Suicides. Gay bashings. Targeting and torturing people just because they are gay. It has been a difficult time for any of us who love our kids, our friends, our families, and our neighbors — to watch people we love beaten and killed because of who they are. Yet this is every day for some people — lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who have lived with fear and violence each time they leave the house, go to work, walk down the street, or kiss their partner goodbye.
Violence against LGBT people has not suddenly increased — it has been increasing all along. In 2008 we had the most violent year for LGBT people since Matthew Shepard was murdered 10 years earlier. October 2009 was the most violent month of the year and the same month that President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. During the latter half of 2009 and early 2010, a gay or transgender person was killed every month in Puerto Rico. What has increased alarmingly is the severity of the violence — anti-LGBT violence becomes more brutal each year.
Why is this happening? At the Anti-Violence Project we know that the more visible we are, the more vulnerable we are to those who would act on their anti-LGBT prejudice. Over the past 10 years we have seen a historic increase in visibility around LGBT civil rights — we are regularly included in national, state and local debates about politics and policy. For every person who speaks to the necessity to achieve equality and respect for LGBT people, there is another who spews anti-LGBT rhetoric. With bus tours preaching against gay folks or signs that promote nooses as the “solution” to same-sex marriage, these are dangerous times. Tens of millions of dollars are spent by so-called community leaders and antigay groups each year to denigrate and denounce LGBT people, creating a culture of hate that results in attacks and suicides.
Antigay rhetoric promotes the stigma and isolation that drives LGBT youths to take their own lives and encourages violent gay bashings, and we've seen the very real harm this does. Hate speech creates a hostile environment that demeans LGBT people and encourages physical attacks against our communities. Anti-LGBT hate speech is dangerous, it is ignorant, and it is wrong.
The rhetoric is all that more dangerous because it is supported by national anti-LGBT policy. Every national law in this country, save one, either excludes LGBT people or discriminates against us. The only law that protects us, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is the one meant to prosecute those who would harm us because of this culture of hate. And in what has become a painful irony, the government’s failure to repeal the laws that actively discriminate against us — "don't ask, don't tell," the Defense of Marriage Act — and refusal to pass those that would acknowledge our equality, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or a fully inclusive Civil Rights Act, contributes to this culture of hate.
So what is the solution? We have to change the culture of hate. We
have to demand immediate equality because we have been put on notice: It
is, literally, deadly to wait. Our laws must not only protect LGBT
people but also proclaim our equality to everyone and denounce those who
would target us for discrimination and violence. We have to stop the
anti-LGBT rhetoric, from the jokes to the nooses. The government must do
that through policy, but so can we by word and deed.
everyone’s issue. If you were affected by the stories of gay kids
killing themselves, if you were horrified to see gay people targeted and
tortured, if you think that people should be able to walk down the
street without being jumped and beaten simply for being who they are,
then this is your issue. And now, more than ever, we need our straight
allies to say, “I will not tolerate this anti-LGBT rhetoric. I will not
allow another gay joke to go unchallenged. I know how dangerous it is
and I will stop it.” The people who are dying, who are harmed, are our
children, our friends and neighbors. Stand up. Stand up against
homophobia. Stand up against violence. Stand up for those who can’t
and with those who can.