Lgbtq com­mu­nity still not safe, de­spite gains

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - Robin baranyai

It’s dif­fi­cult to talk about matthew Shep­ard with­out cry­ing. It’s been 20 years since the young gay man was bru­tally beaten, bound to a split-rail fence and left to die. a pass­ing cy­clist ini­tially mis­took him for a scare­crow. Five days later, he died in hos­pi­tal, on oct. 12, 1998. his mur­der re­de­fined the town of Laramie, Wyo., as surely as, six months later, a deadly high school shoot­ing would be­come syn­ony­mous with Columbine.

the vi­cious hate crime sparked an out­pour­ing of grief. at a vigil on Capi­tol hill, ellen de­generes put words to the raw emo­tion. “I am so pissed off,” she be­gan. “I can’t stop cry­ing.” twenty years later, at the Na­tional Cathe­dral last month, bishop gene robin­son reprised the theme at a ser­vice where Shep­ard’s ashes were fi­nally laid to rest.

“Let me just say from the be­gin­ning that I’ve been cry­ing for a week now,” robin­son said with emo­tion. as the first openly gay epis­co­pal bishop, he had a mes­sage for Lgbtq mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion: “many of you have been hurt by your own re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, and I want to wel­come you back,” he said. “Some churches have been on this jour­ney with you, and we will not only wel­come you, we will cel­e­brate you.”

Shep­ard’s death was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in Lgbtq ac­cep­tance, as amer­i­cans starkly con­fronted the al­ter­na­tive. his par­ents, gal­va­nized by in­con­solable loss, have be­come sea­soned ac­tivists through the matthew Shep­ard Foun­da­tion, work­ing to fight hate with un­der­stand­ing and com­pas­sion. their un­wa­ver­ing ad­vo­cacy helped ex­pand fed­eral hate crimes leg­is­la­tion to en­com­pass sex­u­al­ity and gen­der iden­tity.

If tragedy has a pos­i­tive func­tion, it is to unite peo­ple in grief and de­ter­mi­na­tion. but two decades af­ter Shep­ard’s death, the po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere has be­come toxic and di­vi­sive.

the di­vid­ing lines run­ning through amer­ica have grown dan­ger­ously sharp, be­tween red and blue; na­tivism and in­clu­sion; fear and hope.

the u.s. midterm elec­tions, which handed democrats con­trol of the house, were widely in­ter­preted as a ref­er­en­dum on racism. the cen­tre­piece was un­hinged fear­mon­ger­ing over a car­a­van of mi­grants so des­per­ate, they would seek asy­lum in trump’s amer­ica. but im­mi­grants are not the only group de­mo­nized by this ad­min­is­tra­tion. For many vot­ers, the midterms were also a ref­er­en­dum on Lgbtq dis­crim­i­na­tion.

the hu­man rights Cam­paign iden­ti­fied more than 120 anti-lgbt bills in­tro­duced in 2017, from bath­room bills to mea­sures restrict­ing adop­tion, across 30 states. they were capped by a memo de­tail­ing a fed­eral plan to ef­fec­tively de­fine trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple out of ex­is­tence, leaked to the New york times in oc­to­ber, which drew swift con­dem­na­tion from bi­ol­o­gists, ge­neti­cists and the amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tion.

more than 1,600 sci­en­tists, in­clud­ing nine No­bel Prize lau­re­ates, con­demned the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal as “fun­da­men­tally in­con­sis­tent not only with sci­ence, but also with eth­i­cal prac­tices, hu­man rights, and ba­sic dig­nity.”

In re­sponse to such as­saults, a record num­ber of Lgbt can­di­dates stood for elec­tion in the midterms, in what was dubbed a “rain­bow wave.” they had sig­nif­i­cant suc­cesses, elect­ing the first les­bian Na­tive amer­i­can woman, Sharice davids, to Congress, and send­ing Jared Po­lis to the Colorado gover­nor’s man­sion, as the first openly gay man elected gover­nor in u.s. his­tory.

there also was progress in bal­lot mea­sures. mas­sachusetts passed the first statewide ref­er­en­dum to pro­tect trans­gen­der rights, up­hold­ing a bill that pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion in pub­lic places based on gen­der iden­tity, in­clud­ing bath­rooms.

be­fore the ser­vice at the Na­tional Cathe­dral, Shep­ard’s par­ents kept his ashes at home for 20 years, rather than risk hav­ing them des­e­crated by “haters.” It’s a sad re­minder there are still many spa­ces where Lgbtq peo­ple are not safe, even in death. write.robin@baranyai.ca

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