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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Summer of hate

Just a few blocks from where I live - on the funky, trendy, Bohemian 39th Street "restaurant row" here in Kansas City - two lesbians were assaulted by a woman who jumped out of a pickup truck with a baseball bat. The apparent reason? The two women were holding hands.

Kansas City isn't a stranger to hate crimes. A little over a decade ago I volunteered on the first anti-violence hotline here and took calls from gays and lesbians who had been harassed by cops, had rocks thrown at their door by others in their apartment complexes, had trash set on fire and thrown into their yard by homophobic neighbors, been harassed by employers, been fired, been threatened, been screamed at, been beaten. All because they were gay or lesbian.

But this summer is different.

Not just here in Kansas City, but all over the country. In Lakeland, Fla., two gay men returned to find their home burglarized, set on fire and a "Die Fags!" message left behind. Near the gay-friendly community of Palm Springs, Calif., two 13-year-old girls were charged with painting anti-gay slurs over homes, vehicles and driveways because they knew there was a gay couple living in the neighborhood. Less than a week later a Jewish synagogue was also vandalized. In Montrose, Colo., two men were arrested in the murder of a gay man. (In shades of the Matthew Shepherd case, they claimed the victim tried to "molest" them.) In the Chicago area two young men barely out of their teens are charged with assaulting two teenage girls who they had tried to pick up. The girls had told them they weren't interested in dating them because they were lesbians. In Los Angeles, the ACLU stepped in when reports surfaced about jail guards harassing gay prisoners. New York City has recorded over 100 anti-gay bias crimes so far this summer.

This summer it's apparently open season on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

If it wasn't so scary, it would remind me of an old Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoon in which one deer notices that the other has marking that resemble a target. "Bummer of a birthmark," he tells his friend.

Being openly gay in the summer of 2005 is a lot like having a target painted on your back.

The LGBT community is much more visible now. Add to that the news coverage of gay issues. Now add the hate-mongering stirred up by right-wing preachers and politicians and you have a potent, toxic brew.

News item: President Bush tells Southern Baptists at the denomination's conference that he continues to support a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

News item: The Phoenix Catholic diocese announces it will not allow pro-gay rights and pro-abortion politician to use its property.

News item: Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (our own version of "idiot son" Bush) appoints the homophobic former state legislator who spearheaded the anti-gay marriage initiative here last August to head the Missouri Women's Council.

News item: The Hillsborough County, Fla., commission voted to "abstain from acknowledging, promoting and participating" in gay pride events.

News item: When a Jacksonville, Fla., newspaper ran a wedding announcement for a lesbian couple who were married in Canada, 80 percent of the readers who contacted the newspaper expressed outrage at the decision to publish it.

News item: Washington, D.C., minister the Rev. Willie Wilson used the pulpit to decry what he believes is an increase in lesbianism among young blacks girls. He later issues a half-hearted apology for the statement, then reiterates his original statement in a later sermon.

I could go on and on. And that's the problem. The list really could go on and on when it comes to the institutional gay bashing that's come from the pulpits and all levels of government this summer.

On the web site for my LGBT Democratic club I track news items on LGBT interest from around the country. I post news items and let the old ones cycle through for a while, depending on the space I have allocated for the news items and links. It used to be that many news items would stay listed for several weeks. Now I'm considering using a smaller type size so I can fit in the abundance of news. Not all of it is "bad" news. Some is quite positive. But it's the bad news that is scary. Lately there have been an average of two of three gay bashings a week ... and that's just the reported ones that I find in a quick search of the news.

If there's one thing I learned from a couple of years on the anti-violence hotline it's that gay bashings go hand-in-hand with increased coverage of gay issues in the media. That's why June, with its coverage of gay pride celebrations, is often a particularly bad month for bashings.

Now, with "official" denunciations of the LGBT community from pulpits, city halls, county offices, state capitols, and the nation's capitol ringing throughout the land, low-life thugs have been emboldened to take matters into their own hands and show "them fags and dykes" their place.

To be openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is to wear a target on out backs this summer.

It may be small-minded thugs who pull the triggers, but it is the hate-mongering politicians and preachers who load the guns.

The religious and political right has blood on their hands. It's the blood of brave LGBTs who stand up openly and refuse to hide.

May we never forget that.