Bil Browning

Windy City Times investigates Aaron Hall murder

Filed By Bil Browning | July 19, 2007 5:16 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Aaron Hall, gay panic, hate crimes against LGBT people, Indiana, Indiana Equality, legislation, murder

The Chicago Windy City Times is investigating the Aaron Hall murder case from Crothersville, Indiana. Hall was brutally beaten by two young men who've now attempted to use "gay panic" as their defense. Fellow Bilerico Project contributor Ellen Andersen and I are both quoted, as is John Joanette, Indiana Equality's lobbyist. This is the first statement of any kind by IE about the case that's taken Indiana's LGBT community by storm.

The article speaks volumes about the state of hate crimes legislation in Indiana, but doesn't add any new facts to the story. They review the history of last year's hate crimes bill defeat after IE and the bill's sponsor couldn't push the legislation through after Jackie Walorski introduced an amendment to included fetuses as a protected group. While it is encouraging to read that IE plans to "get this done in the next session," I'm worried that the scapegoat for the legislation's demise has become SJR-7, the marriage amendment. Everyone knows Republicans aren't going to give up that amendment anytime soon; does that mean we won't get hate crimes protections until it dries up and goes away? Surely, the largest LGBT org in the state can concentrate on more than one thing at a time! After all, it was considered a slam dunk earlier this year - even with SJR-7 in front of the Assembly...

John Joanette—a lobbyist for Indiana Equality, a statewide coalition of organizations working toward LGBT equality—has hopes. He believes the failure of the bill’s passage, in part, was due to the fact that the state was so “wrapped up” in fighting anti-gay marriage attacks. “What’s been tripping us up is this marriage thing,” Joanette said. “I have a feeling we can get this done in the next session.”

Andersen just wants Indiana to catch up with the rest of the nation: “It’s odd to see Indiana in that state [ lacking legislation ] . Indiana is a middle-of-the-road state. That we’re hanging down at the bottom is not in character.”

Although many feel that it is too soon to even consider using the Hall murder as an example to push hate crimes law in Indiana, many agree having such legislation would at least keep the defense from arguing “gay panic.”

“These rumors that the gay panic defense will be used in this case just go to show that gay people can still be used as whipping boys around here,” Andersen stated.
Although many agree that although jumping to the conclusion that Hall’s murder is a hate crime can be dangerous—especially because many of the facts aren’t in yet—discussion about hate crimes legislation and “gay panic” is certainly needed, and that the two go hand in hand.

Joanette believes this debate is crucial. “We look at these things, talk about these things and comment on these things,” he said. “It’s a good thing people are debating this, no matter what their opinion.” He hopes the community continues to take a deeper look, and assures that Indiana Equality will be closely following the Hall case.

“I think pushing Aaron Hall as an example of why we should have hate crimes legislation is a little misguided,” said Bil Browning, president of Indiana Action Network and creator of the online LGBT forum The Bilerico Project. “We have to talk about how, in the Aaron Hall case, these kids thought that by claiming he made a pass at them, that it would be okay to beat him to death. What kind of society have we promoted in Indiana by not passing the hate crimes legislation this year, where people think it is okay to beat gay people and that you can get away with murder that way?”

Andersen agrees, and suggests the community take a look at what causes this type of mentality in Indiana. “The fact that they think they can get away with it by using ‘gay panic’ just speaks to the state of gay rights around here,” she said.

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One of the most frustrating issues for those of us who want to offer support for gay rights issues is the tendency of the community to "eat its own." It is easy to be snide about organizations that are working to advance gay rights in the state legislature, but it betrays a lack of appreciation for the nuances (and pitfalls) of Indiana politics.

That is particularly true of debate over the proper approach to hate crimes legislation, because many of the gay community's usual supporters are very leery of such measures. I count myself as one of these supporters. I support measures to document the number of crimes that appear to be motivated by bigotry, but I oppose efforts to make the MOTIVE for a crime a separate offense. For me--and many civil libertarians--that raises First Amendment concerns. So the devil is really in the details of such proposals.

Indiana's political culture is in many ways quite libertarian, and the people who oppose hate crimes legislation are not limited to the people who oppose same-sex marriage--although clearly the homophobes oppose both. The dynamics of this issue are difficult and unpredictable.

All of which is to say that for those who wholeheartedly support hate crimes legislation, the most productive course is to work with your own representatives and co-ordinate with--not snipe at--those organizations that are lobbying on its behalf. If there are specific strategies that you feel are misplaced, those should of course be identified. But turning on each other only empowers the bad guys.

Sheila, you should read Indiana's hate crime legislation before you criticize it. It does not make a hate crime a separate offense; it merely allows for the enhancement of the sentence for the underlying crime based on the aggravating circumstance of the person committing the crime because of the person's race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. There are numerous similar provisions in Indiana's criminal statutes already. You do a disservice to the GLBT community by misrepresenting what Indiana Equality and others in the GLBT community have been fighting for in the legislature. The religious right is already doing more than its fair share of misrepresentation on this issue. It doesn't help when you do the same.

Don Sherfick | July 20, 2007 11:02 AM

I absolutely, positively, unequivocally agree with what Sheila just said in her comment. Whay the heck there always has to be a little "dig" at somebody else within our cummunity in posts is beyond me. We can do so much better than that.

Don Sherfick | July 20, 2007 11:32 AM

I didn't see Gary's response to Sheila's comment before I hastily added my two cents above. I've re-read what she has to say and nowhere do I see that she is critical of specific proposed Indiana hate crimes legislation; all she says is that in general she opposes making MOTIVE itself a crime, and the enhanced sentencing proposal is certainly in keeping with that opposition. Nor do I see any criticism of IE. But maybe I need new glasses.

I think this is important to respond to... I'm worried that any criticism given to an organization (whether IE or a national org) is called "a dig" or eating our own. Is it not okay to offer criticism suddenly? Are we all supposed to fall in lockstep and keep our opinions to ourselves? Are we that insular? Is that good for us?

Offering constructive criticism is never foolhardy - but ignoring it is. Take a look at the recent blogstorm over HRC excluding Gravel from the debate and how the blogosphere criticized the decision. HRC listened to their critics and members and changed the decision. Everyone went home happy and without feeling picked on.

I also think that it's important to realize that folks come to our site for our opinions. I gave mine. My opinion is valid and only I can give it. To suggest that I should not offer my personal opinion and only cheerlead for whomever happens to be in power at the time is not only ludicrous but detrimental to the cause. At no point did I attack anyone or any org... I was civil and stuck to the facts. And those facts remain...

1. This is the 1st time IE has mentioned Aaron Hall publicly.
2. IE thought that the hate crimes bill would be an easy win.
3. Blaming the amendment for the loss on the hate crimes bill is valid, but so is my worry that the amendment isn't going away and we'll need to multi-task to get anything accomplished.

Now, is that so bad? Is that a "dig" or attack? Those are the facts - and worthy of discussion among friends.

I think this is important to respond to... I'm worried that any criticism given to an organization (whether IE or a national org) is called "a dig" or eating our own. Is it not okay to offer criticism suddenly? Are we all supposed to fall in lockstep and keep our opinions to ourselves? Are we that insular? Is that good for us?

Agreed. I kept on looking back at the post for the "dig", but I really can't find it unless it's so subtle that it just went over my head, which is definitely possible. Criticism of these organizations is necessary to keep them responsible to the community. If we're not willing to say what we think they should do, and explain and defend our wants, then the only criticism that they're going to hear is from "the other side" - and that's not worth following.

Like I said about the HRC - if they want to avoid all criticism from me all they have to do is stop calling themselves an "LGBT" advocacy group. As long as these groups take up the mantle of representing a group of people that includes me, and getting the moral and rhetorical traction that comes with it, they're going to be hearing from me, in the politest way possible, of course.

SABRENA BAKER | August 15, 2007 12:18 PM