On April 1st my friend’s younger sister was attacked by three men as she walked home to her apartment in Ypsilanti. She was punched in the face, kicked in the stomach, and ultimately knocked unconscious. Before being beaten up, one of the men said to her, “Hey b—-. Are you that f—– from the news?”
She had been in the news and in the papers. She had married her female partner just a few days earlier during the 24 hour window on Saturday, March 22, when same-sex marriage was legal in Michigan.
She was attacked because of her sexual identity.
I too had walked up to the courthouse that day, to bask in the love and joy of so many couples, their friends, family and community. It was truly an ecstatic and beautiful scene.
It’s deeply painful to think that that day of celebration could be twisted in to an expression of something so dark and hateful.
How could this happen in our community?
We are experiencing an increasing number of states assuring the right to same-sex couples to marry. This is a convenient, albeit simple, political and social litmus test of change in our country right now, and it gives one the feeling that bias against sexual orientation is deteriorating. But giving two people of the same sex the legal right to marry does not coincide with homophobia being exorcised at the altar. To think that the right to marry your same-sex partner is synonymous with a life suddenly devoid from the fear/threat of anti-gay slurs or attacks is sadly incorrect. Gays and lesbians may be afforded more rights in this country in a certain way, but this doesn’t mean that we are not still battling against day-to-day aggressions.
The FBI keeps track of nationally reported hate crimes, and the number of reported sexual orientation biased crimes in 2012 was 1,318. This total number is down from 2011, when the reported hate crime offenses based on sexual orientation bias were 1,508. However, notable to this specific case, the percentage of crimes prompted by an anti-female homosexual bias went up by 1.2% since 2011. I think it is safe to assume, however, that these numbers seriously underrepresent the true number of sexual orientation hate crimes that occur, due to under-reporting.
Although Michigan has collected data about sexual orientation hate crimes since 1992, it is one of 19 states that do not include sexual orientation in their hate crime laws. It has been acknowledged by national media that the hate crime law as it is now is inadequate, according to Michigan prosecutors and LGBT advocates. According to the Nation, “hate crimes carry with them “penalty enhancement,” usually meaning stiffer sentencing, because they are understood as injuring not only an individual but a community.”
Despite its importance, hate crime legislation would not necessarily have prevented my friend’s sister from being attacked. Legal punishments do not stamp out hate, and known repercussions can’t always eliminate repugnant, bigoted behavior.
This event illuminates the need to change attitudes, even in the places we think are safe. Addressing and critically examining the roots of hate through education is vital, and this must happen on a local level. Again, from the Nation: “Working within communities, schools, neighborhoods and organizations to examine the racial, economic and psychological reasons that are often underpinning these crimes will move us beyond the simplistic rhetoric of an ambiguously defined ‘hate’.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center put out an excellent resource titled, Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide, with detailed recommendations on how to act, teach and support, among many others. We have the tools to teach about social justice, and we need to figure out how to best use them. The kind of intolerance that was exhibited in Ypsilanti says a lot about us as a society, but the ways that we react to this intolerance can speak even louder about who we are and who we want to be.
My 13–year-old next door neighbor and several of his friends attended one of the same-sex ceremonies on March 22nd. As I left the courthouse they rushed by me to be on time to their favorite teacher’s wedding, running down the street wearing big smiles and over-sized suit jackets.
There is a lot more work to do, but I still want to remember that day as the beginning of an overdue celebration.
Bronski, M., Pellegrini, A., & Amico, M. (2013). Hate Crime Laws Don’t Prevent Violence Against LGBT People. The Nation. October issue. Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/article/176437/hate-crime-laws-dont-prevent-violence-against-lgbt-people#
Dalbey, B. (2014, April 1). Gay Michigan Woman Who Married on TV Assaulted in Suspected Hate Crime. Saline Patch. Retrieved from http://saline.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/gay-michigan-woman-who-married-on-tv-assaulted-in-suspected-hate-crime
Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2012). 2012 Hate Crime Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2012
Federal Bureau of Investigations. (2011). 2011 Hate Crime Statistics. Retrieved fromhttp://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2011
LGBT rights in Michigan. (n.d.) Retrieved April 25, 2014 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Michigan
Southern Poverty Law Center. (2010, February)Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide. Retrieved from http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/ten-ways-to-fight-hate-a-community-response-guide