The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Hate Crime Victims or Heroes?

Being in the middle of documenting hate crimes on Wikipedia, I couldn’t help noting the news about the Gay American Heroes Foundation and it’s plan to put together a traveling memorial honoring LGBT hate crime victims.

A “Who’s Who” of gay and straight culture have come together to create a national memorial to honor LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people who have been murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The first phase of the Foundation’s plan is to assemble a traveling memorial and exhibition constructed of six individual rainbow-colored, multi-dimensional panels bearing the photos, names, ages and occupations of LGBT hate crime victims. The eight-foot tall memorial will stretch more than 100 feet. Expected completion date for the exhibit is December 2007.

… Once completed, Gay American Heroes volunteers will transport the display throughout the country to college campuses, LGBT events and to communities where anti-gay murders have occurred. An informational welcome tent will include guest speakers and educational materials. At each venue, the volunteers will enlist local community leaders to present informative programs.

“We want to reach out to communities as soon as possible following a deadly anti-gay hate crime,” adds Hall. “We want to support the family and friends of the victim, as well as to work with local officials, law enforcement and service organizations to provide counseling and outreach.”

Of course, It immediately struck me as a great idea since it’s not unlike what I’m doing on Wikipedia. It didn’t occur to me that my own reaction might not be universal.

At least not until I read Matt8217s rather different take at Malcontent.

If you were part of our supposed gay leadership and you wanted to create some sort of national monument commemorating the gay experience, what would you do? Wallow in your collective victimhood, of course.

One of the leading celebrants of his victim status, Andy Towle (who must see hate crimes in his dreams), reports 8220exclusively8221 on a group of the usual suspects who want a national memorial 8221 to honor LGBT people murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.8221 (Of course he would use 8220LGBT,8221 which regular readers know drives me batshit. I8217m talkin8217 to you, FARB.)

I suppose there is merit to remembering people who are murdered because of their sexual orientation or 8220gender identity.8221 But in the predictable fashion of the fagocracy, we have to hold up victims as 8220heroes8221 (their word, not mine.)

I8217m not sure who FARB is, but Andy Towle posts a bit more about it.

The organizers say they chose the name 8220Gay American Heroes8221 for the exhibition because the majority of the heterosexual community at large, whom the foundation seeks to educate, often does not distinguish between lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but places all in a single category 8212 gay. The foundation also notes that it is focusing first on Americans and those who choose to take the 8220life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness8221 of others into their own hands. As for the 8220heroes8221 moniker, the organizers say: 8220All people who live honestly about their sexual orientation are heroic, as it takes great strength and courage to face the daily struggles for personal freedom in the face of enormous opposition; to ultimately give their life for said freedom makes them heroes.8221

Maybe it8217s me, but I8217m not as bothered by the choice of words as Matt. It seems a little awkward, but what else are you going to call it? 8220Heroes8221 is going obviously going to piss some people off. 8220Victims8221 is likely to do the same, and earn accusations of 8220embracing victimhood.8221 It would seem the only way to avoid both outcomes would be not to to do the exhibit in the first place.

Besides, I think that bickering over the word 8220hero8221 missing at least a couple of important points.

First, one of the things I8217ve been reminded of as I research these cases is that 8212 no matter how much things have changed 8212 being openly gay or openly identified as LGBT can still mean being a target for violence. Especially in some places. Granted, in urban centers like Metro-D.C. area, it8217s easy and relatively safe to be out. But when I think about people like Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder, Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, Richie Phillips, or Arthur Warren8212 all of whom were out, and lived in small towns and rural areas where tolerance couldn’t be taken for granted. It’s easy to forget that in many, if not most, places in this country it’s still dangerous to be out, and doing so can make you a target for violence.

Second, the arcument over the choice of words ignores or gives short shrift to the purpose of the exhibit. The people this exhibit will learn hear the stories of and learn about anti-LGBT hate crimes they wouldn’t have heard about before and might not have even thought about. They’ll see the diversity of the victims, and learn about what happened to them. I only wish that the exhibits could be bigger than six panels. I wish they could cover an entire wall with pictures of LGBT hate crime victims. The lists that I’ve received via email from people who want to support the Wikipedia project suggest that it would be very easy to do. in the course of researching the stories, I’ve discovered names and cases that even I 8212 as an activist and someone who keeps up with LGBT-related news 8212 hadn’t heard of before, because the news of their cases wasn’t widely reported, and then got archived someplace where almost nobody looks.

If you object to the very existence of a hate crimes bill in the first place 8212 and, of course, some of us do 8212 then we can have an honest debate about that. But this doesn’t appear to be that debate.

When I initially read about the exhibit, I was reminded of the exhibit a few years back that was based on the book “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America”, which is sitting on my shelf as I write this. I know some people may object to the comparison, but when you’ve read some of the stories I’ve read about what was done to some people because they happened to be LGBT, the definition of lynching applies.

Lynching is a form of violence, usually execution, conceived of by its perpetrators as extrajudicial punishment for offenders or as a terrorist method of enforcing social domination[citation needed]. It is characterized by a summary procedure ignoring, bypassing, or even contrary to, the strict forms of law, notably judicial execution. Victims of lynching have generally been members of groups marginalized or vilified by society.

It’s like I said in an early post about some LGBT hate crime victims. Hate crimes directed at individuals because of their race, gender, religion, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation are not just targeted at the individual. They are intended to send a very specific message to the group or community the individual belongs to.

It8217s a message effectively delivered by a Jamaican public defender. In that sense, hate crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity are meant to send a message to entire communities in the same way the Klan8217s 8220night rides8221 were meant to intimidate people and send a message: know your place or this can happen to you too.

It’s even more effectively articulated by a commenter on another post about an attack on a transgender person in Jamaica.

Get this straight. Gay life is not new to Jamaica. What we will not tolerate is anyone promoting this nastiness as normal. Just as it is not normal for human beings and animals to mate, the same applies.

There are several prominent, rich and poor fags in jamaica who have never been beaten all because they know their place.

We will never accept it as a normal way of life. Keep your closets in your homes. It is clear that homosexuals dont want kids, so do not influence my children with your nastiness.
So anyone who flaunts it then we apply – Batty bwoy fi dead – Memba dat!

I’m not sure what the requirements are to qualify for the title of “hero,” but in communities where people are living their lives openly and honestly, even as messages like those above are repeatedly reinforced, I think it’s just being honest to acknowledge the courage it takes to do so. And maybe there’s room to consider that heroism doesn’t just mean foiling terrorists or bringing down a plane, but that maybe there’s room to consider, acknowledge and reinforce the every day heroism or people who stand up to bigotry every day of their lives by being out, despite the danger that still comes with doing so.

Or, we can argue about “heroes” and “victims,” and leave the rest of the debate to the other sie.

One Comment

  1. I would just say that care and thoughtfulness are necessary in a project like this.

    As the survivor of my partner’s suicide in 2000, when he was navigating his coming-out process after being a lifelong conservative Christian and 22 years married, I have been uncomfortable with some of the gay suicide awareness projects I’ve seen. Some of them have veered dangerously close to, or plunged whole-hog over the line into, making poster children and political bullet points of folks we have lost to suicide. A few well-meaning folks have kicked off projects without understanding the complexities of suicide.

    Obviously, significant distinctions exist between lgbt suicide awareness projects and lgbt hate crime awareness.

    It’s good to hear the folks of the Gay American Heroes Foundation saying this:

    We want to support the family and friends of the victim, as well as to work with local officials, law enforcement and service organizations to provide counseling and outreach.

    Hopefully, in planning their project, they’ve recognized that family and friends may not just want support, they may want a voice in determining whether their loved ones are included, how their stories are told, setting the tone and crafting the message of the project.

    My partner’s funeral spoke to most of his life and ministered beautifully to 95% of people attending. (Those were also the 95% of folks whom he wasn’t yet out to when he died, and still didn’t know he was gay.)

    It omitted the last year of his life, though, and the joy and hope he and I had found together, and even the simplest mention of the divorce.

    I was comfortable choosing silence during the service and being a small voice in one-on-one conversations at the reception. The omissions were painful, but I recognized that the funeral was meeting other needs than mine. It didn’t have to be a full and accurate portrayal of his life in order to meet those needs.

    The lives and deaths of hate crime victims are much more matters of public record than those who have died by suicide. We must learn our lessons from these crimes in order to prevent them from recurring. There is nothing to stop well-meaning folks from framing and executing the project in whatever fashion they choose.

    Hopefully, though, friends and family members have been brought in as collaborators and contributors. Hopefully, those who knew and loved the victims best have agreed that the use of their stories, names, and images is in sync with the way they lived their lives.

    The project’s tone and message may not please every person connected with the victims, but it can be done in way which doesn’t leave those folks feeling their loved ones’ lives have been miscast or manipulated.

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