Sunday, September 16, 2007

Prosecuting Fred Phelps

The Truth on Hate Crimes

I thought I might get your attention with that headline!

I recently had the honor of meeting Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming teen who was so brutally murdered on October 12th of 1998. Since her son's death, Judy has dedicated her life to the safety of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Her foundation, named for Matthew, has been patiently - and persistently - seeking legislation for the inclusion of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity into federal hate crime statutes. Now is the best time since Matthew's murder for passage through Congress. Please visit the foundation website to sign the on-line petition.

The purpose of this commentary is to address the horrible, misleading statements that have arisen from opponents of the Matthew Shepard Act - outright lies in fact. And coming from voices of Faith!

So I ask you....can you name one minister, preacher or pastor who has been tried (nevermind convicted) for sermonizing about the "sins of homosexuality"? You can't. There hasn't been any. And yet that is the basis for the coordinated campaign to exclude LGBT inclusion into federal hate crime laws. You see...this is already the law in several states including my home state of Missouri, and not even the indefatigable (the most kind adjective I could summon) Fred Phelps has been prosecuted for his rantings.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 11 states already include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity into their state anti-bias laws. Another 21 states cover Sexual Orientation - but not Gender Identity. Georgia's hate crime laws do not specify any particular groups, just acknowledges that bias or hate can motivate a crime.

The Truth about Hate Crimes is that they are intended as an enhancement to the possible punishment for a crime that has been committed. Why is this necessary? Because hate crimes are intended to not only harm the victim, but intimidate all others who are like the victim. Last year Alabama experienced a rash of church burnings. There were legitimate fears that these were the results of Hate. Had they been torched because they were churches - or more specifically Baptist? It turns out, the arsonists were motivated by opportunity and stupidity than directed hatred. Thus, these were not hate crimes.

Many years ago, my grandmother's family had a cross burned on their property. This was not the Deep South. This was northeastern Oregon in the 1930's. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in my birth state at the time, and prior to the Civil Rights Movement, they turned their bile toward certain people of faith. My grandmother was Catholic. This was clearly a hate crime - motivated by bias - not a random act of vandalism.

Hate crime laws are aimed at the motivation of the crime, not creating a separate crime category. If I am assaulted, or my property damaged, because I am transgender, then that is a crime based on hate...and has the additional intimidating factor for other transwomen and transmen. Still, I can be robbed, assaulted, robbed, vandalized just like any other person if there is no biased impetus for the crime.

So why the lies? My belief is power and money. The groups that have organized these lies earned millions upon millions of dollars from the "faithful" for their continual assault on LGBT lives. I also wonder why they feel so guilty about their message!! Could it be they fully understand their message isn't about "sin", but Hate. And yet, the Matthew Shepard Act contains language that specifically delineates that free speech - and free expression of religion - is not compromised.

The Phelps group picketed Judy Shepard's appearance in Kansas City.
They were not prosecuted.

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