Violence (in Rhetoric) Begets Violence

I recently contributed a commentary piece to the Minneapolis Star Tribune drawing connections between hate speech in its legislative forms and violence toward GLBT citizens; connections that are more than obvious to our community. That article was sparked by my own experience as a victim of a hate crime; my friend Larry and I were assaulted in front of the Oak Grove Hotel on the eve of Pride weekend.

We were shoved around, verbally abused and threatened; there were far more violent attacks over Pride weekend. We’re both Scandinavians who tend to minimize traumas. I might say to a concerned friend, “It’s fortunate that we weren’t seriously injured. We were very lucky.” The reality is that Larry and I were plunged plenty deep into the well of homophobic hell. But we were only shaken; we weren’t shattered. There are many more victims who are so deep in that well that you can’t hear them.

The just-released report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs states that 50.1% of hate violence survivors did not report to the police. And, nationally, reports of anti-LGBTQH hate violence increased by 13% from 2009 to 2010. Those are dismaying statistics. The NCAVP studies have also shown that violent crimes against us occur more frequently in June, July and August, when Pride festivals are held.

In conversation with Rebecca Waggoner, OutFront MN’s Anti-Violence Program Director, I learned that discussions have resurfaced about resuming neighborhood patrols. As she related this and other unsettling information, she often said, “I don’t mean to scare you,” implying, “Don’t panic. Don’t go into hiding, but be aware.”

I’ve learned much in the past few weeks about the relationships among police departments, our elected officials, LGTB organizations and the media. They’re all over-stretched all of the time. As a crime victim I feel a great sense of urgency, and time stands still while I wait for important information or a phone call that isn’t returned. And sometimes the barriers to progress seem insurmountable. As Bill, my North Carolina buddy says, “Lord, seems you have to go around a mountain to get where you want to get to.” Amen. And, indeed, when I read my early “crime journal” entries, my lack of confidence and my impatience are more than apparent. But I’ve learned that we do have allies in elected offices, at OutFront MN, in the media, and in the police department who do listen, consider carefully and compassionately, and follow through.

It’s my fervent hope that no other lives are thrown off course and that no others are injured or killed as anti-gay rhetoric begins to crescendo toward the 2012 election. We have the power to respond–as we have in the recent past–by calling out the sponsors of hate speech, boycotting their businesses, and challenging the media that takes their advertising dollars. On July 1, the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled against Tom Prichard (Minnesota Family Council) in his attempt to hide pro-amendment contributions via the pernicious “Citizens United” ruling. Prichard’s claim that disclosure would expose donors to retribution, vandalism and violence from amendment opponents is a clear contender for this year’s “Stunning Irony” award. It’s the donors’ fear of political and social stigma that goads them to hide. Because they know, deep in their hard hearts, that the anti-gay rhetoric they foment precipitates violent attacks against us.

Their rocks have been lifted; we can see their serpentine forms and name them. For starters, if you’d like to meet the top donors who helped put the marriage amendment on the ballot, go online and enter the search terms “donors behind putting gay marriage on the Minnesota ballot.”

I’ve been able to advocate for myself during this ordeal. I won’t go Norwegian on you by calling that fortunate. It’s been a major pain. I’ve also had great support from many people and organizations, and I am fortunate to be part of a network of great friends and family. There are many others who are alone and shattered in the aftermath of a violent homophobic attack. My next step is to find a way to advocate for them.

I’m obviously preaching to the choir in this space. I have just one more comment: Get out there and sing!

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