Tucson, Arizona – The toxic climate of hate speech in the United States has been named as a “suspect” in the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on Saturday. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois used former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, reload!”) as an example of the caustic political climate characteristic of political speech in America, and called for all parties to refrain from demonization and hate speech, according to the Huffington Post and AP reports. Giffords was shot through the head, six others were killed, and a total of 16 people wounded in an attack on the Congresswoman’s open-air “Congress On Your Corner” event held in Tucson at a Safeway Supermarket location. A 22-year-old, Jared Loughner, was tackled by two attendees, and subsequently arrested for the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords. While the investigation is proceeding against Loughner, who may have ties to an extremist political group called “American Renaissance,” officials across the nation are decrying the hate speech so prevalent in American discourse on virtually every level of the nation’s life. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona, where the shooting took place on Saturday, told the Associated Press: “I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Sheriff Dupnik went on to liken Arizona as the “Tombstone of the United States,” in apparent reference to the lawless legacy of violence in the Wild West of the late 19th century. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona has issued a complaint against Jared Lee Loughner, charging him with federal crimes, including the murder of individuals performing their duties as government officials, and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Lawmakers are vociferously condemning the demonizing rhetoric of recent years in the wake of the shooting, but the roots of American hate speech and the culture of violence so rife in American life are being left untouched. For decades, minority groups like the LGBTQ community in the United States have suffered the effects of intolerance and hate speech, as well as the violence that such irresponsible language spawns. While pundits may debate the linkage between hate speech and hate violence, the dead in every state in the nation give mute testimony to the effects of bias-motivated acts carried out by individuals and groups espousing the sub-humanity of their targets. Hate speech leads to hateful deeds, as Sheriff Dupnik, making reference to the mental state of the assailant in Saturday’s attack, asserted to the Washington Post: “There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said during his televised remarks. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, who discovered the body of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk after his assassination, spoke to the consequences of hate-filled rhetoric: “I have seen firsthand the effects of assassination, and there is no place for this kind of violence in our political discourse. It must be universally condemned. We do not yet know the gunman’s motivations, but I am convinced that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric.” Jared Lee Loughner is the prime suspect in the terror-attack on Congresswoman Giffords, Federal Judge Roll, and the other victims of the Tucson rampage. But bias-driven hate speech in American life, that terrorizes minorities, political opponents, and cultural adversaries, belongs in the dock in the wake of this outrage every bit as much as the man who was apparently motivated to kill and maim by the angry words he heard for most of his young life.
Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT. In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States. Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage. According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion. GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess. Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military. We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services. To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.
Visit http://www.govtrack.us/congress/vote.xpd?vote=s2009-327 for more information.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, legendary liberal Lion of the United States Senate, has died of brain cancer at age 77 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The Kennedy family has issued this statement to the public: “Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.” Kennedy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in May 2008. The LGBT community has lost a great champion for human rights. A true ally of sexual minorities, Kennedy lobbied for rights and protections for all Americans. As recently as July 13, 2009, he made these remarks in favor of the Senate passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, of which he was a sponsor: “Violent attacks based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability deserve to be criminalized by federal law. Our nation must show that it will not permit these communities to be terrorized – one victim at a time. Over 10 years have passed since the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was first introduced in the Senate. Over 10 years have passed since Matthew Shepard was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence, and left to die because he was gay. I commend Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, for her years of inspiring advocacy that have brought us to this moment. Now is the time for the Senate to vote and show that we will not allow domestic terrorism to tear apart the fabric of our nation and take the lives of innocent Americans. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to follow their hearts and minds and vote in favor of this legislation.” Perhaps Kennedy will be best remembered for his unstinting advocacy for universal healthcare, “the cause of his life,” that was on his mind as he fought a losing battle with cancer. He took responsibility for his personal appetites and flaws, showing the nation he loved that he deserved our respect and affection because imperfect people can do magnificent things. He was born to privilege, but instead chose to serve, becoming one of the few greats in the history of the Senate. When Webster, Clay, Calhoun and Taft are honored in years to come, Kennedy will be remembered among them. Teddy Kennedy, the passionate defender of women, LGBT people, the poor, and the infirm, fought the good fight. It would be only fitting to note on his epitaph that among his posthumous legislative achievements were the Matthew Shepard Act and the Universal Healthcare Act. To inscribe them there must now be our labor of love and respect for Teddy, the People’s Lion.
Washington, DC – Last night the U.S. Senate passed the mammoth Department of Defense Appropriations Bill with the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act attached as an amendment. HRC Backstory explains the process of reconciliation that this version of the bill will undergo in the Senate-House Conference Committee. According to HRC Senior Policy Analyst David Stacy, “During the month of August, while the Congress is in recess, House and Senate staff will work out differences between the House and Senate bills. Most of these decisions are unrelated to hate crimes and can be worked out at the staff level. Key decisions will be made by Senators and Representatives when they return in September. Most important among these will be the final decision about whether to keep the Matthew Shepard Act. Beyond that threshold question, which we fully expect will be an emphatic “YES,” decisions will have to be made about the amendments passed by the Senate this week.” This is great cause for celebration since LGBT people are very close to having federal protection in an unprecedented way in our history. Not only does this legislation honor Matthew Shepard, for whom it is named. It also remembers and honors thousands of other LGBT hate crimes victims for whom this legislative act is a vindication of sorts. But while there is reason for rejoicing, the ultimate passage of anti-LGBT hate crimes legislation is not a done deal yet. The DOD bill did attach other amendments, such as the Sessions Death Penalty amendments, designed to make the Matthew Shepard Act less palatable to sponsors and the public. The protections provided in the bill for LGBT people are limited, if still important and historic. Hate crimes against us are on the rise, and the old bromide activists rehearse, that as the younger generations take the reins of culture and government, the war against LGBT people will be over, is just not borne out by the facts. If younger Americans are more open statistically toward LGBT people and our relationships, then why is the profile of the people who actually kill us men from teenage to mid-30s, for one thing? So, we must keep at this work. Those of us who believe in justice cannot rest. Those of us who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes. [Illustration thanks to Advocate.com].
~ Stephen Sprinkle, Director, Unfinished Lives Project