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Who’s to blame?

Six gay men attacked after Pride festival

Published Aug 14, 2006 9:21 PM

There is a metal plaque in the sidewalk outside the Obelisk Bookstore in San Diego’s Hillcrest community, commemorating the 1991 stabbing death of 17-year-old John Robert Wear at the hands of homohaters. Wear and some friends were walking in the early evening down University Avenue in Hillcrest—which has, for many years, been the center of San Diego’s large lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities. Wear and his friends were confronted by three men who called them “faggots” and then attacked Wear, killing him.

Fast-forward 15 years to 2006. It’s Saturday evening, July 29, in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The previous day saw at least 150,000 people gather to witness and march in the annual Pride Parade, San Diego’s largest yearly civic event. Now, following another full day of celebration at the Pride Festival, attendees are filtering out of the park on their way home. But for six unfortunate men, there are four homophobic/homohating youth lying in wait in the bushes. They are armed with two baseball bats and a sharp object, perhaps a knife.

The six leaving the festival are set upon in separate attacks, four of them while walking alone. Four of the victims are able to escape with only bruises, one is stabbed in the back, and the sixth man, as of this writing, remains hospitalized with a fractured skull. He was hit 10 to 12 times on the head and upper body with a baseball bat, and reports indicate he will require reconstructive surgery. He has received a tracheotomy to help him breathe.

On Aug. 2 the San Diego Union-Tribune reports yet another anti-gay attack: “A group of [15] teenagers made anti-gay comments as they attacked a security guard last night in what San Diego police called a hate crime.”

In a much-needed response to these latest manifestations of homophobia/homohatred, more than 1,000 people gathered on the evening of Aug. 4 at the LGBT Community Center, marched to the Obelisk Bookstore and held a street rally there.

The big-business media focus now is that the perpetrators have been caught, are being charged with hate crimes and will be punished.

The question that needs to be answered, however, is why, 37 years after the birth of the Gay Liberation movement—followed by countless struggles that have advanced the cause of LGBT liberation—do these violent attacks continue?

And it must be emphasized that, while these recent incidents in San Diego involved men whom their attackers presumed were gay, violent attacks against trans people are certainly even more frequent but receive much less publicity.

Who’s to blame

Let’s start with the politicians. With a bare handful of exceptions—Harvey Milk, Bella Abzug—virtually no Democratic or Republican office holders or candidates could be found in the Gay Liberation marches of the early 1970s. But as the momentum and breadth of the movement for equal rights for LGBT people grew and grew, it gradually became more acceptable for liberal politicians to make appearances at “gay” events. And then, too, openly lesbian and gay people began running for public office.

But recently, the passage in state after state of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage sends a strong message—heard loudly and clearly by bigots and bashers—that the U.S. political establishment views lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people as less than equal.

And then there are the influential religious organizations. Some of them have openly embraced the call for equal rights and given sincere support to the struggle. Others have, over the years, moved from open prejudice to more accepting positions.

But the Vatican, to name one powerful and viciously homohating institution, has made it clear, over and over again, that the only acceptable stance for lesbians and gay men is celibacy, silence and invisibility.

Much of the terror unleashed by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages under the bloody banner of the Inquisition was directed against practitioners of pre-patriarchal belief systems that were fully accepting of homosexuality.

How little anything has changed. A 1961 Vatican document refers to “those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty.” In 1986, the present pope, Benedict XVI, wrote that homosexuality is an “intrinsic moral evil” and described it as “an objective disorder.” (www.RainbowNetwork.com)

More recently, he has approved a Vatican document proclaiming that “homosexual men should not be admitted to seminaries even if they are celibate, because their condition suggests a serious personality disorder which detracts from their ability to serve as ministers.” (www.ewtn.com)

In a highly publicized incident last year, San Diego’s Bishop Robert Brom—one of many Catholic clergy who have been accused of sexual misconduct with children or youth—somewhat hypocritically denied a Catholic funeral service to the owner of a gay nightclub. Brom stated that none of the 98 Catholic churches in San Diego County or Imperial County would be allowed to provide services.

Following expressions of outrage by many community leaders, Brom reversed himself. But that wasn’t the end of it. As reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “The morning after San Diego’s Roman Catholic bishop apologized to a family after canceling their gay son’s funeral mass, he left two voice-mail messages for an evangelical Christian activist who crusades against homosexuality. ‘James, please take my call,’ Bishop Robert Brom said Tuesday into the answering machine of James Hartline, a Hillcrest man who supported canceling the funeral. ‘I have to explain how it’s all wrong and how I was done in.’” His Holiness Bishop Brom continues as the guiding shepherd of his flock to this day.

The fundamentalist right-wing of the Protestant hierarchy, which ascended with the rise of capitalism over feudalism as a world economic system, has been a hot-bed of homohating reaction in the U.S.—from Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson.

Up against the brass

And finally, the influence of the most powerful military organization on the face of the planet should be considered.

In the face of who knows what Pentagon threats, Bill Clinton reversed his pre-election promise to end the ban on lesbians and gay men in the military and instead instituted the infamous “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy under which the Pentagon witch-hunt against LGBT personnel has continued unabated.

In an essay she wrote for the anti-military booklet titled, “We Won’t Go: A Guide to Resistance” (International Action Center, 2005), Rebeca Toledo states, “Ten thousand people have been discharged under [Don’t ask, don’t tell] since 1994.”

This policy by the brass legitimizes homophobia, encourages the acting out of homohatred impulses and declares war on LGBT people in the ranks of the military. Toledo documents a number of such violent incidents following the imposition of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” She also relates how the Pentagon promotes hatred of LGBT people in other ways.

And finally comes the embarrassing discovery of a Pentagon document that, as of June, still classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. After the document was made public, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin announced that this policy document is “under review.”

The physical assaults against trans people, gay men, lesbians and bisexuals must end. Unfortunately, this goal will be impossible to reach until the Democratic and Republican politicians, the Vatican, the fundamentalist right-wing Protestant hierarchy, the Pentagon and the other powerful bastions of homophobic/homohatred reaction stop promulgating bigotry against LGBT people and stop sending signals to the youth, in particular, that LGBT people are less than equal and deserving of scorn.