“Did you learn to be a bigot or were you just born that way?”–One of the Best Lines from the Speeches at the National Equality March in Washington

The crowds at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

The crowds at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

I wish I could give credit for the quote in the title for this post, but it was given by one of the speakers at the National Equality March for LGBT rights, that’s taking place today in Washington, D.C.  Between checking out the NFL scores, I couldn’t find anything on CNN or MSNBC that showed the event.  Then with a mistaken click, there it was, right on C-Span.

I think going to the march would have been a great experience, but like so many other people, the cost of time and money just seemed too prohibitive.  Watching the speakers, though, on TV has been heart-stirring.  When I clicked on C-Span, actress Cynthia Nixon was speaking, and she, in turn, introduced, Judy Shepard, mother of murdered Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.  A number of lesser-known local and state officials were just as inspiring, especially an openly-gay state senator from Utah.  (I’ll have find out more about him later.)  Lt. Dan Choi, the Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the Army because of DADT, and Lady Gaga, the pop diva, exemplify the range and demeanor of the speakers, but both demanding that President Obama take action on his promises.

Lt. Dan Choi, Army Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the military because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Lt. Dan Choi, Army Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the military because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Maybe watching from my comfortable sofa isn’t the same as being part of the multitudes of participants there in D.C., but still I could feel the emotion of the event.  It gives me hope that change will happen.  But just like what people are asking of Obama, there has to be action, not just words.

Pop singer, Lady Gaga, speaking at the National Equality March and asking President Obama to take action.

Pop singer, Lady Gaga, speaking at the National Equality March and asking President Obama to take action.

I’m starting by writing to my conservative congressman.  It may not be worth it; I’ve done it before, and somehow his people now think I’m a republican.

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Hate Crimes Legislation vs. Marriage Equality

Appalled is the only way to describe my reaction yesterday when I saw the C-Span clip of Virgina Foxx, the Republican Congresswoman of North Carolina’s Fifth District during the debate of the hate crime legislation. This former college president and English professor said that the fact that Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay was a hoax. (She has since tried to backtrack on her words.) The fact is gay people in this country are attacked and killed because of their sexual orientation here in the U.S. In some cases, gay people are targeted because they seem to some to be “easy pickings” and the real motivation for the attack is pure harassment or robbery or even rape.

There was a rash of attacks on gay people here in Houston in the 90s, one of which was the murder of Paul Broussard, which happened near where I lived. If you’ve never read about this case, I recommend that you read this article or for a slightly different perspective look here.

It only takes reading the gay press online to know that these attacks are still happening today. I can’t say what percentage of gay people have experienced physical attacks or the threat of being attacked, but I would guess that it’s a high percentage, from attacks in schools to attacks in the street to attacks at home.

In spite of all these attacks (I’ve experienced it myself as I’ve mentioned on my about page), I don’t really support hate crimes legislation. If someone is attacked, they are attacked and the perpetrator should be punished. If someone is murdered, the killer should be tried and punished according to the law, not because of who was killed but because murder is murder no matter who the victim is.

I agree with some in Congress who ask how do we determine which groups should be covered under hate crimes. Ours is a democracy and everyone should be treated equally, no slippery slopes.

And that is the rationale of those people who are against hate crimes legislation: they do not want to have to give special treatment to certain groups.

But where is that rationale when it comes to Marriage Equality? Those who are against marriage equality certainly favor the idea of a special status for heterosexual people. And those against same-sex marriage are not just limited to the evangelicals and other Republicans.

How would all of those who voted in favor of the hate crimes bill have voted if the bill were for legalizing same-sex marriage? I doubt that the majority would have voted for it. While many of these representatives may feel they are doing the right thing, this type of legislation is not the answer to stopping the attacks and murders of gay people, nor of any other group of people. It’s no different than putting that metal plate over the construction hole in the street. You can drive over the hole, but it’s still there and eventually needs to be fixed.

The only real “fix” here is to change the attitudes of individuals and of society as a whole. It’s very hard to change ideas when they have been pounded into someone’s head from an early age.

But the government can do that by making laws that bring equal rights to all citizens. (We’ve seen this when slavery was abolished, when women were given the right to vote, when mixed race couples were allowed to marry.) I don’t know if people who have not been denied rights can understand this. I’m pretty sure that most women can understand this; I’m pretty sure that people of many ethnic minorities can understand this; I know that almost every gay person knows this. Even with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of our elected officials are still heterosexual white men, and most of them do not understand what it means to be discriminated against and do not want to understand it. Because if they were to make the playing ground equal for everyone, they might lose some of their power.

Putting specific groups into hate crimes laws does not make people of those groups any stronger. It weakens them by saying they need special protection, and in reality, is a way of keeping them second class citizens.

Instead what the government needs to do is enact and enforce laws, such as for marriage, labor, and immigration, that give all citizens their due rights under the Constitution.

We can only hope that people like Virginia Foxx, who are against giving special status to any citizens through hate crimes legislation, would also realize that by expressing that viewpoint, they are advocating equal status for all citizens and, thus, would support bills that provide that equality: legislation in favor of same-sex marriage and the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.