Sunday, October 17, 2004

The GOP, gays, and hate crimes

I guess I must be horribly out of touch with the Republican version of reality, because I'm still not really certain what the hell impropriety John Kerry was supposed to have committed by pointing out in last week's debate that Mary Cheney is gay. It was, by nearly any plain reading of his remarks, a fairly innocuous comment.

But the ensuing fake controversy is the GOP's 2004 campaign in nutshell: Don't let's talk about Bush's dismal record. Let's talk well-spun trivia -- or flat-out smears -- instead.

And when it comes to sensitive treatment of gays and families of gays, no one can match the record of Republicans -- for wallowing so deep in the gutter of bigotry that they definitively make life quantifiably worse for gays, lesbians, and their families.

Take, for instance, the matter of hate crimes.

Betcha didn't know that the Republican leadership of the House, for the third consecutive time, successfully killed yet another federal hate-crimes law last week, didja?

This was a bill that had been approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in June by a 65-33 vote. The House itself passed a resolution 213-186 instructing the House leaders -- namely, Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert -- to pass the bill through the House Conference Committee.

They ignored it, and last week stripped it out of the Defense Appropriations Bill to which it had been attached, effectively killing it.

This is now the third time DeLay and Co. have pulled this stunt and gotten away with it. They used precisely the same tactic to kill the Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 1999, and to kill its successor, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, in 2000.

As the Human Rights Campaign explained in its press release:
The measure enjoys strong bipartisan support and is endorsed by more than 175 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including: the National Sheriffs' Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and many others.

That didn't matter. What mattered to Republicans was the freedom to bash gays.

Oh, we know they hide behind phony and nonsensical arguments like "all crimes are hate crimes" and "these laws create thought crimes." But let's get real about what's really happening here: These laws are not being passed because the Republican leadership -- including George W. Bush -- is determined not to allow any improvement in the laws for gays and lesbians.

The reality is that Republicans have established credibility with their base -- especially fundamentalist Christians -- by making emotional appeals to their "values"; this is, as many observers have noted, an essential element of their ability to persuade working-class people to vote for an agenda clearly at odds with their own self-interest. And, after abortion, attacking the "homosexual agenda" is easily the most prominent and flagrant of these "values."

Republicans also like to talk about the need to live up to the consequences of their actions. And one of the real consequences of the House's refusal to pass this legislation is that more hate crimes will occur.

Here's a reality check for Republicans:

-- We know, from FBI statistics, there are at least 8-9,000 hate crimes committed in this country every year.

-- We also know, however, from Justice Department studies, that these statistics are horribly unreliable because hate crimes are egregiously underreported every year.

-- The magnitude of the underreporting is substantial. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that the number of hate crimes in this country annually approaches closer to 40,000. That means roughly 30,000 hate crimes are going uninvestigated and unprosecuted every year.

-- What all of this underscores is the fact that, even though we passed a law in 1989 ordering the collection of hate-crime data, we still don't have firm handle on the scope and depth of the hate-crime problem nationally. And we won't until law enforcement at all levels -- particularly on the local level -- are adequately trained at identifying and investigating hate crimes.

-- The LLEA's main provisions, as its name suggests, are devoted to enhancing the ability of local police and prosecutors to obtain training in hate crimes.

-- However, it also expanded the federal categories of hate crimes to include a bias against gays and lesbians. For that reason alone, it was killed by the House leadership despite its broad support.

The end result: Tens of thousands of hate crimes that go unreported and uninvestigated, and no end in sight. This problem is especially acute among gays and lesbians, most particularly in rural areas, where their quite reasonable fears of being outed often prevent them from even reporting such crimes. And of course, those same rural areas are nearly uniformly Republican; the coalescence of attitudes with top-down political leadership is hardly accidental.

In other words, Republicans' actions directly make lives more miserable for gays and lesbians and their families, all of whom have to deal with the trauma and tragedy that inevitably results from the violence and intimidation that is the essence of hate crimes.

Whatever embarassment people like the Cheneys may feel from having their daughter's orientation mentioned on television (and it can't be too great, since they've brought it up themselves) is nothing compared to trying to heal a child who's been brutally beaten by redneck thugs -- if they survived.

It's worth remembering, too, that not only are gays and lesbians the second-most common target of hate crimes, gay-bashing bias crimes are particularly noteworthy for the exceptional levels of violence associated with them. Many studies have observed that gay bashing stands out even among hate crimes (which themselves have an abnormally high violence quotient) for the brutality and viciousness of the crimes, often reaching real "overkill" that includes genital mutilation and extreme forms of pain.

Republicans like to defend their actions with a variety of excuses, particularly by promoting (largely bogus) arguments that do not touch on the matter of sexual orientation -- but instead militate against the entire concept of hate crimes. The most telling of these arguments is the claim that hate-crime laws are an attempt to control "free speech" -- as though an assault or killing were somehow protected speech.

If they truly believed these arguments, they would sponsor legislation to negate all hate-crime laws. They don't of course, because we know the reality: They are opposed to these laws because they are help promote the "gay agenda."

And what's been remarkable is the way the House leadership has quashed the LLEA and other federal hate-crime laws, through crassly anti-democratic backroom measures that clearly overrode the will of the vast majority of Congress. As Barney Frank told Gay City News:
The Republican leadership has made it very clear. They have told us we won't even get to vote on the bill," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of three openly gay members of the House.

Their ruthlessness was on particular display this year for one reason only: It's an election year.

As the News account points out:
Pres. George W. Bush has also indicated he would veto the measure if it did come before him. White House spokesperson Claire Buchan said that the president believes that "all violent crime is hate crime" and doesn’t see a reason for special protections for gay and lesbian people.

It was essential that the Republican leadership ever keep the bill from having to cross Bush's desk this year, because his veto, almost certainly, would have presented itself as a club for Democrats to wield against him in the campaign.

Perhaps they needn't have worried, though, because there is little sign that Democrats were prepared to make an issue out of the hate-crimes legislation. Certainly, they let Bush and the Republicans completely off the hook this year. Because no Democrat in Congress -- not one -- has publicly spoken out to protest the GOP leadership's euthanization of the LLEA this fall.

Neither, for that matter, has a single reporter in the so-called "liberal media." It's been difficult, in fact, to compile any information at all on the demise of the LLEA. It hasn't been reported anywhere in any American media organ that I can find. Certainly not the Washington Post or the New York Times, nor CNN or MSNBC.

The only account available so far was this report from India-based World News, and the HRC press release cited above.

Of course, as I've previously observed, liberals have grown increasingly weak-spined about hate crimes. This year's capitulation may signal that they are on the verge of conceding any change in the law at all.

Republicans, no doubt, view this capitulation with some satisfaction, because it means they have so successfully muddied the meaning of "hate crime" that they are now free to use the term themselves to turn it as a weapon on their liberal opponents.

At the same time, they continue to give gay-bashers the green light for their eliminationist violence.

And that, folks, is a real cause for outrage.

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