11 February 2013

So-Called Hate Crimes


You might have heard that New England had a blizzard this past weekend. Sometimes I get a lot of artwork done on a snow day, but in this case there was too much shoveling and digging that needed to be done for it to become a studio extravaganza. Today my muscles are sore, so I'm glad my task at hand is carving and not printing, as printing can be physically strenuous.

In my research for this print, which is a tribute to LGBT people who have been murdered in the past 30 years or so, I found 33 names to use. Thirty of those names were derived from Google searches. These are mostly the well-publicized murders, like the killings of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena. The other three murders are ones that affected me directly -- the killing of my friend and neighbor Joe Kelly (see previous post) and the murder shortly afterward of a lesbian couple named Martha Alsup and Susan Galvin who were well known psychotherapists in Boston and friends of a friend (you can find a short article about their murders here). The fact that I have personally known of three gay people being murdered who do not appear in Google searches would lead me to believe that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others.

Because I want to truly honor these individuals, I made sure that rather than just list their names I studied their stories a bit. I read the details of each death, and some of the information that came to light about their killers as well. It was difficult work, compounded by the fact that my spouse was away on a nine-day business trip while I was doing the research, so I was home alone. I had to be careful how much I read in one sitting and how late at night I continued to work. It was scary. I prayed a lot.

Obviously, a list of 33 individuals is not enough to draw any hard conclusions about murders of LGBT people in general, but I did discover some interesting things based on my small sample:
  • Lesbians seem to be often killed as couples, much more often than gay men. Of the six lesbians in my list, four were killed as a couple. A fifth was attacked with her partner, but the partner survived. Only one lesbian in my list was alone.
  • Of the 33 murders listed, only one was carried out with a gun, which was the Harvey Milk murder. I find this very interesting. The Milk murder could properly be called an assassination, and in America we do assassination with guns.
  • All of the other murders were carried out either by stabbing, beating, or a combination of both. "Crimes of passion" I think they're called; close and intimate and personal.
  • All 33 of the murders I've listed were committed by men.
Another thing I discovered, which I didn't know before, is that on the internet there's a big argument about whether or not crimes like this can really be called "hate crimes" and whether or not we can really know that they were motivated by the victim's gender or sexuality. People who disagree with giving gays special rights or special treatment have made arguments about some of these specific cases, trying to prove that the killers' motives were robbery or drugs or anything but bias against homosexuals and transgendered people. Defense lawyers, too, try to disprove anti-gay bias by similar arguments. Lawyers have also come up with a quasi-psychological condition called "gay panic," used especially in cases involving transgendered people, which posits that a man can become temporarily insane when he realizes he's face to face with a gay/queer/trans person and he can't help but attack the person. The fact that this line of reasoning can actually be taken seriously in a court of law blows my mind.

Suffice it to say, I'm glad to be done with my research. I'm using this time spent carving to offer my love and blessings to all these persons who have died from hate and ignorance and fear. And may I be relieved of my own hate and ignorance and fear, because of course I have them too.


Katka said...

I'm very moved by your last two posts Annie. First, by your courage to tackle this issue...I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to do the research for it.

Second, by your admission that ignorance and fear live to some degree within all of us. I do believe that it is through actions such as yours, through focusing on love and blessing, that we purge ourselves of this fear.

How far we've come and yet how far we still need to go.

Annie B said...

Thank you Kate.

Amanda said...

Annie, this is such a disturbing issue. I've also felt those horrible feelings, discriminating against someone for no reason at all, something small like appearance, or maybe something that seems bigger at the time. And I'm ashamed of that.

However, I'm shocked to hear about these murders and to know that people you've known have been killed, but even more appauled to hear about the so-called medical basis for committing such a crime. I know defence lawyers have to defend, but how they found a health professional prepared to spout such utter lies in court is the part that really angers and saddens me.

Be safe.

Annie B said...

Thanks, Amanda. Staying safe is an interesting aspect of this whole thing. I don't want to live in fear, and mostly I don't, but I am aware from time to time that I limit myself in an effort to stay safe. There are many places in this country, and in this world, where I would never travel because I would feel unsafe. Sometimes Lynn will say "let's go to such and such a place for our vacation" and I recoil because I can't imagine us as two women being there without arousing at least curiosity if not hostility. Sad, but that's what I do.