Alex Blaze

Thoughts on recent hate crimes legislation developments

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 07, 2007 3:36 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Democrats, ENDA, George W. Bush, hate crimes against LGBT people, hate crimes legislation, HRC, Jena 6, LGBT, Louisiana, Matthew Shepard Act, transgender, United ENDA

The Matthew Shepard Act, the current incarnation of LGBT federal hate crimes legislation, hit a snag in its road to becoming a real law yesterday when it got dropped from the defense spending bill.

What's interesting is how this is being sold as "House Democrats sell out the queers." That seems to be a pretty unstrategic way to describe this since the Matthew Shepard Act wasn't just about adding LGBT people to existing hate crimes legislation, it would have effectively created hate crimes legislation at the federal level. According to PFLAG, the bill would:

  1. Expand the law to authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Current law only includes race, color, religion or national origin.
  2. Eliminate a serious limitation on federal involvement under existing law which requires that a victim of a bias-motivated crime was attacked because he/she was engaged in a specified federally-protected activity such as voting, serving on a jury or attending school.
  3. Add "gender" and "gender identity" to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.
Current hate crimes legislation only allows hate crimes attachments in federal crimes that occur when the victim is engaged in one of six protected activities related to voting. It's pretty useless even along the lines of religion, skin color, etc., and the hate crimes legislation would have expanded the scope of the legislation, not just the people covered.

So it's strange that the bill would get painted as "LGBT legislation", when it's clearly much more. In fact, that's the main reason that disparate organizations like the NAACP, NOW, the ACLU, the Latino Coalition, and the ADL all supported the legislation. As much as it's portrayed as "LGBT legislation", it's definitely not.

I wonder if being tagged as such was a large reason that it failed. Let's face it - we're not the most popular kids on the block. And it seems like a pretty ingenious right-wing strategy to make the entire bill just about the LGBT's, helping people to forget the thousands of protesters who, after the Jena, Louisiana, chain of events, gathered to protest in Washington and demand federal hate crimes legislation.

That's one piece to this puzzle. People have been trying to describe why this legislation was dropped from the defense authorization bill. Of course, the issue is more complicated than one reason, but here are a few ideas:

  1. Putting the two bills together (funding for the endless war was the other half), one conservative and one liberal, didn't give everyone something to love, it gave everyone something to hate.
  2. The Democratic Party's current conservative bend, trying to reach a Platonic "center" that always seems to be in moderate-Republican territory, means that liberal legislation won't get passed unless it's polling in at least the low 90's.
  3. A highly partisan White House that would never, ever want to piss of the Religious Right by acknowledging that queers exist (unless they could re-implement sodomy laws) would have rejected this legislation if it stood alone.
I don't think we can completely ignore the reasoning given by the Democratic leadership, that liberal Democrats would have voted against the bill because of the funding for the war. Hell, I'd vote against the bill if it funded that war without setting a deadline on it, who cares what civil right legislation got attached. And most House Republicans will never vote for legislation that recognizes the existence of queers, no matter how long it extended the war in Iraq.

Some have tried to pin this on the United ENDA letter, and, frankly, the argument's flat wrong. First, it assumes that ENDA and hate crimes legislation are similar enough that if you're for one, you automatically have to be in favor of the other, when that's absolutely not true. There are folks who support only one of those bills and have respectable reasons for doing so.

Second, it assumes that an "organization" that was little more than a letter and a website is somehow responsible for this decision. Should they have sent another letter? Would that have changed anything? Their first letter didn't stop the sexual orientation only ENDA, so there's little reason to believe that another United ENDA letter would have kept the legislation on the defense spending bill.

Third, many of the individual organizations and people in those organizations that signed the United ENDA letter have been lobbying in favor of the bill. Most of the others don't include lobbying for federal hate crimes legislation in their scope since they're state or local, non-political, or not focused on hate crimes legislation. Signing the letter was different: it was a statement about who gets to be properly queer, how we're defining our activism, and respecting for the tremendous amount of work trans and gender non-conforming folks have put into LGBT activism.

I also have a hard time believing that HRC "set a precedent" for selling us out here. Seriously, the Democrats would have done it either way, since they obviously don't care about HRC's position on the hate crimes bill.

Pretty much the only thing HRC set a precedent for was that Democrats don't need to care about trans people to have the support of the "GLBT" lobby, and if the Democrats were just trying to get rid of "gender identity" from the hate crimes legislation, that argument would make sense. But they aren't - the plan of putting those two bills together from the beginning was poor strategy for exactly the reason they're citing, and now they're finally realizing it. Maybe it would have been good to have accepted this from the start and devised a different strategy.

And both of these arguments buy into the frame that the legislation is "LGBT legislation", further perpetuating a needlessly divisive right-wing mythology.

That said, I'll accept the criticism that there are some who were vocal about the ENDA who aren't about hate crimes legislation. I'm a lot more mixed in my thoughts on hate crimes legislation than I am on employment nondiscrimination, mainly because of the sentencing enhancements in the hate crimes legislation.

I don't really have a problem with people suing their former or current employers when they're discriminated against - that's one of the few recourses they have for an attack on their personhood and one of the tools that can be used to change those corporate policies of discrimination.

Throwing people in prison longer, though, isn't going to do much to solve the original problem of hatred. On the contrary, prisons can be hotbeds of hatred, and further separating the haves and have nots in our society seems to just be a way for some who have an investment in more people being shipped to prison to use civil rights rhetoric for their own ends.

I'm going to go on the record as just being uncertain that this legislation will solve the original problem of violence since prisons themselves are quite violent, or the problem of homophobia since prisons themselves are quite homophobic. Perhaps there are better solutions to the problem of hate crimes, since throwing more people in jail hasn't eliminated crime yet.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Well, the problem I see with your vision of the "justice" system is that you assume that it functions with the purpose to remedy societal ills. It does not such a thing. The "justice" system has been, and likely will be for a long time, a system of vindication. Its very design serves for this purpose: While in other countries the system works with judges and boards of people whose main aim is to seek the truth in the events, our system functions in an adversarial manner that pits the defense against the prosecutors, often resulting in the withholding of evidence and manipulation of facts and emotions by both sides.

That sounds like a pretty terrible system, Lucrece!

Good thing that you are able to sit over there eating champignons while criticizing a system to which you are contributing nothing to change, though, right?

What to do besides rambling what criticisms you will accept or not (knowing what you accept or not is a must, after all!)...? Oh, I know! Let's write some more letters!

I agree with most of what you say Alex, except…

I think that describing the Democrats as moderate Republicans is not enough. As Gore Vidal says "There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party...and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt—until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."

Vidal’s plainspoken rundown on the two parties and their cosmetic differences makes the recent betrayals of our communities, antiwar activists, unionist and other more understandable. The system is rigged against us. The two parties are hand puppets for the ruling rich and have only successfully been challenged once and that was during the Second American Revolution form 1860 -1865.

I think that your point that prisons often churn out sociopathic bigots is correct. Lucrese’s characterization of our criminal judicial system may be bleak but it’s accurate. Neither the courts nor prisons are going to stop violence against us and others.

The US is a cesspool of violent bigotry and has been since before the Republic was carved out of the English Empire. What will put an end to that violence is to suppress those who promote it, feed on it and commit it. In our case that includes businesses who profit from underpaying us, superstitious bigots who promote hatred and the thugs who beat and occasionally lynch us.

We need to build a mass movement to defend ourselves and intimidate the bigots. Although they never entirely went away and are now making news again the number of attacks on Indians and African Americans declined steeply during the last century because the Southern Poverty Law Center almost sued the KKK into oblivion. Just as important, self defense effort by tribes and groups like the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, the original Black Panthers who were led by Stokely Carmichael.

Their uses of the basic principles of self defence were copied all across the US from the mid sixties to today. The LCFO’s example produced a sea change in affairs between bigots and their intended victims as it slowly dawned on them that dressing up in sheets could actually get them hurt. That's a splendid example for us to follow.

We need to demand that churches and businesses that promote discrimination, hated, violence and harassment be taxed to the max, forbidden to use hate speech and shut down if they won’t stop. All very minimalist and perfectly reasonable but it won’t happen while the twin parties of reaction run the country. Which is the point. And we have to insist that they same methods be used to end attacks on imported workers, minorities, women, unionists, and etc. As everyone points out we need allies if we’re going to get what we want.

Bill, you had me agreeing with you until:

We need to demand that churches and businesses that promote discrimination, hated, violence and harassment be taxed to the max, forbidden to use hate speech and shut down if they won’t stop. All very minimalist and perfectly reasonable but it won’t happen while the twin parties of reaction run the country.

Taxing churches? Fine with me. Shutting down churches because they don't agree with us? No way. Forbidding speech? Again, no way.

You've given a good example of just why I'm rather weak on hate crimes. What the hell is hate speech? Is it a crime? If so, what words are hate speech? Is it okay to use them separately if not aimed at a minority? What if I'm talking with my friends and they feel the same way? What twisted road does that take us down?

And shutting down a church because they won't comply with our efforts to stifle free speech? That's un-American to the max and smacks of President Bush's philosophy of "You're with us or you're against us" all-out war instead of diplomacy.

Whether you believe in God, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, little green men in tin foil hats, or Yazmat the half cat-half cow moon goddess of the inner sanctuary, I could give a shit less. Your religion can preach all sorts of crazy things I don't agree with. (You should see the doctrine those crazy Yazmat believers espouse. Really. Like anyone really believes her first litter had 10 children. Everyone knows it was truly 5. Heretics.)

If preaching against the gays is your thing, that's fine by me. If you put guns in someone's hand and send him off with instructions to kill someone else then it's something else.

I don't want to control other beliefs and I don't want to stifle them either. I just want to be left alone to enjoy the same freedom I'm willing to share with them.

bill perdue | December 8, 2007 4:23 AM

Bil, "If you put guns in someone's hand and send him off with instructions to kill someone else then it's something else" is exactly what I'm talking about. I wasn’t arguing in favor of buying lions and renting the Astrodome. Although, if Nero hadn’t been such a tightwad…

I don't care if some demented idiot patiently counts the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. That can be cured with antipsychotics. But statements like the following from Jimmy Swaggart are different. “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m going to be blunt and plain: If one ever looks at me like that, I’m going to kill him and tell God he died… It's an abomination! It's an abomination!"

Bloodshed is a regular adjunct to the gay bashing concerts by Buju Banton and Beenie Man. Buju Banton does more than just sing. 365GAY says “He joined a dozen armed men who forced their way into a house in Kingston last year and beat up the occupants while shouting homophobic insults. Several people were taken to the hospital following the attack.” In England, where they have much better protective laws, the city of Brighton is banning sales of their “murder music” CD’s.

Who hasn’t seen or heard similar incitements. Society is bombarded with them and they have a cumulative effect. They cause violence. If it can be proven why should they be allowed to continue? We should sue that church and its leaders, demand and end to their tax exempt status and, if we can prove it, demand arrests as accessories. We should call press conferences, demonstrate, scandalize them and accuse them of murder.

That may seem unlikely for now but as our movement is transfused by the influx or a radical new generation of activists the kinds of actions I’m talking about will become increasingly practical. The question of violence is critical and we have to get aggressive. Our movement will never grow if we’re always on the defensive. We have enough martyrs and we all have acquaintances that were harassed, intimidated or worse. Getting pushy when we can make the connection between businesses, political leaders or a church is a good way to energize our movement and intimidate bigots.

And as for you idolatrous repetition of the false doctrine of Yazmat the half cat-half cow moon goddess of the inner sanctuary, I’ll pray to the sky pixies to cleanse your soul before the mother ship arrives.

So you don't think that writing letters is a legit form of activism? And yet you were so upset that an "org" that was nothing more than a letter didn't choose to write another one. Hate crimes legislation failed because of them!

And it's more than just musing - people were asking why some who were outspoken on ENDA weren't on hate crimes leg, and I gave a reason.


I'm sorry, but I still don't agree with that part.

I realize Swaggart's statement is outrageous, but it's his to make. I can call him out for it. I can ridicule him for his out-dated thinking. I can boycott or blog about it. But do I have the right to have him arrested for something I don't agree with? No. His statement may be outrageous, but one of the fundamental rights given to us is free speech. The government shall not interfere. England didn't like the Puritans' religion and they fled here because of it. Just because we may not like their religion doesn't mean we shouldn't stand for their ability to preach what they'd like.

At the same time, Buju Banton should be arrested for the hate crime he allegedly committed. Selling records though, isn't a crime. (Ask Tipper Gore!) We can regulate the content by clearly marking it as homophobic, Christophobic or reviewing it as just plain sucky. We can put warning stickers on the album. But if we nixed all songs that advocate violence, we'd have a hell of a lot of banning to do... "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" and a lot of hard rock comes to mind right away... He can sell the album though if folks will buy it.

Society is bombarded with a lot of negative influences, Bill. From promiscuity raising teen pregnancy rates and STDs throughout all populations to glorified gun violence in our movies. This doesn't mean we should start banning everything that has a negative influence (in our opinion) on our society. By doing so, we take away an integral part of our free society - the ability to choose to do things the right way or the wrong way. If we start at homophobia as the line in the sand, when do we move on to Christophobia and TBP gets shut down for "hate speech"? When does porn get removed from society for being demeaning to others? When do pictures like Alex's boy pic in the other post get taken down for portraying unrealistic body images?

It's just too slippery of a slope. Once we start taking away others' rights, they're sure to start taking away our own.

Yazmat bless you and give you understanding of her deep inner mysteries. :)

"So you don't think that writing letters is a legit form of activism? And yet you were so upset that an "org" that was nothing more than a letter didn't choose to write another one. Hate crimes legislation failed because of them!"

Way to take the sarcasm out of context, although it does not disappoint my expectations.

For someone that advocates a logical approach to arguments, you seem very fond of strawmen yourself. I was upset for various reasons. I was upset because they didn't write a letter; because they made no mention of the threat even on their websites; because they were not vocal on the issue when we most needed them to. Hate crimes legislation failed in part because of their inaction, not solely because of it. Of course, I invite you to point out where I said they were the only one factor for the legislation's failure. You may proceed to do so whenever you feel like actually addressing others' argument instead of selectively nitpicking bits here and there to take out of context so that you can give your argument some semblance of validity.

"And it's more than just musing - people were asking why some who were outspoken on ENDA weren't on hate crimes leg, and I gave a reason."

I could see why, of all people, inquirers might seek your opinion; what better authority on the topic than someone as experienced as yourself! Nevertheless, your very valuable opinions aside, maybe we could expect those questions to be answered by our supposed "leaders" themselves, just a suggestion.

bill perdue | December 8, 2007 3:37 PM

OK Bil, we'll just have to disagree.

And Lucrece, get a grip. Alex is not the enemy. UnitedENDA is not the enmemy. Retarget.

There's something we can agree on, Bill. Geez. Just argue the merits.

I know who my enemies are, thank you, Bill. Maybe you missed the part in my post where I was simply keeping myself consistent with the tone of the conversation Alex introduced.