CAT | Hate Crimes / Homophobia
Stories like this – Bullied Greensburg student takes his own life – simultaneously infuriate and sadden me to a point where I can hardly think. Billy Lucas, 15, another unnecessary casualty at the hands of homophobia.
The very day that Billy’s mother found him hanging in their barn, students told him to kill himself. They would call him ‘fag’ and say he didn’t deserve to live.
When I try to express my desires to be an activist, I always cite to the fact that homophobia kills and that it kills unnecessarily. I stress that I am not being dramatic. Homophobia has undeniably led to countless deaths, and far too many of those deaths are teenagers committing suicide. (You could also say that those living in the closet have suffered a “death” in a sense, as they aren’t exactly “living” the way they could or should.)
It is the reason I have absolutely no tolerance for anyone that is homophobic or hides their anti-gay rhetoric behind a façade of religious morality. Churches and people the spew anti-gay rhetoric lead suicides. Period.
These lives can be spared if our society quits treating being gay as something negative. When it isn’t something that is a source for bullying or when youth don’t fear talking about it with their parents or school administrators.
The Give A Damn monthly issue, “Youth Suicide,” could not be more timely.
Some quick facts:
- Gay and transgender youth are nearly 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
- More than 2 out of 5 gay and transgender teens think about suicide often, and 1 in 3 have attempted it.
The campaign closes its introduction for the topic with these remarks: “It’s time to give a damn, because growing up should be about making friends, discovering the world and discovering yourself—not about finding a way to end your pain and end your life.”
Watch their PSA on the subject here:
‘Fag’ and ‘faggot’ are words we’ve all heard and probably said at some point in our lives. Rappers use the words as lyrics, sports people go on homophobic rants, and we all know about godhatesfags.com. Today, however, was a first: I was clearly identified as gay and directly called a faggot.
The story goes like this…
I had met some friends for lunch at the Thai restaurant, Basil, about 4 blocks south of my apartment in the Short North, the artsy, gay-friendly district of Columbus. (Aside: our lunch service was so atrocious that we were there for over an hour and a half, eventually receiving the meal for free. You can imagine the irritable mood I was in at this point.)
After we parted ways, I began the trek home.
As is per usual when you walk anywhere on High Street, people will ask you for change. I’d say the ratio is 4 blocks of walking to every 1 encounter with a beggar.
So I’m passing by this upstanding gentleman who tries to wave me down. I give him a semi-acknowledging nod as I keep walking passed.
He then attempts a greeting, “Hey, bro, how’s it going?”
Knowing that he simply wants to get my attention to ask for change, I ignore his masked friendly gesture and keep walking.
And then he does it, mumbling “faggot” under his breath.
He obviously knew I was gay based on the neighborhood and how I was dressed. I met with my mentor-slash-boss from this summer earlier that day, so I was in full-on business casual, dress-it-up-and-dress-it-down mode. (Okay, fine, it was my pointy Guess shoes that were the blatant giveaway.)
My response? I chuckled and responded, “Good one.”
As I walked to remaining blocks home, I pondered:
- Should I have said something more witty, maybe pointing out the fact that he’s at a point in his life where he’s begging for change on the street?
- Should I have confronted the guy more forcefully than that?
- Should I turn around and go back and confront him?
- I’m certainly no fighter, and would probably just get beat up, but did I owe it to myself?
- If I was African American and he used the ‘N word’, how would I have responded? Would he have even dared to do that?
It was a short walk, so that’s about all I had time to question. I also don’t know where I’m going with this post, aside from sharing my “first” on this Friday the 13th. How’s your day going?
The article I wrote for the pride issue of Central Voice has now been distributed, and I have permission to re-post it here. You can download a PDF version here, showing how it looked in print with pictures, etc.
Issue Analysis: Why We Need Better Protections
By Pete Olsen
When I first read the article in Edge: Boston on April 5th about the physical beating and threats committed by three men against Phillip Nelson, a 24-year old college student who was living in Claremore, Oklahoma, a town of 20,000 people, twenty-five miles northeast of Tulsa, I was appalled for several reasons. First, all hate crimes by their very nature are despicable and reprehensible. Second, the response by the local police departments was slow to nonexistent and arguably corrupt. Third, and most disheartening, Phillip endured the attacks almost casually, considering them among a lifelong trend of discriminatory treatment to which he was numb.
Phillip’s story, shared by far too many, exemplifies the need for increased legal protections for the LGBT community – increased protection for students who are bullied, passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” etc.
After Phillip was assaulted, the Edge quoted him saying: “I’ve been called names all my life, even by my family members; and after a while I learned to get numb from it. I just got numb from a lot of things. I’m happy with myself and that’s all that matters.”
I commend Phillip’s strength, courage, pride, and self-confidence; however, I was demoralized to learn that a young adult would get accustomed to this treatment, to be so downtrodden that a hate crime would be considered routine, especially knowing that countless gay youth face discrimination at home and in their churches and are bullied at schools across the country.
I had the opportunity to interview Phillip and learned that what I thought to be an isolated attack was actually part of a series of three related acts of discrimination in 2010. And as a result, Phillip was forced to drop out from his current semester of studies, moving from Oklahoma to Texas just to be safe on a day-to-day basis. I learned more about the depth of Phillip’s personal and familial history – a history defined by religion, bullying, and the death of his parents – causing Phillip to be both numb to discrimination while strengthening him to persevere through anything life would send his way.
Phillip came out at age 11, yet even before it was official, people knew. He never hid it, because he never felt he should – it was the way he was born. He remembers getting caught playing with Barbies. He carried a picture of the green Power Ranger with him. He was in love with the green ranger; he just knew they were going to get married someday.
Like far too many gay youth that come from an evangelical Christian home in the bible belt of the country, this sort of behavior and coming out was not well-received. His family would preach against him, saying he was going to burn in hell for his sins.
Phillip told me the best years of his life were during elementary school, because by junior high, the bullying was relentless torture. His schoolmates called him faggot constantly. They would throw soda cans at him. After his father died of cancer when Phillip was 15, and his mother already having passed in a car accident when he was 8, his peers added “orphan boy” to the flurry of insults.
He had nowhere to turn for support. The only members of his immediately family alive, his older brother and sister, despised who he was, and his churched considered him to be filled with demons.
While Phillip would have many reasons to turn away from Christianity, his faith remains strong. He embraced the true, positive tenets of the religion, and that was the one constant in his life that he could cling to during troubling times. It granted him the stability and strength he needed to survive the bullying in his youth, to understand the death of his mom and dad, and, fast-forwarding to 2010, to overcome a series of hate crimes forcing him to drop out of school and move to a new state.
Although Phillip would consider 2010 just another year facing discrimination and bigotry, I would call it a nightmare year with life-changing consequences.
The first warning sign was a bible with “fag” carved into the cover left at his doorstep in early March.
A week later, while taking out the trash during his spring break, three men assaulted him. They screamed, “faggot!” and yelled, “you’re going to die!” as they beat him up. A few days later, the attackers broke into his apartment and wrote “fag” across his wall. The Claremore Police Department was slow to respond to the attack or to Phillip’s calls to fill out a police report. Later, when Phillip attempted to follow up on the reports, they had mysteriously gone missing.
The story of the attack was covered by the local news, and while it is important that people hear about hate crimes, it was bad for Phillip: now, he would be a known homosexual everywhere he went. This infamy led to Phillip being harassed, threatened with violence, and thrown out of a karaoke bar in Tulsa on April 3rd. The managers of the bar recognized him from TV, and the DJ, who was the bar owner’s wife, announced on the microphone, “we don’t like faggots in our bar.” A group of bikers and other friends of the bar owners showed up yielding weapons, forcing Phillip and his friend to leave. Again, Phillip filed a police report with the Tulsa Police Department. This time, however, he took a picture of the report in the event it too would go missing.
His sister, now a Sunday school teacher, had the nerve to blame Phillip for these events. She told him that if he would have kept his mouth shut, none of this would have happened.
In response, and understandably, Phillip no longer feels safe in Oklahoma. He dropped out of his university classes studying art and contemporary dance, and since it was after the standard date to withdraw, he now has an entire semester of “W’s” on his transcript.
He has since moved to Irving, Texas to be with his partner. He was planning to return to Oklahoma to attend an anniversary memorial for his dad, but again, considering it too dangerous, he stayed in Oklahoma opting to hold his own personal memorial playing a Janis Joplin record he found among his dad’s belongings.
Phillip’s struggle as a child and in 2010 is just one case among many that embodies the need for better legal protection at the federal and state level.
Students should not be bullied in school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. They should feel safe in that environment to focus on their studies. They should feel confident that they can seek support from their administrators and that their pleas will be properly heard and swiftly remedied. As far too many schools and school districts have proven to be incapable, the only solution for this problem is federal legislation mandating protective procedures.
States need to embrace enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, rather than attempting to make the federal enforcement process complicated. Oklahoma State Senator Steve Russell, tried such a tactic, getting legislation through their Senate that would prohibit any local law enforcement agency from sharing information with a federal investigation of a hate crime. Thankfully, the legislation was blocked in Oklahoma’s House.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” needs to be repealed. ENDA needs to be passed.
During this pride season when you feel invigorated with a sense of community and advocacy, educate yourself on the current status of state and federal laws. Pennsylvania laws currently do not address hate crimes or workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, provide any recognition for same-sex couples, or provide assurance for students who are bullied.
Once you educate yourself, use your voice: contact your local and state representatives to make your positions known. Send a message with your wallet: donate to supportive candidates’ campaigns and be cognizant of the policies of the stores where you shop. And be certain to be represented: in November, remember to vote.
(Reprinted from Central Voice – thecentralvoice.ning.com)
Since my last post about an NFL Draftee being asked if he was gay, the question of what should be acceptable decorum regarding sexuality has been brought up in several situations: George Rekers hiring a prostitute, Elena Kagan being nominated to the Supreme Court, and even Condoleeza Rice for being a WNBA fan.
When George Rekers, crusader of the ex-gay movement, hires a “travel companion” from rentboy.com, receives nude sexual massages, and then denies being gay or ever engaging in any homosexual activity, do we believe him? Should his place in the closet be treated differently than those who are in the closet from the homophobia he spreads?
When Elena Kagan, whose sexuality many considered to be pretty clear before her Supreme Court nomination, now denies it, do we believe her now? Do we respect her choice to be in the closet, assuming she actually is in the closet, differently than Rekers? When the Wall Street Journal publishes a picture of Kagan playing softball, are they insinuating she’s a lesbian hoping to stir up controversy? Never mind that from that single picture, MLB players analyzed her stance and batting mechanics.
And then there are the real questions to ask: Should sexuality really matter? By bringing so much attention to the issue, doesn’t it prove that it does? What benefits come from outing? What harms?
On one hand, the benefits from people being out of the closet are immense. The number of people—your friends, family, school mates, church community, neighbors, etc.—that have had no exposure in their life to someone gay need to know gay people. It will change their perspectives on the issues.
Honestly, if there were a big red button on my desk that I could push to out every single closeted person in the world, I would push it. It would seriously wreck havoc in some lives, and I acknowledge that, but I guarantee you this “gay movement” would be resolved a whole lot quicker. The principal at your school? Gay. Your pastor? Oh, he’s gay too. Your best friend? A close relative? That Super Bowl winning, Hall of Fame quarterback? Gay, gay, gay.
Sadly, there is no button on my desk to speed things along. Accordingly, the “closet” deserves more individualized consideration.
The title for his Rekers piece, aptly, is “Closeted anti-gays are the enemy within.” As he writes: “People like Rekers, a Baptist minister who was paid to testify against gay adoption and travel the globe preaching that therapy can “cure” gay people, do not deserve the same sympathy given to those who are afraid of losing their jobs. Not when they consciously morph from being victims of homophobia to attack dogs eating their young.”
In contrast, his piece on Kagan, “Gays wrong to call for Kagan to declare sexuality,” respects her privacy and scolds those who try to make an issue of her sexuality. First, he acknowledges the benefit in having “positive, openly gay role models in the public eye.” But most importantly, her sexuality should have no bearing on her capacity to be a Justice. “Knowing the sexual orientation of a Supreme Court justice doesn’t tell anyone how that person is going to rule, nor does having a heterosexual or gay, lesbian or transgendered justice guarantee that person is going to be an ally for the community of which he or she is part.”
Ultimately, I wish everyone would come out on their own accord. In almost every situation I’ve seen, including my own, the pain of being in the closet was not worth it, and the inevitable doom in coming out really wasn’t so bad. But the privacy of those who remain in the closet, so long as they do not repress their urges to a point that they become combative and promote homophobia, should be respected.
You know, I really do have a genuine, sincere interest in battling homophobia within the specific scope of sports. However, when I read a story about a college kid getting beat up while taking out his trash while being called a faggot and told “you’re going to die”, I really could give a damn about sports. Oh, and they also broke into his apartment, stole stuff, and wrote “fag” across his wall, in case you’re wondering.
That’s the most recent story of a hate crime committed against a young gay person. This time it was Phillip Nelson in the small Oklahoma town of Claremore, an hour north of Tulsa. Remember, Oklahoma is one of the states trying to get around enforcing the equal protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity from the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a federal law. Great idea, Oklahoma.
Aside from the obvious deplorable nature of this attack, there are two pieces of this story that are especially disheartening.
First, the local authorities are doing very little to investigate the attack and not returning the calls that Nelson has placed with the police department. I know it’s a small town and I know it’s Oklahoma, but it is also 2010: please, get with the times.
Second, Nelson has apparently become so used to facing anti-gay slurs that he’s built an emotional wall to hide behind. From the Edge article, linked above, Nelson is quoted: “I’ve been called names all my life, even by my family members; and after a while I learned to get numb from it.” I’m glad that he’s found a way to survive and take the high-road against adversity, but it is really unfortunate that he, and so many others in similar situations, have to numb themselves emotionally just to get through their life.
The physical nature of the hate crime surely makes me mad, but to know a young man has had to numb himself emotionally to fend off the verbal assaults from his own family infuriates me.