It’s always difficult to hear about gay bashing. The recent events in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, where two gay New Yorkers were brutally attacked while on vacation with friends, only highlight the need to understand what creates this mentality of hate.
One victim, Dick Jefferson, a 51-year-old top producer at the “CBS Evening News,” now has a titanium plate in his head. The second victim Ryan Smith, a 25-year-old television news researcher, also at CBS, suffered far more serious injuries. Yes, far more serious than a titanium skull plate.
The sluggish, apathetic, and, dare I say, criminal response of the St. Maarten police should serve as a wake up call to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, that when stereotypes are continually perpetuated, unresolved violence is the inevitable result. The situation on the ground in St. Maarten took on an even more ominous tone when Today, a newspaper there, days after the attacks editorialized as follows: “It is made much worse when silly homosexuals use their power in the New York media to trash a friendly island for a one-of-a-kind incident. The homosexual community should be ashamed.”
This story is the nightmare of every parent of a gay person. I can’t tell you how many times my mother, who assisted in legalizing Gary’s and my relationship by signing our Canadian marriage certificate, has asked me not to hold my husband’s hand in public because she fears for our safety.
While I appreciate my mother’s concern, I also understand that it is based in fear. That very fear exists at the core of the stereotyping that plagues the LGBT community. It is only with accurate, courageous visibility that gay people can destroy the stereotypes that continue to curse all of society.
Anyone whose has seen “All Aboard,” Rosie O’Donnell’s moving documentary on HBO highlighting her first ever R Vacations cruise for lesbian and gay families, cannot deny the power of honesty and love. The families who vacationed with O’Donnell showed the world that they are real and deserve the equality that is afforded as a matter of course to those who cannot move beyond erroneous stereotypes. Even while confronting anti-gay fundamentalists in the Bahamas, these families kept their dignity in the face of ignorance.
The only matters that make me angrier than the increasingly frequent bashings against our gay brothers and sisters are the people who sit back and shake their heads at what a shame it all is and then do nothing. People do not seem to connect the ever-present dots that point directly to this violent outcome.
For instance, at a Greenwich Village block association meeting two years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was appalled by two recent gay bashings in the West Village. That same week he vowed to veto the Dignity for all Students Act (DASA), a city anti-bullying bill that would have created a record-keeping and discipline structure for addressing school bullying motivated by race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and other biases. His reasons for opposing the measure amounted to procedural quibbles, but he chose not to err on the side of student safety. DASA had, and continues to have, the overwhelming support of the City Council, who eventually overrode the Bloomberg’s veto. The mayor to this day has refused to implement the law.
Children who learn that it is okay to bully their gay classmates grow up to be adults who disapprove of anti-discrimination legislation, hate crimes legislation, equality in marriage for gays and lesbians—or worse, continue to be gay bashers. The children of today hold the key to our future. If they are taught tolerance, the whole world benefits. When they learn the prejudices of their parents, they have no choice but to harbor confusion or worse about gay people.
A non-gay friend in Pennsylvania who has gone out of her way to support our marriage rights recently wrote to me, saying that while she agrees that equality is important, she had a real problem with the gay and lesbian families who brought their children, for the first time in visible fashion, to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
“I know they are upset with Bush but I just can’t help but feel like the kids were being exploited,” she wrote. “To me it felt like they were using the kids to get their point across and I just feel it was wrong.”
I understand her concern for those children, but isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to create a safe world free from prejudice? Isn’t it the responsibility of their parents to do everything they can to assist in that creation? Visibility is the first step in the process. Aggressive activism is the second. I don’t mean militancy for its own sake. I mean writing to your elected officials, every week if you have to, and telling them that you demand anti-discrimination protection, hate crimes and anti-bullying legislation, and full equality for all Americans.
It also means being and remaining visible.
I came to the realization awhile ago that accommodating my mother’s fear for Gary’s and my safety came at a huge price. If I choose not to hold Gary’s hand in public, I deny both Gary and me the simple joy of holding each other’s hand. More to the point, I once again withhold from the world an opportunity to see two men who have loved and cared for one another for 17 years.
How will society grow if we do not give it the chance to? Visibility is crucial.
Joan Garry, the former executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, once said, “You can’t accept what you don’t understand. You can’t understand what you don’t see.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Anthony M. Brown served as research assistant to Nan Hunter, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Project at the ACLU, and helped prepare the brief for the Lawrence v. Texas sodomy case while interning at Lambda Legal in 2002. He currently heads the Nontraditional Family and Estates Law division of the law firm of McKenna, Siracusano & Chianese and is on the board of directors of The Wedding Party. He can be reached at: [email protected].