Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard.

Matthew’s murder was a manifestation of hate — a learned behavior which not only destroys lives, but destroys communities and entire cultures.  Not unlike the attempted extermination of Jews during the reign of Hitler and his Nazi party, or the lynch hangings of black men who “looked the wrong way” at a white woman, the hatred which killed Matthew Shepherd is a festering boil in our society which, if left untreated, will infect all of humanity.

The passage of the Matthew Shepard act is important, not just because it protects LGBT people, but because it protects all minorities, no matter what makes them a minority, and serves to educate our society that crimes committed against persons because of who they are will not be tolerated.  We obviously can’t count on parents to teach their children the right things about tolerance of others, as is evidenced by our history throughout the ages.  Parents once were children who learned hate and they pass that lesson on to their own children and, today, they also pass along the sense that they should not be held accountable for their own actions — that, if they do something wrong, they can blame the victim or the situation rather than take ownership of what they have done.

In a powerful article called “Why the Shepard murder was different,” Cathy Renna explores what made Matthew’s murder the one that united the LGBT community and why.

Renna also comments:

The sense of being “other” is still a constant feature for many of us, even those who try to assimilate as much as possible and proclaim that they’re just ordinary citizens like everyone else.

A more optimistic analysis would say that the waves of cultural visibility we saw in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s have brought unprecedented change.

The world knows who we are in a more substantive manner than ever before, however underrepresented our community’s diversity may be. We can now get married in California and Massachusetts, although the lack of federal benefits is the big hurdle that will take many years to overcome.

It is worth looking at 1998 a bit before we consider 2008 and the current state of GLBT politics and culture. In 1998, the country had already been shocked by the grisly dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in June of that year. Also in 1998, we had a president who picked up the phone and called Matthew’s parents to offer his condolences. The family of Lawrence King, who was killed in a recent incident, could not have dreamed of getting a call from the current President.

Indeed no such calls have issued from the White House for the past seven-plus years.

Indeed, the last 7+ years have had this country — the land of liberty and freedom — led by the most oppressive, hate-filled administration in this nation’s history, one that would go so far as to enshrine discrimination into our beloved Constitution, one that has fueled the fires of hate so badly that many individual states have done just that…enshrine hate in their constitutions.

The so called “gay panic” defense is a smokescreen for those who seek to justify the actions of their hate.  As many have pointed out, if a common woman assaulted or murdered any man who made a pass at her, she would be convicted of murder, without compassion, without any excuses, without anything that the jury could use to justify her actions.  Why, then, can ignorant, homophobic hate-mongers escape justice by using this defense?

How is it that the justice system can allow so UNJUST a sentence as it did in the death of Sean Kennedy?  Sean and friends were leaving a bar one night when a car pulled up to them and 18-year-old Stephen Moeller jumped out.  Moeller called Sean a faggot, and then punched him in the face, breaking bones in Sean’s face.  Sean fell to the ground, hitting his head on the asphalt which caused his brain to separate from his brain stem.  A short while later, Moeller called a female friend of Sean’s and left her a message saying “You tell your faggot friend that when he wakes up he owes me $500 for my broken hand.”  Moeller got three years for involuntary manslaughter because there was no malicious intent behind the assault.  One has to wonder how anyone can say there is no malicious intent behind ANY assault, much less one that takes the life of another human being, based solely on that human being’s sexuality.

Had a federal hate crimes law been in place, Moeller would be doing a lot more time and justice would have been better served.

And each time one of these ignorant homophobes gets away with this type of assault or gets off easily on murder, the justice system (and the federal government) sends a message to others that homosexuals don’t count, don’t matter as much, when crimes are committed against them.

But don’t fool yourself into believing that these are isolated cases or just a handful of individuals who are fueling this hatred.  Extremist right-wing “Christian” organizations are behind much of the spread of hatred as well.  Jerry Falwell was an excellent example of hate-speech camouflaged by religion.  He preached “hate the sin, love the sinner” but, as one gay man put it in an open letter to him:

I believe that you love us, Jerry. But you make it hard for me to convince others who have heard your sermons, watched you on TV, or read your web page or fundraising letters. They know that you are always careful to say “We love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Instead of love, however, they hear anger, disgust, and judgment in your words. Maybe it’s because you spend so much time and energy telling why you “hate the sin” and so little time showing exactly how you “love the sinner.”

Jimmy Swaggart, in a televised speech (from Canada) told a so-called “Christian” congregation that:

“I’m trying to find the correct name for it … this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. … I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died.”

Those comments were met with APPLAUSE!  This self-professed “Christian” or “Man of God” teaches that killing a homosexual because of a LOOK is acceptable AND that lying to God about what happened is okay, too.  Is this the type of “Christian” value that should be taught to our children?

The Alliance Defense Fund, headed by Focus on the Family’s “Reverend” James Dobson has spent millions and millions of dollars throughout this country financing anti-gay legislation — all in the name of God.  In the meantime, children’s services are all but disappearing, people are starving in this country, the education system is underfunded and understaffed, even our troops in the Middle East are improperly supplied but yet this organization chooses to use it’s vast resources for hate rather than good.

I recall, three decades ago, a movie entitled Oh God! (starring John Denver and George Burns). Paul Sorvino plays the Reverend Willie Williams, a man not unlike Swaggart, Robertson, or Falwell.  God sends Jerry (Denver) to where the Reverend Willie is speaking with a message.  Jerry tells the Reverend Willie (paraphrasing from memory) “You say you’re delivering God’s words but God says you ran out of His words a long time ago.”

Indeed, none of these so-called “Christians” are spreading anything that remotely resembles God’s word.  They are preaching hate based on their own prejudices and hatreds, and masking it with religious overtones.  And that, my friends, is blasphemy.  NOBODY should claim to speak FOR God, as these religious nutcases do.

Just today I read that the American Family Association, one of these fascist “Christian” organizations, called off a boycott of McDonalds because McDonalds caved in to their demand to stop providing support to the LGBT community.  If McDonalds is willing to cave that easily, I say stop patronizing McDonalds.  Don’t support an organization that doesn’t support us, or which pulls its support because of pressure placed on it by hatemongers.

I guess I’m done preaching from my own soapbox for the day.  But I want to leave you with a quote from that movie, “Oh God” that I think is relevant here.

I know how hard it is in these times to have faith. But maybe if you could have the faith to start there, maybe the times would change. You could change them. Think about it. Try. And try not to hurt each other. There’s been enough of that. It really gets in the way. I’m a God of very few words and Jerry’s already given you mine. However hopeless, helpless, mixed up and scary it all gets, it can work. If you find it hard to believe in me, maybe it would help you to know that I believe in you.