Monday, June 13, 2016

An act of terror, an act of hate

Now that time has passed and I have processed some of my feelings, I want to share a little something about an occasion when my perspective changed (I promise, it's pertinent).
Once upon a time, I was adamantly (and vocally) opposed to hate crimes legislation. Obviously, not because I feel anything other than anger about violent acts of racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and homo-, bi-, and transphobia, but because from a philosophical and legal perspective I was concerned about certain victims being treated as more important than others and the potential slippery slope when government has the ability to determine those classes. After all, a dead or assaulted person is dead or assaulted no matter who that person is or what the attacker's motive is.
A few years ago, though, someone changed my mind. That person pointed out to me that we have laws against terrorism and that there are reasons why these are separate and distinct from other laws pertaining to violence. An act of terrorism is not designed simply to hurt the victim but is also meant to instill fear into others who were not directly targeted. It is meant to make people hesitate to take advantage of their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is a statement to others: You must change, you must capitulate, or you must go away. Otherwise, you will be made to suffer.
The same is true of hate crimes. Victims of lynching in the US knew of what I speak. The Jews who woke up the day after kristallnacht knew. Those who survived the massacre in Orlando know now.
There are some who describe what happened on Sunday as an act of terrorism. Others describe it as a hate crime, meant to make a particular community afraid of living as it chooses, where it chooses. Both groups are correct.
This was an act of terror. This was a hate crime. And until we ALL acknowledge that the bigotry that leads to these acts is not created in a vacuum; until we ALL stand up and speak out against hatred of people for their color, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs BEFORE that hatred creates vicious killers; until we find ways to keep the tools of death out of the hands of potential murderers, we will continue to suffer the consequences of our passivity as we debate meaningless distinctions and semantics.
Terrorism? Hate crime? They are one and the same, and a community is victimized either way.
Many lives were lost on Sunday; many more people are getting insult added to injury from certain people and media outlets who refuse to admit that this was a hate crime and that the targets were people who are vilified by the right wing as much as they are by any particular religious ideology; and many more lives will be changed forever from this loss. LGBTQ and allied people can now honor those lost lives by living our own -- out in the open -- and saying, "You can not stop thus community with weapons or hate. You can not stop us from loving who we choose, being what we wish to be, and pursuing happiness in whatever manner we wish. We exist. It is our RIGHT to exist. WE WILL CONTINUE TO EXIST."
I stand with the people of Orlando, and specifically the LGBTQ people of that city. And I beg them and you not to let terrorism and hate win. Be out. Be proud. Be yourself. And be the community I know you are capable of being. A community built on love, and solidarity ... and courage.
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