In the grip of gay panic

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 10 2005 1:00 AM ET

As I sit here at my desk day after day reading the news stories that streak across the news pages of various Web sites and newspapers, I become more and more angry. Within the last week or so, I have read many disturbing stories.A jury in Kentucky rejected a charge of murder for a man who confessed to beating and strangling a gay man, stuffing his body into a suitcase, and then casting it upon the waters of a lake. Even though the accused murderer had confessed to an aunt that he intentionally lured a gay man to his hotel room where he had planned to kill the victim, because of a “steaming anger” toward gay men, the jury found him guilty only of manslaughter.Defense counsel argued that even manslaughter was too harsh, telling the jury that the killer was “privileged to do” what he did to the victim because the victim made a sexual advance. The victim was put on trial for being a gay man rather than the killer being convicted for premeditated murder. The attorney went on to tell the jury that the killer had the right under Kentucky law to fight back to protect himself from being raped or sodomized, using deadly force if necessary, and would do so again.The killer faces a sentence of up to 30 years, but under Kentucky law he could be eligible for parole in just 30 months.In another murder case a gay man was killed after he and another man had sex in Wisconsin. The killer’s defense attorney is using the “gay panic” defense as a reason for the killing, claiming guilt and shame led to temporary insanity and that the killer should not be held accountable for the crime—even though he already pled guilty to murder. Apparently having consensual oral sex with another man in Wisconsin is justification for shooting the victim in the back of the head with a shotgun a few hours later as well as stabbing him. The 19-year-old murderer’s defense attorney has also said that the killer was no longer confused about his sexuality because he had started a relationship with a 14-year-old girl—thus suggesting that pedophilia was somehow a therapeutic response to homicidal homophobia.The prosecution tells another version of events, arguing that the killer wanted to see how it felt to kill the victim and to see if he can get away with it. Sentencing is pending.I’ll spare you the details of similar murder cases in Tennessee and Arizona, but you can read the stories for yourself elsewhere on this Web site.Meanwhile, in the great Commonwealth of Virginia, that bastion of liberty and love, the house of delegates passed a bill that will allow license plates to extol “Traditional Marriage.” How could that simple message make anyone feel bad? At the same time, a school board member of Fairfax, Va., asked all schools to host “ex-gay speakers” so that the students could be “offered a choice” instead of being exposed to the “very destructive [gay] lifestyle.”Offered a choice? Is that like choosing between the pizza or the mystery meat at lunch? Don’t they get that being or not being gay is not chosen? Obviously not.Speaking of schools: In the state of Texas, another shining star of tolerance, last month once again found another Christian institution expelling a gay Christian student from high school. His offense? He created a Web site targeted to support gay youths. This was all it took for the Trinity “Christian” Academy to not only expel 18-year-old James Barnett, but to out him to his parents. This then has led to his possible expulsion from his family home as well because the parents don’t like the publicity they are receiving. Too much visibility for that traditional Christian love, I guess.Maybe they’re just protecting the children, like in Arkansas, where a bill has been introduced—and probably will pass—that bars gay couples from adopting. “Some people think this bill is an antigay bill; it is not,” said Rep. Bob Adams. Huh? Apparently like the Roman Catholic Church, he believes it is preferable to leave children languishing in orphanages rather than go to a loving home where the child can be well cared for and loved. Maybe, as in Oklahoma, the state of Arkansas would like to undo loving adoptions cemented in other states, thus putting helpless children in jeopardy of losing their parents all together. Creating orphans for their own good.The ingredient missing in so many of these stories is love—but don’t expect our mainstream media to allow anyone to offer a loving hand to gays and lesbians, even if they’re willing to pay for the privilege. Two TV networks, CBS and NBC, recently refused to carry a message from the United Church of Christ that touted its inclusion of all people within its churches. How could that simple message make anyone feel bad? Isn’t the message of Christ one of inclusion? It seems that these two networks just couldn’t stand to air any ad that preached tolerance and love if it included welcoming gay couples—one even cited George W. Bush’s renewed attack on the LGBT community via the U.S. Constitution as a reason not to air the ad, lest they offend the right-wing White House.Of course ABC did not want to be left out of the race of the networks to see who could seem the least gay friendly. Its news program 20/20 in November disturbed the grave and peace of Matthew Shepard, appeasing the religious right and Washington, D.C., fascists by ripping open a wound that hasn’t closed since the day that Matthew was murdered, more than six years ago. As reported on Advocate.com, it seems that the producers of this segment had made up their minds about the conclusion of their “renewed investigation” before their reporting was even completed: It was drug-related rather than a hate crime, and Matthew was partly to blame because he was a drug user who had probably hung out with the addicts who killed him.This attempt at historical revisionism took place in spite of statements made by the cold-blooded killers themselves at the time of their arrests, admitting that homophobia and that old “gay panic” was their motivation.This is a Disney-owned company? A company that would collapse if its gay employees all walked out? A company whose theme parks would not be able to open in the morning without gay employees? My partner and I worked for the Walt Disney Company in the late 1970s, and believe me when I say, you could not swing a boa without hitting a good-looking young gay man. Gay men and women are the life’s blood of the parks.These are all recent news stories. This does not even take us back before last year’s election. A common factor running through all these examples is a cheapening of the value of gay life. It is OK to kill a gay man if he makes a pass at you, although they do frown on shoving bodies into suitcases and polluting a lake with the remains—since that Kentucky killer was innocent of “murder” yet convicted of “tampering with physical evidence.”Not only do these stories underline the cheapening of the lives and deaths of gay people, they reveal how this country has downgraded the essential equality of the American dream. The Bush administration, in particular, promotes a lack of respect for fellow human beings. So do most of the so-called fundamentalist churches that have not seen the true light of the Gospels. With such examples, the everyday man or woman on the streets—and our children and young people—are learning that same lack of respect. Some even wear it proudly. Some even take it to its logical and horrific conclusion: murder.But I am not just mad at the ignorant, the foolhardy, the religious fundamentalists of all faiths, the Republicans, both gay and straight. I am mad at the LGBT community for allowing this to happen to us after all of the sacrifice and work that has gone before us.There are millions of us here in the United States. A recent study estimated gay and lesbian buying power at $610 billion a year. With that kind of power, why do we allow this nonsense to continue? Why can our concerns, our rights, our position in society, and our very lives be deemed so unimportant that for a second “state of the disunion” speech in row, the current occupant of the White House once again calls for permanent second-class status for gay and lesbian Americans and their families? How can we sit back and allow the use of the most sacred secular document in the nation, our Constitution, to further the agenda of the mean-spirited, ugly, capitalistic, warmongering centipedes called the Republican majority?Why do we allow this?It is our fault for allowing it to happen. It is our fault for not having national leadership in this community. It is our fault for not having a national strategy to smack down with the back of our hands these upstart anti-American pseudo-Nazis.We have become as complacent as the Jews of Nazi Germany of the 1920s and early 1930s were, and we know what happened to them.Never again.