Gay Bashing, Hate and Indifference: The Reason ENDA is So Important
Last night I again watched “The Laramie Project“, the story of a young, gay college student who had been robbed, beaten and left to die, hanging on a fence overlooking Laramie Wyoming. Matthew Shepard the victim eventually was found but died of his wounds later in a hospital, this all thanks to hate, but also to indifference. I say indifference because many people may not hate gay people but they feel indifferent, indifferent when it comes to the rights of gay people and the challenges they face every day against discrimination.
Once, many years ago, I walked out of a gay bar to face three large grown men who had waited outside for the first “faggot” to walk out the door, which happened to be me. One was urinating on my van, in which I told him to stop, only to be attacked from behind and pummeled to the ground by three men who were all at least twice my size. I had done nothing to these men; I had not even met them. I had seen them in the bar earlier but had not thought anything about them at all. I suppose they had not thought much about me either, except I happened to be the first gay man out of the bar that night, while they waited to extract all their hate upon me.
Some might say I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and leave it at that. It did not matter that I had done nothing but leave a gay bar, signaling to the men that I was gay and deserved their hate.
I survived as the attack only lasted perhaps a minute, though it seemed much longer. My face was swollen badly and my body bruised but no broken bones and nothing that was life threatening. I was fortunate that they quickly got into their truck and drove off, unlike Matthew Shepard who was taken some place where he would not be found for a long time and where he was beaten so badly that his brain bled inside his skull, which caused him eventually to die. He also suffered from severe hypothermia, thanks to the freezing temperatures that night.
What does ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) have to do with gay bashing you might ask? ENDA is about ending indifference toward gay bashing. It is about opening a door and closing another. It is about allowing LGBT members to live free from bigotry and it speaks clearly that gay people are the same as every other American and that they have a right to employment and fair treatment the same as everyone else. It opens one door to opportunity but it closes another door to indifference and intolerance against gay people.
In one way, it is just one more step toward equal rights for gay people but in another, it clarifies to the world and to all Americans that gay people deserve to be treated with respect, not hate, bigotry, and not even indifference.
Many of the citizens of Laramie had no hate toward gay people before Matthew Shepard was found hanging on that fence overlooking that small western town, just indifference. They had no idea that such hate existed in their town and that anyone in that town could cause so much harm upon one individual, simply because he was gay. They were indifferent, which allowed that hate to breed and finally to explode, ending a young life that would never live to see gay marriage, now a reality and never would see the passage of ENDA in the U.S. Senate, perhaps on its way of ending workplace discrimination, if only.
Unfortunately, ENDA will probably not become law because the U.S. Congress under the control of the Republican Party and the House Speaker, John Boehner, refuses to allow it to come to a vote. It probably is not because John Boehner hates gay people or even because most Republicans in the House hate gay people, but because they are indifferent. They do not care that gay people are fired from their jobs just because they are gay or even that gay people face discrimination in all sorts of ways, including gay bashing by young men who are homophobic and who really do hate gay people.
Eventually, maybe in another Congress, ENDA will pass but even then, it will not be the end of gay bashing or discrimination against gay people. African-Americans can tell you that no matter how many laws are passed, there will still be people out there who hate black people and some who wish to do them harm. They can tell you that laws help give protection to African-Americans and give them recourse to take action against those who would cause them harm. It is the same for gay people; laws that guarantee their right to marry, to keep their jobs without fear of being fired. Laws that specifically punishes those who would harm anyone who is gay, transsexual, or lesbian are important and are a step toward being treated as a first class citizen and not someone for whom it is all right to trample beneath one’s feet.
The death of Matthew Shepard was a high-profile case and brought much attention to a problem that has existed far too long, even continues to this day. In small towns and conservative states across this nation, gay people face being treated as though they are pariahs in society, that God does not love them, even though He made them that way.
Being gay is not a choice, nor is it a lifestyle as so many of those who are ignorant about LGBT members would think. A gay person discovers their sexuality the same as a heterosexual does, during puberty most generally. How they feel about themselves when they do discover they are gay depends a great deal on those who are around them and what they have been taught up to that point. Equal rights for gay people lead to enlightenment, shining a light on bigotry and hate.
ENDA is another door closed to bigotry and another door open to tolerance and acceptance for all. Perhaps someday it will become a reality and every gay person, no matter where they grow up or where they live will know what it is to have equal protection under the law, no matter how much ignorance, hate, and indifference surrounds their lives.