Hate crime reform a snake oil cure for LGBTQ oppression
Philadelphia — In the wake of the recent gay bashing in Philadelphia, let’s not be fooled into thinking that cops and more incarceration will be our salvation.
On Sept. 11, a group of at least three people — including a daughter of the Chalfont, Pa., chief of police — allegedly attacked and brutally beat two gay men in Philadelphia. One of the victims sustained a broken jaw, a broken orbital bone and cuts to his face so deep that they required 24 stitches to close. Reports allege that one of the suspects repeatedly called the victims “f—-ots” while attacking them. Even though the suspects were quickly identified via social media, the police delayed making arrests for nearly two weeks.
Liberal pundits and politicians, led by state Rep. Brian Sims, have seized the moment to call for the expansion of Pennsylvania’s hate crime legislation to include gender and sexual orientation as protected classes. If approved by the state legislature, the expansion would impose harsher prison sentences for people convicted of transphobic and anti-LGBQ violent offenses.
Indeed, the need for action is palpable within LGBTQ communities. In Philadelphia and across the U.S., LGBTQ people are routinely subjected to institutional and individualized violence. Studies show that as many as 68 percent of LGBTQ-identified people have experienced employment discrimination. A 2014 survey of trans and gender queer people revealed that as many as 90 percent report experiencing discrimination and verbal harassment at work. (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu) And that’s only counting those of us who are lucky enough to find work at all.
Faced with disproportionately high incidences of unemployment, underemployment, poverty and homelessness, many LGBQ and trans people participate in underground economies like sex work and the drug trade. Deprived of the means to make a living in safe and tolerable conditions, LGBTQ people do whatever it takes to survive — and then are criminalized for doing so!
LGBTQ people are more likely to be sexually assaulted than straight and cisgender (sex assigned at birth) people. (osapr.harvard.edu) Individualized violence against LGBTQ people, and especially trans women of color, has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. From widespread bullying in high schools, to domestic abuse and attacks on the street like this recent one in Philadelphia, violence is everywhere.
Targets of police brutality, murder
But let’s not forget which side the cops and the prisons are really on. LGBTQ people have always been targets of police brutality and murder. The Stonewall Inn and CeCe McDonald are only the most well-known examples of bigoted cops beating, jailing and killing us. Amnesty International found that police abuse and harassment of queer and trans people are routine occurrences in the United States.
This isn’t just a coincidence. Under capitalism the oppression of LGBTQ people serves the interests of the bosses, bankers and bureaucrats. Homophobia and transphobia exist to divide the working class and prevent us from rising up united in struggle against our common enemies: the capitalist class and their police lapdogs.
The disproportionately large number of unemployed LGBTQ people helps pad the capitalists’ reserve army of labor, which enables bosses to keep wages low for workers whom they employ. After all, why should a boss give you the raise you’ve been asking for when he or she can simply fire you and replace you with any of thousands of unemployed workers at minimum wage?
And the steady stream of LGBTQ people, especially those of color, being locked in prisons means big business for the increasingly privatized prison-industrial complex.
Our oppression at the hands of cops, racists and bigots helps the rich get richer. No amount of enhanced policing, extended prison sentences or legislative reform can change this. Not as long as the rich continue calling the shots.
As we in the Philadelphia LGBTQ community continue to cope in the aftermath of this latest violent attack, we must not be fooled into thinking that cops and politicians are here to help us.
Only by organizing ourselves and uniting with our allies can we mount an effective struggle against our common oppressors. There can be no salvation for us as long as the rich remain in power.