Archive for January, 2010

inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in hate crime legislation controversial

January 26, 2010

Should GLBT citizens be entitled to civil liberties and protections despite concerns of Christian groups that these protections violate Biblical precepts and constitute “special rights”?

Fred Phelps at Matthew Shepard's funeral from Slate Magazine

This image shows the Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrating outside the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the victim of a vicious hate crime in 1998 that captured the public consciousness.  Phelps’ presence at Shepard’s funeral evoked outrage and shock. Not shown in the frame are the mourners on their way to the funeral or the counter-demonstrators who arrived to shield them from Phelps.  Although Phelps arguably represents the extremity of anti-glbt movements, his signs proclaiming “MATT IN HELL” and “NO SPECIAL LAWS FOR FAGS” encapsulate the rhetoric used by more mainstream groups opposed to extending civil rights and protections to glbt citizens based on religious dogma. Some conservative groups seeking to deny civil rights and protections to glbt citizens based on Old Testament proscriptions against homosexuality and transsexualism view hate crime legislation as extending “special rights” to glbt people who should be killed and condemned to damnation.

Christian conservatives protest inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in hate crime legislation. Image taken from

This photo depicts Christian conservatives demonstrating against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Bill by reading biblical passages against homosexuality and giving speeches.  The inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the bill was unsettling to some conservative Christians who fear the new legislation will infringe on their 1st Amendment right to condemn homosexuality from the pulpit and are concerned clergy could be prosecuted if their words incite violence against GLBT people.  Some members of the Traditional Values Coalition in attendance equate homosexuality with necrophilia and pedophilia.  Opponents of this legislation argue that no special laws are needed to protect glbt people from hate crimes and it is unfair that hate crimes are treated differently from other murders.

Others argue that the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in hate crime legislation is necessary due to the disproportionate number of glbt people targeted and the severity of the crimes.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, approximately 3% of the population identifies as gay or lesbian, yet they account for 18% of the total hate crimes.  This means that they are six times more likely to be targeted for hate crimes.  The number of hate crimes perpetrated against transgender people is even more astounding.  Statistics cited by the Human Rights Campaign estimate that one in twelve transgender people are murdered , compared with ordinary people who only have a 1 in 18,000 chance of being murdered.   A 2000 survey of 4,000 transgendered people in Washington D.C. found that 17% reported being assaulted with a weapon.  No accurate statistics on transgender hate crime victims were kept by the FBI, but hopefully this will be rectified by the passage of hate crime legislation and result in better enforcement.   A CNN report last April 2009 marks  the first time a person was charged for specifically targeting a transgender person.

The distinct nature of hate crimes is described on the SPLC website by a criminologist from Northeastern University, Jack Levin :

“The overkill is certainly an indicator that hate was present. When you see excessively brutal crimes, and you know the victim is gay or black or Latino or transgender, you have to suspect that hate was a motive. There’s a sense of outrage in these crimes that someone different is breathing or existing.”


Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Timeline

January 15, 2010

Should religious-based objections to bestowing civil liberties and protections towards GLBT people be tolerated in a nation founded on the principles of liberty, pluralism and the separation of church and state?

This question is salient in the debate surrounding GLBT rights since most legislation proposed against GLBT citizens is predicated on religious beliefs. Interference in public policy issues by religious political groups may constitute an imposition of religious beliefs on vulnerable minority groups in violation of the first amendment and the separation of church and state.  Below are some significant milestones in GLBT history.

1789 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights granting freedom of religion


1969-Stonewall riots

This event marks the advent of the gay rights movement in America for many. Continued police harassment and humiliation of GLBT patrons of a New York city bar erupted in defiant violence and prolonged rioting.

1970- First gay Pride March

1973- Declassification of Homosexuality as a Mental Illness by the American Psychiatric Association

Source: The Question of Equality: Lesbian and Gay Politics in America Since Stonewall.  Edited by David Deitcher.  Scribner New York 1995

1977- Anita Bryant founded Save Our Children in response to the passage of legislation that prohibited job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Bryant’s crusade was effective and the legislation was repealed, creating a domino effect resulting in the revocation of recently passed anti-discrimination laws for gay people in Wichita, Kansas; Eugene, Oregon; and St. Paul, Minnesota.  Many gay people were distraught by Bryant’s campaign against them and committed suicide as a result of the public outpouring of antipathy towards them.  Anita Bryant’s organization became the protype for other Christian fundamentalist groups seeking to get involved in the political process for the purpose of depriving gay people of civil rights and protections.   Televangelist Jerry Falwell began his anti-homosexual crusade Clean Up America (that later became the Moral Majority) in the same year.


1980-  AIDS epidemic 

AIDS begins appearing in major cities and decimated much of gay community by the mid-1990s prior to the advent of more effective treatments.

source: citizen former AIDS activist, hospice worker, and resident of San Francisco during the height of the AIDS epidemic Jeanne Norris

1987 ACT UP (AIDS coalition to unleash power) founded by Larry Kramer

This group arose in response to the lack of governmental response to the AIDS epidemic and advocated a more militant response to social and political disenfranchisement.

Source: Hate Crimes: New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence by Valerie Jenness and Kendal Broad New York 1997 Walter de Gruyter, Inc.

1996 – Federal Law Defense of Marriage Act passed by President Bill Clinton

 Prohibits gay marriage by defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  This was a huge blow to the GLBT community since President Clinton had previously championed GLBT rights.

Source: All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America by Suzanna Danuta Walters.  The University of Chicago Press 2001

1998- Matthew Shepard murdered in Wyoming

Matthew Shepard was certainly not the first GLBT person to be murdered in America, but this case evoked a public outcry and catalyzed both straight and GLBT people to stand up against assaults of GLBT people.   Many people in the past who assaulted and murdered GLBT people were exonerated by claiming the gay panic defense.  John Berendt describes a case of four military men who beat a gay man to death in Savannah, Georgia who were charged with only simple battery in his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Source: Hostile Climate: Report on Anti-gay Activity 2000 People  for the American Way Foundation

2009- Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Bill Passed

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Bill was passed despite opposition to the inclusion of GLBT people in hate crime legislation by some conservatives including former President Bush and Rep. Virginia Foxx from North Carolina.  Foxx vehemently protested extending protections to GLBT people and went so far as to claim Shepard’s murder was a hoax.  The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes committed against GLBT and argues that hate crime legislation is necessary to protect those targeted for sexual or gender  identity. Hate crimes against GLBT people are characterized by excessive violence and posthumous mutilation.  


Hello world!

January 8, 2010

I wanted to examine public policies impacting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender  Americans with an emphasis on civil rights, discrimination and hate crimes.  Although many Americans oppose extending civil liberties such as the right to marry towards GLBT citizens, public policy has recently shifted towards granting civil liberties and protections to GLBT people.   The Obama administration signed a hate crime bill last October extending protections to gay and transgender individuals.  Obama  also supports the inclusion of GLBT Americans in the Employment Non-discrimination Act, opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and advocates rescinding policies discriminating against GLBT people in the military.