Stop Hate 2000 Newsletter May 5, 2001

Dear Friends,

We start by marking an anniversary. May 8 is the anniversary of Bill Clayton's death. We have always had a link to the website which his mom, Gabi Clayton, maintains, and we'd like to remind you of it.

The last month was also the anniversary of the Columbine killings. As you'll recall (no doubt!) from our last newsletter, the implications surrounding that tragedy are still with us, and we hope the new links we've added will be helpful in exploring them.

A brief announcement: Two more movies are in the works on Matthew Shepard. NBC is working on one in collaboration with the Shepard family, while HBO is working on a second. Further news about the NBC effort will undoubtedly appear on the "Matthew's Place" site and we'll try to keep you posted about the second. We do know that the shooting for the HBO movie is being done now in Wyoming.

If you were to have a look at our message board, you'd notice an announcement about a march and vigil against hate at Pennsylvania State University. This was prompted by a number of quite serious death threats against the black Students' Union president. As we write, it's an ongoing action: a number of students were not satisfied with the University's efforts to address the issues associated with it, and are currently occupying the Administration building. We don't presently have a link, which could keep you up to date (suggestions, please?) although there has been some coverage on CNN.

The announcement excited the attention of one "unclebutch", another anonymous poster. Bravery is not the most outstanding characteristic of these people. We would like to remind them that the Internet is not as anonymous as they would like to think. In a hard crunch, we can find out their identity. With that said, we find it somewhat interesting to find that we've been attracting some white supremacist attention. We're flattered: somebody's looking at the site!

We had been expecting the second trial arising from Jesse Dirkhising's death to begin yesterday. It did not come to pass. The second defendant, Davis Carpenter, reached an agreement with the State to plead guilty to rape and first-degree murder. The link in our April newsletter still holds good.

Jesse's death has attracted some attention from commentators who held that the relatively limited coverage given to this case, as opposed to Matthew's death, was the consequence of a pro-homosexual bias in the media. Last month, with one trial just over, and a second about to begin, we didn't say much about Jesse's death, except to provide information links and give an indication of some of the issues which we thought were being overlooked both by these commentators and others.

We haven't thought it right to ignore some of those implications, and with the second trial now completed, perhaps we can raise a few ideas.

As it appears to us, it's possible the real reason for one murder receiving the attention it did, and the second not receiving as much attention is that the second did not seem to involve a question that posed a crisis of conscience. In Matthew's case, there was a clear one: that attitudes we had allowed to build unconsciously fed fires of prejudice. It's not evident that the question has re-emerged with such force in the 33 murders of gays which have occurred since, and which have not attracted nearly the same amount of attention. Nevertheless, the question has not gone away altogether, nor has the search for possible responses.

In Jesse's case, at first glance such a question doesn't seem to arise: it would be hard to think that many would see much right with two grown-ups tying up a 13 year old (of either sex) and raping the child. One would be surprised if the full weight both of the law and social opprobrium didn't descend on the perpetrators. But perhaps, if we look a little more closely, we should ask whether such a question exists.

Last month, we suggested one. We've noted several times that a general indifference to children not our own does seem to exist. We may not be too terribly aware of it, but, if hatred can be as much a consequence of neglect and indifference, children are indeed one of the first objects of it.

In fairness, there may be a second: is the uninhibited indulgence of one's sexual pleasures an absolute good?

Put that way, it's pretty clear what most of society thinks. That includes liberals and libertarians, and most of the GLBT community. Perhaps there are enough times that we forget that it's an issue worth a closer examination. Certainly we have encountered some who do think that way until they start thinking through the full implications of that position.

In a similar way, the traditional belief that parents had an absolute right over their children allowed some to think it was okay to practice incest, or worse. That's never quite been accepted, but it was, for a long time, not a topic that anybody wanted to pursue. The idea that there is such an absolute right belonging to parents has changed because the degree to which we are prepared to look the other way has changed.

Either way, the issue is one of personal respect for each other and the responsibility we have towards each other.

The incest issue reminds us of another case, which did not attract much mainstream media attention either. A pillar of the Christian community in the state of Indiana (and no reflection intended on Christians or Indiana!) led a widely publicized campaign against same-sex couples adopting children, and very publicly "saved" a twelve-year-old girl from one such couple. This pillar of respectability then adopted her. Six months later, he was tried and convicted of the repeated rape of this girl.

This story received a lot of local coverage, but little or no national attention. Least of all it didn't attract any attention from many commentators who professed outrage at the lack of attention paid to Jesse's death. Circumstances alter cases.

The interests of intellectual honesty require us to take note of two legislative measures.

The first is in Louisiana. A state legislator introduced a bill, which would hold Charles Darwin responsible for the racist policies of modern totalitarian states. It's a pleasant bit of satire. From the point of view of the bill's proposes, it's the equivalent of blaming the Christian Right for Matthew Shepard's death.

Well, she has a point. Darwin's "Origin of Species" prompted one or two fairly serious thinkers (Friderich Nietzsche, Herbert Spencer, among others) to consider the possible implications within the human species. Spencer is the author of the phrase "survival of the fittest". Darwin likely would have taken a poor view of it. Much of it was scientifically unsound, but it sounded scientific.

Some more popular writers picked up their ideas, Houston Stewart Chamberlain among them who quite openly began preaching racism as sound policy because it was scientific. It did create a climate that allowed many to find apparently sound pragmatic reasons to confirm their previous hates. Corporal Hitler did a pretty good job of working on that attitude.

Accepting this point, it is not hard to see a similar process where kindly people with the highest ideals unintentionally create a climate, or an attitude, which fuels the worst of prejudices in others. It is precisely that crisis of conscience that hit society as a whole when Matthew died. Not that we would ever want to see anybody go through what he went through, or would ever have deliberately said anything to encourage his killers, but they did act in some belief that nobody would mind too much either.

Maybe they weren't entirely wrong. In "Losing Matt Shepard", Beth Loffreda, faculty adviser to the Gay Union at the University of Wyoming, asked a difficult question. Matthew's murderers attacked two Latinos within minutes of finishing with Matthew, and McKinney opened up a very large gash in Emiliano Morales' scalp. She asked what the reaction would have been had things turned out the other way around: that Matthew had only been injured and Emiliano had been the one killed.

Finally, yesterday, the Texas Senate passed a hate crimes bill that has the support of James Byrd's family. They have been working very closely with the Shepard family on the bill, and it will be harmonized with a similar House bill. It remains to be seen whether the Governor will sign it when the process is complete but he is considering it. He was opposed to the previous one and would have vetoed it.

The Stop Hate 2000 e-Team

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