make it plainly clear we are not going to tolerate hate crimes nor be silent when they occur to not just one of our own but anybody.

There have been organizations in the U.S. for decades with the sole purpose of defending the disenfranchised, and the gay community has their share. Since 1982 the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has fought a long hard battle to see legislation concerning hate crimes not only makes it’s way to the floor, but fights to ensure it is regarded seriously. In 2007 they they focused much of their energy on seeing that the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as The Matthew Shepard Act, make it’s way through the House of Representatives. Organizations like Gay Rights Watch also dig into the issue of hate crime by trying to provide viable solutions to ending it, and then delivering that message through the media outlets.

Fortunately good and true information about members of the gay community is seeing the light of day. Odd as it may seem television and movies are playing a major role to revamping the way a generation views the gay and lesbian community. Positive out of the closet role models in the entertainment field are on the television screens in millions of households everyday helping break the myth that gays are deviant, mentally ill, predatory, or any number of false images associated to gays for countless generations. Movies and television series are now featuring more and more gay characters in positive roles which further reinforce that gays are regular people in all regards, with no differences from the straight community aside from the fact they are attracted to members of the same sex. Viacom launched a PSA (Public Service Announcement) on April the third of 2008 featuring Ellen DeGeneres to speak out against hate crimes against the gay and lesbian community, and Elton John has done numerous announcements of the same ilk. This increased positive exposure helps display who the gay and straight community are more alike than different and therefore helps fight crimes as it helps lessen the homophobia of some people.

Along with growing positive press for the gay community, the birth of organizations by school aged children such as Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) have been making huge strides towards integrating two previously diverse groups into one, and promoting better understanding and education about each other. Why organizations like this provide so much hope in the fight against gay hate crimes is that it is more likely a person that learns tolerance and acceptance of the diversity within people at a young age will have those same values carry over to their adult life and passed on to their children. Another positive aspect is that the more people there are that know the facts, the more people there are to stand against those whom may commit a hate crime making them less likely.

The general mantra of GSA’s, or at least the one at my daughters school, in concerns to hate crimes is to act, unite, speak up, and support each other. What acting means is to be proactive in letting people know hate crimes will not be tolerated. Through unity hate crimes may be averted and and it supports the principle of “United we stand” and power in numbers. When a hate crime occurs, or is even suspected of being possible speak up and let someone in a position of authority know what happened so it can be stopped or prosecuted and the victim gets the help they need. Support quite simply means we must all support each other through good and bad regardless of our differences. While I have seen charters in my research that are far more lengthy and comprehensive I like this one as it keeps it simple. The great thing is that this was a charter designed by young teens which in my mind points to the possibility of better days on the horizon.

Another important factor to combating hate crimes against gays is effective and decisive enforcement of the existing laws. Hate crimes are a federal offense which can carry up to a seven year sentence to be served in a federal penitentiary. Although the law concerning this is plainly laid out it is often not enforced or or even brought up as a charge. In the case of the murder of Edward “Gwen” Arajuo, it was clearly defined that her murder was motivated by her sexual and gender identity, however a jury decided it was just a situation that “Got out of hand.” With better education such ambivalent situations would be less likely, and prosecutors would be more willing to levy hate crimes charges as they would see that juries are in fact understanding and willing to vote in favor of such sentences.

All these organizations are important because there are always going to be people that for whatever reason are predisposed to hate. What is especially frightening are the number of organizations not only speaking out against gay and lesbian people but advocating some truly reprehensible, even criminal steps be taken to “Remove” members of the LGBT to use a gentle phrase. Organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church headed by Fred Phelps, Americans For Truth, and the Family Research Institute are just a few of the anti-gay hate groups in operation in the U.S. today. While we all need to do our share as individuals to combat and minimize hate crime in our local community, it is by banding together and supporting large groups that we can fight against hate organizations, apply political pressure, and educate as many people as possible that it is okay to be gay, and that it is our differences that make the world a wonderful place. sernum=461 p?DT=26 s_main_page/2007_legislation 2HATE%20CRIMES.htm

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