Finally, after years and years of trying, the Congress has passed the Matthew Shepherd Federal Hate Crimes bill which enhances the penalties on those who would kill me just for being a lesbian. That horribly violent act of tying to a fence and leaving for dead this brutally beaten young Wyoming man occurred when I was still a journalist with public radio, a career I left more than seven years ago. That's too long to have waited for this crumb to fall under the Congressional table! But fallen it has, and for that we can all be thankful. This will enable law enforcement not only to make the arrests; it will mean that we will have the data collected to highlight a very sad reality: LGB and especially T people are disproportionally targeted for violence based solely on their orientation and gender identity.
Some straight people don't get it. Over on Facebook, a lesbian singing the praises of the legislation had supposed "friends" denouncing it as a "Sad day." One of them got into a protracted argument which reached the absurd conclusion that somehow having this federal hate crimes law has made the LGBT community "more equal" than his heterosexual, white, male, conservative-self. Besides the obvious that "more equal" can't exist, there is the annoying idea that once again, straight white guys seem to think that when a minority group gains a level of protection from the brutality of the majority, straight people have lost something. They want to argue that ALL people should be protected from murder, as if that isn't happening right now?! What they don't want to recognize is that we have always set up "special" categories of people who we consider their murders to be heinous: police officers, for example. Quickest way to guarantee that you will get the death penalty in Florida is if you kill a cop. But it has not always been the case that killing a gay person will lead to just punishment. In fact, a number of times, defendants in a murder trial will use the "gay panic" defense, ("Your Honor, I'm not gay and that gay guy was checking me out, so I was gonna rough 'em up and I got a little carried away because he was so scary gay!") This defense actually does work in some places!
I think the interesting juxtaposition of this legislation passing finally is that it has happened during a week in which, in some corners at least, the Internet has been abuzz about the proposed legislation in Uganda allowing anyone caught committing "aggravated homosexuality"... which includes gay sex with the disabled... to be put to death. I can think of some disabled queers who WON'T be going to Uganda any time soon! Religious leaders in that country are backing increasing the penalties for being gay, or being a straight person who supports LGBT rights. Makes one ever-conscience of how lucky we really are in the west. And that our western leaders should NOT remain silent on these matters of human rights around the globe.
And while they are speaking out on human rights, and while we are bowing our heads in thanks to our politicians for finally adopting the hate crimes law, we must not forget that we are still far from being fully equal citizens in the United States. How about now allowing LGBT people to serve their country without having to lie about their sexual orientation? How about allowing me and others to marry our partners? How about making it illegal to say that because I'm a lesbian, I can't be hired in a job? There are still more crumbs that need to fall under the table to make a whole loaf.
Federal hate crimes law? Check! Next......