|by Eric Morrison|
Jesus Christ said that the poor will always be among us. Apparently, so will bigoted idiots.
A few weeks ago, my friend and his boyfriend, who work in Rehoboth, met up after work around midnight and were walking back to their cars. They noticed a group of teenagers walking down the other side of the street. The teenagers began yelling epithets at my friend and his boyfriend, who yelled back for them to knock it off, and kept walking. The teenagers began throwing objects at my friend and his boyfriend, and my friend sustained a bloody gash in his face. Upon realizing that they had caused serious injury, the teenagers took off running down the street. Fortunately, one of the teenagers was caught and charges against her are pending. I was shocked by this event. Like many of us, I have always thought of Rehoboth as a safe, gay-friendly "bubble." I've never thought twice about holding my partner's hand while strolling the sand, or planting a kiss on his cheek after he treats me to an ice cream cone. But now, I am thinking twice. If a blatant hate crime can happen in Rehoboth, it can happen anywhere. Fortunately, incidents like this are quite rare in Rehoboth, and CAMP Rehoboth, a true treasure of an organization, worked with local police and the victims. It makes me wonder about the myriad hate crimes that must go unreported every year in America and across the world, many of them even more serious than this incident. It makes me wonder who a teenage boy in the middle of America's Bible Belt turns to when he's called "faggot," shoved into a locker at school, or beaten in the street.
As regular readers of my column know, I'm addicted to the news, often to my blood pressure's detriment. The other day, I read a CNN online article about the tragic state for gays in Iraqhow things are actually worse now for Iraqi gays than they were when Saddam Hussein was in power. According to the article, before America invaded Iraq, although there were certainly no Pride parades marching down Baghdad Main Street, gays were silently tolerated, and in some cases, even moderately accepted. After all, Saddam ran a mostly secular government, if not a kind one. But since the fall of Saddam and the rise of chaos, religious militants have taken it upon themselves to use religious zealotry to punish gay Iraqis. It is commonplace for gays to be beaten in the streets, often to the point of death. It is commonplace for Iraqi gays to feel incredible shame and self-loathing. It is commonplace for families to disown and even kill their gay relatives. The story reported that few studies even focus on LGBT hate crimes in Iraq and the Middle East. There is little government interest in such statistics, and a prevailing attitude that the victims deserve to suffer violence. I strongly suspect, too, that the American government has its hands full enough with terrorist activities, and even less interest in protecting LGBT civil rights abroad than at home.
The young gay Iraqi interviewed for the storywho refused to give his name or show his facecommented that he would rather commit suicide or be killed than have his family find out he is gay. Although he feels that he should be able to live a happy, normal life, it has been ingrained in his psyche that death is better than shaming his family and his country. In 2005, the young man survived repeated rapings by Iraqi soldiers assigned to protect citizens. He recounts, weeping, "They told me to take off my clothes to rape me or they would kill me immediately. This moment was the worst moment in my life. I was watching them taking off their clothes, preparing to rape me. [They] took off my clothes by force and, at that time, I saw them as dirty animals trying to tear my body apart." The young man was held for 15 days and raped repeatedly, released only after his family paid a $1,500 ransom, then thrown into the street with a threat to keep silent or he and his family would be killed. Afraid his family would find out he is gay, he never told them about the raping. This horrible incident highlights internalized homophobia among corrupt Iraqi solders, who will rape a young man while cursing him for being gay. The young man's friends and acquaintances have been beaten and even murdered in the streets. Many Iraqis feel this is just punishment for being gay, so the crimes go unreported, and many Iraqi officials share this belief or are simply too overwhelmed to take on the cause.
Just as shocking to me as these atrocities were some of the blog comments entered by readers of this story. Although a majority of comments were supportive and touching, many were surprisingly ignorant, hurtful, and hateful. One man explained at length that being gay is wrong no matter which country you live in, no matter which religion you subscribe to. He stopped just short of saying that gay Iraqisand Americansdeserve any abuse they receive. Another blogger "reminded" readers that being gay in any country is not only a sin but a sickness, and that both Christianity and Islam condemn it as a serious sin. One reader chided CNN for publishing this story, saying it was not real news and was a waste of space. (His feelings about LGBT people are obvious.) Even among some of the bloggers who wrote in support of LGBT rights, ignorance reared its ugly head. One man wrote that we should respect people's "choices" to be gay, that we should show "tolerance" towards people no matter which kind of "lifestyle" they "choose" and whom they "choose" to love. Some bloggers responded that being gay has never been anymore of a choice than eye color or shoe size, and that we don't want to be "tolerated" like a spoiled child or a pesky gnat. Even with all the ignorance and hatred in the world, I remain hopeful, especially when I think about the immense progress we've made in the LGBT civil rights movement. To quote renowned civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "When people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory."
Eric can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 11 August 08, 2008