Coalition doesn’t need misleading data to maintain moral high ground

Letter to the Editor

EDITOR,

The Coalition Against Homophobia recently put flyers into the table-toppers at Reid profiling victims of LGBT hate crimes under the heading “Hate & Bigotry KILL AGAIN.”   One such flyer informs the reader that Richard Hernandez was “brutally dismembered in his bathtub” and was “murdered for being gay.”   The flyer also presents other victims, including Jennifer Gale, who suffered the same fate, murdered because they were gay, lesbian, or transgendered.   However, Dallas news reports suggest that Seth Winder, the man accused of murdering Hernandez, was homeless, mentally ill, already knew Hernandez, and took pornographic pictures of himself in Hernandez’ apartment.   As disturbing as this murder appears, it does not appear to be motivated by hatred.   Further reports suggested Hernandez had often allowed Winder to sleep in his apartment.   Again, nothing suggesting Hernandez was, as the flyer suggests, murdered for being gay.

Jennifer Gale’s death appears less ambiguously.   A homeless political activist in the Austin area, she died of heart disease exacerbated by sleeping outside in near-freezing temperatures.   There were no drugs in her system, nor were there any signs of trauma on her body.   This death, though tragic, cannot be a hate-crime simply because the victim was transgendered.   While most of the others appear to be victims of hate-crimes in the sense that their LGBT identity factored into the motive for their murder, the statistic on the flyer pointing out that “36 LGBT people were murdered in the 2008 in the US” presupposes that those murders are hate crimes, and in Jennifer Gale’s case, presupposes that whenever an LGBT person dies, their death directly correlates to their sexual orientation.

America’s treatment of our homosexual citizens is an abhorrent breach of human rights.     I also admit that hate-crimes are serious offenses that often go unreported.   But this bias does not excuse the misrepresentation of facts while presenting offenses against the LGBT community.   Whether or not the cause is noble, the desire to inspire positive political change does not justify the same deception employed by those attempting to prevent change.

More importantly, treating every LGBT murder as a hate crime robs those murder victims of the humanity and individuality the Coalition Against Homophobia so doggedly fights for.   Assuming that each of these murder victims died only because of their sexual orientation, and not for any of the other (equally pointless) reasons humans kill each other reduces them to mere units of homosexuality, statistical cogs in a political machine whose identity disappears behind their sexual orientation.   With that, to ignore the actual stories of these murder victims keeps the public from seeing that these are HUMAN BEINGS whose lives are being taken unjustly, and that their murders are as pointless and tragic as the murder of any white, middle-class, heterosexual male.

I assume these errors were made out of ignorance, a lack of research as opposed to a conscious desire to misreport the facts.   I also share the Coalition Against Homophobia’s desire to shed light on the disgusting, graphic nature of anti-LGBT violence in America, which should be harshly prosecuted and which represents the worst aspects of American society.   But don’t cheat.   As gay-rights activists, you operate from the moral high ground.   Don’t sacrifice that position simply to buttress the statistics surrounding your cause; the real, tragic human stories of those affected by anti-LGBT violence speak for themselves. For if you do choose to let your ethics slip and fudge the numbers, or overlook the human beings behind the facts you present, you cease to fight for the rights of the oppressed, and tacitly advance the goals of the oppressors.

– Ned Schaumberg ’09