Anti-Gay Violence Confusing, Apparently Equal Opportunity

This week two highly publicized cases of apparent gay-bashing remained on our newsfeeds and minds as their cases developed in new and surprising ways. Never a dull day in the world of being constantly uncertain about your basic physical safety and wellbeing as part of a marginalized community!

Damian Furtch was brutally beaten by two men at a McDonald’s in New York City while they yelled gay slurs at him. He courageously displayed his injuries and broadcasted his story publicly, saying that he hoped he could “shed light on the larger issue of violence against my community,” as “under no circumstance should a person be attacked for their sexual orientation.” His story looked like a cut-and-dried hate crime, until one of the men, Anthony Bray, was arrested – and claims to also be gay. He’s now being charged with misdemeanor assault instead of a hate crime, a fact that Furtch protests. He says that the slurs he was subjected to constitute a hate crime whatever the context, but the NYPD disagree: “A police source told the New York Post that due to both the victim and the suspect identifying themselves as gay, the attack “may come down to just two guys having a fistfight,” rather than a hate crime. The Post also reports that the second man who was present for the assault is not expected to be charged.”

Although it’s not using the same wording, the NYPD appears to be acknowledging a basic fact about institutionalized inequality that authority figures usually refuse to acknowledge: that oppression only works in one direction, imposed by the majority onto the minority group. (Sort of like how reverse racism doesn’t exist.) It’s interesting and kind of unfortunate that the institutions in power seem willing to recognize this structure of inequality when it comes to some marginalized groups but not others, and that in this case it means Damian Furtch’s attackers getting a seemingly minor and/or no charge at all. When we talk about anti-gay violence, intra-community violence isn’t something that comes up often, which means we have no language to talk about things like this, and are left instead with the persistent image of Furtch’s battered face staring back at us.

Perhaps even odder is the story of John Joe Thomas, who murdered mentally handicapped senior citizen Murray Seidman and claimed it was because he had made homosexual advances towards him. Thomas, only 28, is a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka a Mormon, and had also “baptized the Jewish-born Seidman in the LDS Church.” It sounds like a typical gay-panic defense, and it probably is. Usually we think of the gay-panic defense as being a way to blame the gay victim for the attacker’s homophobia and therefore justifies their violence with it. In this case, though, Seidman’s brother says that Murray wasn’t capable of sexual attraction to anyone, and also points out that Thomas was the sole beneficiary of Seidman’s will. So, given that there is only circumstantial evidence to work with, it seems at least possible that this has nothing really to do with homosexuality at all; it has to do with killing an elderly man who presumably trusted and relied upon a younger one for the sake of money. Which is not any more admirable than a hate crime, but is also still completely terrible.

That’s the worst part, really; is that even when there isn’t a well of rampant homophobia fueling violent acts like this, it doesn’t actually make them any better. They’re still just awful things people do to other people, and often to gay people, or often in the name of hurting gay people because that sounds like an acceptable thing to do. And nothing makes that okay.

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    In the case of John Joe Thomas, the point of the hate crimes law is to stop someone from trying to get off any assault by using a gay panic defense. He may not have murdered Seidman because he was gay, but even so he can’t use some “diminished capacity” defense in which he pretends to have done it because gays freak him out to try and get a lighter sentence.

    It sort of creates a catch-22 where if the defendant tries to claim diminished capacity because they’re super homophobic to the point that it makes them literally insane, then they get hit with an extended sentence for a hate crime rather than a shortened sentence for hate-fueled insanity.

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    One of the most eye-opening moments in my life came when a friend insisted Matthew Shepard’s death was not a hate crime. He had been attacked, she reasoned, because he hit on his attackers. Which wasn’t a hate crime. Yes, in her opinion, killing someone for ACTING gay isn’t the same as killing someone for BEING gay.

    It’s times like that I almost regret coming out to some people. At the time, I was in the closet to her, and it kind of blew my mind that she would say something like that to a (theoretically) straight person, but would certainly have not said it around a (out) gay person. Makes me wonder what certain people are saying when I’m not around. How many people who, in my presence, politely hold opposing views, turn into bigots when I’m gone?

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    Having taken a fair amount of verbal abuse and some minor but traumatic physical incidences because I had the “nerve” not to hide my true lesbian self, this kind of thing sickens me.

    I was once called a “fuckin’ piece of fag shit”..lovely don’t you think?

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