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The Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Protection Act passed the House today after 10 years of lobbying and educating that the LGBT community needed protection too.
I have always been divided on hate crimes legislation. On one level, this act of Congress made me feel a little bit more ‘equal’ in terms of rights. I know if someone hates and commits violence against me for my sexual orientation, at least the U.S. House of Representatives realizes that it is akin to hating me for being a woman or a person of color. And I would be lying if I said that it does not matter. It matters to me just like ‘gay marriage,’ which I personally don’t support.
But on another level, the state has absolutely no business in categorizing deviant behavior and differences, and then labeling Others as unacceptable for certain rights and privileges. With hate crimes legislation, political identities and differences are institutionalized rather than discarded.
Yet, it is not a bill that I will publicly stand against.
I wear the Matthew Shepard pendant for Understanding, Acceptance and Compassion quite fondly.
I was in Fiji, 13, and having my first coming out affair when Mathew Sheppard was killed. At that point, I did not really think that I could have a family someday or that I could convince my own family to love me despite my love for someone else.
I remember coming to the United States and going through high school in silence of the hatred that I had faced in school, silent about the ridicule, hatred and violence I faced at home.
I would screen The Laramie Project in school, write passionately for hate crimes legislation and lament quite a lot about how we are not included in federal protections.
Recently I watched Twilight of the Golds, a movie starring Jennifer Beals that explored the hypothetical possibility of knowing your unborn child would be gay. The mother (Jennifer Beals), torn apart by the challenges, considered an abortion even as her own brother (Brendan Fraser) was openly gay. I knew that if it had been possible to predetermine sexuality before birth, I wouldn’t be alive. That is a violence that no one has perpetuated, but that I have internalized; it is routine violence that is constructed with identity politics and hate crimes legislation will do little to prevent that.
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