I created a Twitter account in the beginning of June of this year to help me keep an eye on what were the hot topics in the GLBT communities around the world. Just in the short time I’ve had that account, I’ve seen numerous headlines about hate crimes committed against GLBT men and women all over the nation and all over the world. I have yet to see one of these mentioned on any news network or network news show.
Of the many countries that have laws against hate crimes, a few surprises can be found if you compare that list with the history of hate crimes around the world. Canada, Jamaica, The United Kingdom and The United States of America all have a long history of homophobic hate crimes. Human rights groups have long called Jamaica the most homophobic place on Earth, where consensual sex between men is punishable by ten years of hard labor in prison. Most hate crimes against GLBT men and women in Jamaica end in murder. GLBT men and women are beaten to death, drowned, stabbed or in one case hit with a machete 70 times. Not a typo, I meant to type 70. The UK had a history of these crimes going back to long before the Crusades, but some of their oldest laws called for death sentences for sodomy. The Buggery Act of 1533 made it the law that any convicted sodomite lost all his possessions and was put to death. Priests and monks couldn’t be executed for murder, but they could be executed for sodomy. This made it quite convenient for acquiring church lands and money. England and Wales had laws against sodomy until 1967. Canada has their own issues with homophobic hate crimes. Vancouver is considered the hate crime and gay bashing capital of Canada. In Canada, hate crimes involving sexual orientation increased from 71 in 2007 to 159 in 2008. In the US, the FBI reported in 2004 that 15.6% of hate crimes were because of the victim’s perceived sexual orientation. This rose to 16% in 2006. Only race and religion were ranked higher then sexual orientation as causes of hate crimes.
What about adding crimes against GLBT men and women to hate crime laws? Many countries have already. Belgium, France, Germany, The United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, Canada and The United States of America have laws to protect GLBT men and women from hate crimes. Progress is being made in protecting GLBT men and women, but the past must never be forgotten, and we all must keep our ears and eyes open when it comes to protecting each other in public and even in our own homes. And we must never let our guard down.
Earlier this summer, Sen. Robert Byrd got a full burial with military escort. In his years before the Senate, Byrd was the founder and leader of his local Klu Klux Klan unit. Byrd not only never denied being a Klan member and leader, he tried to justify his involvement by claiming it was the exciting thing to do at the time. Never assume that supporters, members or even leaders of hate groups can’t get elected to public office and this country. It happened in West Virginia in 1952 with Robert Byrd, it happened in North Carolina in 1972 with Jesse Helms. Unless everyone keeps their eyes and ears open, it can happen again. None of us can afford to have a laissez-faire attitude when every basic civil right the GLBT community gains was the result of decades of literally blood, sweat and tears.
“I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side ... Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”- Robert C. Byrd, in a letter to Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), 1944