Tag Archive | hate crimes

It still isn’t unfathomable!

“Stop quoting people saying the bomber was a nice guy... he was an angry, hateful person— the bombs themselves are proof enough!”

Click to embiggen

It was bad enough that mainstream U.S. media didn’t start covering the story of the exploding FedEx packages being delivered in Austin, Texas until a white person was injured. Black man killed? No big deal. Black teen-ager killed (and another black woman injured by the bomb that killed the kid)? Again, no big deal. Even after the third bomb went off, injuring a hispanic woman, what did the FBI do? They issued a request for the bomber to call them.

The asked the bomber to please call them.

Two people killed by bombs in unexpected packages in less than two weeks, with local police saying they didn’t believe the attacks were random, and the FBI just says, “Well, maybe if we ask nicely the guy will turn himself in.” The Unabomber only killed three people with his bombs (over the course of 17 years), but he warranted the “largest manhunt in FBI history”?

I realize that it they might have been doing more than that behind the scenes, but given how several federal officials said they saw no link to terrorism and otherwise made very dismissive comments, I suspect not.

And now the bomber blew himself up after a short police chase (we don’t know if he killed himself on purpose or if his next explosive went off accidentally). And authorities are making more, “There’s no more threat” in the same breath that they admit they haven’t figured out if he had accomplices, nor how he picked his victims.

And headlines and subheads are mentioning how neighbors described the bomber as a nice guy.

First of all, several of those stories also quote friends reporting that he was “rough around the edges” and that he “would be intimidating and dominate every conversation.”

Apparently headline writing editors and such don’t understand some simple facts:

  • Nice guys don’t intentionally kill people with bombs
  • Nice guys don’t put on disguises to go into FedEx centers and mail bombs that are intended to kill the unsuspecting recepients
  • Nice guys don’t intimidate their way into dominating every conversation
  • Nice guys don’t post angry bigoted screeds about gay people being evil abominations
  • Nice guys don’t post angry screeds about women who get abortions or who take birth control
  • Nice guys don’t post angry screeds that some women deserve to be raped and argue that guys who commit rape shouldn’t be labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives

And journalists, don’t say that you’re trying to be fair, or give both sides. He was a cowardly, hateful killer. There aren’t two legitimate sides to these incidents. There are victims, and there is the killer who was obviously a bad guy.

Also, stop with the “why did he do it” laments. He was angry. He was hateful. The bombs alone prove that. When you dig into the bigoted rants he posted online, the friends who describe his bullying behavior, and so forth—all of that corroborates the initial characterization as an angry, hateful, bad guy.

In one of the stories I read, the friend who described him as intimidating and dominating every conversation during High School, opined that since then he must have “succumbed to some sort of hate.” No, buddy, that intimidation and other behaviors you describe were clear signs of anger already there.

I understand why people often wind up describing the mass shooters and other killers of this type as a nice guy. Some don’t want to speak ill of the dead. Some don’t want to hurt the feelings of the family of the killer. Some are trying to absolve themselves of not having seen him for the danger he was. We don’t want to believe someone we know is a monster. Particularly when they are someone we are obligated to spend time with (we’re students at the same school, we are co-workers, we are related to them, we are friends with someone related to him, et cetera) we will make excuses and tell ourselves he’s just “rough around the edges” but under that we’re sure he’s capable of being a nice guy.

Now, I’m not saying that every angry high school boy is going to grow up to be a multiple murderer. Some of us discover the source of all the anger and learn to be better people.

That’s right, I said us.

I don’t claim to know all the sources of this guy’s anger, but part of me was cringing when reading that description of him dominating conversations by intimidating the other people in it—because I did that a lot. And it’s a form of interaction I can easily fall into to this day. I was lucky enough to first get out of the toxic environment caused by my abusive father when my parents divorce while I was a teen, but I didn’t understand for a long time that I was still carrying all the toxicity around. I was in my early twenties when a good friend was brave enough to call me out as being a verbal bully. Making me see for the first time just how much of the abuse I had internalized. It was a couple years after that before I was ready to admit that another source of my anger (and self-loathing) was being a closeted queer man. And it was during my coming out process that I was able to identify just how toxic the evangelical churches I was raised in were. It wasn’t just my abusive dad who filled me with all that poison.

Which gets me to one of the articles that pissed me off most: the New York Times describes the killer’s family as a tight-knit, godly one. That description, plus knowing he was homeschooled—plus those anti-gay, anti-abortion (complete with the usual slut-shaming plus ignorance of biology), pro-rape posts tells me what kind of religious background he came from, and therefore at least one source of that hate.

We don’t have to ask why. We already know, it’s just mainstream America doesn’t want to admit how much hate and anger is being cultivated in this country. It isn’t about the foreign so-called extremist groups recruiting. Because we aren’t willing to recognize the extent to which fundamentalist Christian churches are engaged in manufacturing these angry young men.


Edit to add: I found more information about some of his angry rants on line, so I updated the bullet list above.

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One year later, Pulse nightclub massacre is still a punch in the gut

“Our hearts are in Orlando.”

“Our hearts are in Orlando.”

One year ago, on June 12, 2016, a killer snuck a gun into a busy gay night club on Latino night and opened fire, killing 49 people and wounding many others. In the immediate aftermath Republican politicians expressed sympathy for the victims, insist that even though a gay club was targeted during Pride month that it wasn’t actually an anti-gay hate crime, and then days later voted down gay rights protections. Those politicians weren’t the only ones to try to claim that the act wasn’t an anti-gay crime. We’ve had people gin up evidence (which has been thoroughly debunked) that the killer was secretly gay himself. We’ve had people and politicians try to claim the killer was part of an organized Islamic terrorist organization, and that has been thoroughly debunked as well.

The killer’s own father said that his son had been ranting for weeks about how angry he was to see gay men kissing each other in public. He spent weeks using a fake profile on a gay hook-up app quizzing gay men to determine which gay club would have the biggest crowd and which night of the week it would be busiest. It was an anti-gay hate crime. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also terrorism, because that’s what all hate crimes are: the intent is to instill terror in the targeted community by singling out individuals for bashing or worse.

I wrote shortly after the massacre to explain why this crime hit me so hard even though I live on the other side of the continent and don’t personally know anyone killed. My whole life I’ve lived with the fear and knowledge that there are people who hate queers enough to attack me and kill me, but I haven’t often had to think of that hatred being a danger to those around me. The killer’s father isn’t the only one who talked about what had enraged his son. Others who knew the killer have talked about his increasingly angry outbursts about gay people. Seeing two men kiss made him go kill 49 people in a busy gay nightclub during Pride month.

It’s one thing to know that bigots hate me enough to kill me. It’s much worse to be shown that some hate me enough to commit a massacre.

And it’s upsetting to know that some people who claim to be friends—and relatives who have said they love me—are unable or unwilling to understand that this killer’s actions are a symptom of society’s messed up attitudes about queer people and about guns.

That is what people who claim this is just one lone nut, or that it isn’t really about queer people, or that there is nothing society can do that will make these crimes less likely to happen are actually saying.

One year later, it’s still a gut punch.

It leaves one wondering what we can do.

  1. There are organizations you can donate to: Scissor Sisters and MDNR honor Pulse victims with ‘Swerlk’ lyric video: Proceeds from the song’s sales and royalties will be donated to the Contigo Fund which, “offers financial support to organizations working to heal, educate and empower LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants and people of color, as well as those working to end all forms of bigotry in Central Florida”.
  2. We can attend memorials: Thousands Expected At Pulse Memorial Events In Orlando.
  3. You can commit to acts of kindness and urge others to: Elected officials on Monday announced that June 12 officially would be dedicated as “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness.”.
  4. We can remember the victims: Orlando Sentinel Marks One-Year Anniversary of Pulse Nightclub Massacre: In print, a special 16-page section; online, free access for all.
  5. We can try to help the healing process: Faces of healing, one year after the Pulse Nightclub massacre.

Mostly, please just recognize that this was a hate crime, fueled by our society’s abhorrence of gay people and helped by our irrational obsession with prioritizing gun rights over human rights. It wasn’t an act of anti-american terrorism. It wasn’t merely the actions of one disturbed individual. It is a symptom of very American dysfunction. It is a hate crime, and all hate crimes are meant to instill terror in the hearts of the targeted community. If you are a straight person who still insists this wasn’t an anti-gay hate crime, please answer this question honestly: was this crime a gut punch of terror for you? Was it?

I have been relieved that most of the coverage of this crime focused on the victims. Too often the coverage of mass shootings focus so much on the perpetrator that it’s as if he’s a hero, instead of a despicable excuse for a human being. I think I have managed, despite writing about this incident many times, never mention to the name of the killer. Instead, we need to honor the memories of those slain: Orlando nightclub shooting: Read about the victims.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando this last weekend.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando June 6, 2016. (Click to embiggen) (Facebook/AP/Reuters/Rex)


Edited to Add: Several people have written very eloquently about the day:

Commentary: Pulse, and the Beautiful, Sad, Joyful Tradition of Queer Grief

I Couldn’t Write About The Pulse Attack Until Today

A Letter to My Queer Family After Orlando

Five months later, Pulse shooting still a gut punch

“Our hearts are broken, but our pulse is strong.”

“Our hearts are broken, but our pulse is strong.”

Five months ago, an angry homophobe walked into an Orlando, Florida gay night club and murdered 49 people, wounding 53 more. It was a Saturday night during Queer Pride month, and it was specifically Latinx Night at that club. It was a planned hate crime. According to the FBI’s reconstruction (and the testimony of the killer’s father), the homophobic killer had decided to buy an assault rifle to kill as many queers as he could after seeing two men kissing in public. In the days before the massacre, the killer had staked out the location several times. He picked the target by setting up a fake profile on a gay hook-up app, chatting up men, and asking them what the busiest clubs were (he never met up with any of the men). Then yesterday, just before the five-month anniversary of the massacre: Newly Released Police Body Cam Video of Orlando Shooting.

Five months later, thinking about the shooting still feels like a punch in my gut. I’m a queer man who has been out of the closet for a quarter of a century. But I grew up in redneck communities during the 60s and 70s. Any time I am out in public with my husband and we show any affection, I experience a moment of fear. I check to see who is around. I am never able to be completely in the moment because a part of me is staying alert to any and all strangers around us and preparing in case they react badly. It’s a dread calculation I find myself making whenever we are out, even with friends: is it all right if I call him “honey,” or will we get harassed? Can I safely say, “I love you,” or will we get threatened?

And it isn’t just me being paranoid. There was a specific incident years ago when my husband was threatened with violence after we exchanged a quick kiss when I dropped him off at a bus stop, for instance. There have been numerous incidents throughout my life where strangers called out slurs and made threats because I was a guy wearing earrings, or purple, or sometimes I don’t know how the person decided I was a faggot, but they did.

For the last few years before this my level of dread had decreased, just a little bit. It was still there, just not quite as bad. Especially when we were in familiar places.

And then the Pulse shooting happened. It is a reminder that even our queer places aren’t safe. And the reaction afterward, as people tried to say that it wasn’t an anti-gay crime. The very same people who have been fighting to take away what rights we have trying to erase the evidence of the anti-gay motives of the killer—to try to say we weren’t targeted because of who we love—reminded me that plenty of people who don’t think of themselves as homophobic are more than willing to ignore blatant crimes against us if it suits them.

When a couple of people who I had long thought were friends were angry at me for being angry, that also reminded me that I can’t always know who will have our back.

So I’m not getting over it. I have absolutely no intention to get over it. If you tell me I should get over it, that just means you either don’t understand how real the threat to queer people remains, or you don’t care.

It took me a while to find the link to the story that didn’t include the actual video on auto-play. The first link, up at the top of this post is that link. They have some pictures, and a link to the video, but no video. Most of the other stories include the video. Like this one: Warning! The following link to the Orlando Sentinel includes some of the actual body cam footage and it plays automatically: Deputies release body cam footage from inside Pulse.

And seeing those threatening letters and such being given to gay and lesbian couples from Trump supporters telling them that they’re going to burn in hell and worse? Yeah, that isn’t helping, either.

Stop saying ‘We’ll get through this’ because not everyone will

“Let's be clear about our choice. When we raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, no one dies. When we cut Social Security and Medicare, people die.” —Annabelle Park

“Let’s be clear about our choice. When we raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, no one dies. When we cut Social Security and Medicare, people die.” —Annabelle Park

Whether you believe that Trump is going to try to do any of the many contradictory, sometimes unConstitutional, things he promised, one thing is very clear: Congressional Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act, and they have a whole mess of other social programs they want to cut. That means at least 20,000,000 people will lose their health insurance. Conservative estimates are that from the loss of the Affordable Care Act alone, at least 10,000 people who would have otherwise lived will die each year because of inadequate health care. And other cuts will make that even worse.

Trump and the Republicans have vowed to roll back protections for queer people, especially trans people. They’ve also vowed to fight efforts to raise the minimum wage, cut funding for health care, roll back work safety laws, and many other things which will result in an increase in injuries, financial stress, and preventable illnesses—ultimately leading to even more deaths.

Since Trump’s campaign gained momentum, there has been a slight increase in hate crimes. If the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom is any indication, there is going to be an even bigger increase in hate crimes now that certain people feel their views are validated by this vote. Oh, and the Republicans want to repeal hate crime laws and/or cut back on federal agencies tracking and investigation of hate crimes. So more people injured and yes, even killed.

I can keep going, but you should be getting the idea by now.

Stop saying that it’s going to be all right or that we’re going to get through this. Especially stop saying it if you are straight, cisgender, male, and/or white, because while maybe you will get through the next few years, you’re also not at risk to the same degree as many of the rest of us.

While we’re at it, if you’re one of the people lecturing others to remain calm, and not to place blame, and so forth? Again, stop. Just stop. Many of us are literally in danger of losing our livelihoods, various legal rights, and much more. We are allowed to blame people who have put us in this danger.

Some of us are in a fight for our lives, now. Yes, I fully intend to fight for my rights, but that means kicking up a fuss. That means confronting people. That means doing the opposite of calming down or making nice.

If you’re dismayed by this election; if you’re sitting there in shock because you can’t believe your fellow Americans can be this shortsighted, that they would embrace (or at least enable) hate? Welcome to our world.

As a queer man I’ve been feeling that dread, despair, and the knot of anxiety in my gut off and on my whole life. Not every moment. For example, just four years ago I was feeling the exact opposite when a majority of voters in my state voted for marriage equality. But that punch of bewildered injustice and a fundamental sense of vulnerability happens. It happened on June 12 this year as news of the mass shooting at a queer nightclub in Orlando spread across the world. It happens when legislatures pass and governors sign anti-queer laws and laws that ban queer rights ordinances and all the rest.

I wish I could tell you it gets better. I completely understand the impulse to tell each other that we’ll get through this, I do. I wish I didn’t know the facts that some of us actually won’t. I wish I could believe that if we just calm down and make nice that we’ll get through this and be better people for it.

Yes, if we stick together and hold each other and watch out for each other and fight with whatever tools we find we’re left with, some—maybe even most—who endure this will find new strength. But there is going to be a lot of pain and disappointment and loss along the way. Real loss.

I buried too many friends in the 80s and 90s because of homophobia and a smug indifference because “it’s just faggots” and “they brought it on themselves.” When Trump talks about losers, for instance, when he says that he prefers heroes who don’t get captured during war time he’s expressing that same hatred and indifference, just aimed at a wider audience. And if he and his followers can direct it at decorated veterans and the parents of soldiers killed in combat, that means they’ll just as soon direct it at you, too. Whoever you are.

I’m not offering comfort. I can’t, right now, even see the dim distant possibility of a glimmer of hope. And that’s saying something, because usually my optimism is almost pathological.

And I’m not asking for comfort. Neither am I asking to be left alone. I’m asking for a pledge that you will stand up against this, too. We can’t rely on hope. We must rely on each other.

Three months later, Pulse shooting still a gut punch

“Can you put your finger on the common denominator?” © Matt Wuerker, Politico cartoonist http://www.universaluclick.com/editorial/mattwuerker

“Can you put your finger on the common denominator?” © Matt Wuerker, Politico cartoonist http://www.universaluclick.com/editorial/mattwuerker

Three months ago, an angry homophobe walked into an Orlando, Florida gay night club and murdered 49 people, wounding 53 more. It was a Saturday night during Queer Pride month, and it was specifically Latinx Night at that club. The homophobe had spent time in the days before the massacre staking out the location. He had created a fake profile on a gay hook up app before that for the express purpose (based on the recovered chats) of finding out what the busiest gay nightclubs were in his community1. It was a planned hate crime.

The homophobe decided to buy an assault rifle to kill as many queers as he could after seeing two men kissing in public. The shooter’s own father was shocked at how angry his son had become when he saw that.

Three months later, reading about this still feels like a punch in my gut. I’m an out queer man who grew up in redneck communities during the 60s and 70s. I have always had the moment of fear any time I am out in public with my husband any time we show any affection. I have a specific incident where I know my husband was threatened with violence after we exchanged a quick kiss when I dropped him off at a bus stop years ago. It’s a dread calculation I find myself making whenever we are out with friends: is it all right if I call him “honey,” or will we get harassed? Can I safely say, “I love you,” or will we get threatened?

Thanks to this shooting, there’s now a new layer of fear and anxiety on that. Not just that I and my husband might be in danger, but that our actions might set off another bigot who will go murder a bunch of queer people.

Some people will ask, “It’s been three months; are you still upset about this?” And yes, people will actually ask. I know this because the day after the massacre happened people who I used to think were my friends were angry at me for being upset about the shooting.

Other people have much more immediate reasons not to forget: Last hospitalized survivor of Pulse nightclub shooting discharged. And now that he’s finally able to leave the hospital, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor plans return to New Orleans for recovery. Even though he’s out of the hospital, he’s got more recovery to do. As many of the other survivors are still going through physical therapy and otherwise trying to recover health and mobility that was taken from them.

There’s other kinds of fall-out still happening: State slaps $150,000 fine on security firm that employed Orlando Pulse shooter. The company isn’t being fined for anything directly related to the massacre. No, while authorities (and journalists) were investigating, the psychological evaluation he had undergone to get his security job was publicized. And people tried to contact the doctor whose name was on the evaluation. The problem was, she had stopped practicing more than a decade ago, had moved out of state, and hadn’t performed any evaluations for the employer since. At least 1500 employees were incorrectly listed has having been examined by the retired doctor during those ten years.

The state agency that investigated believes that all of those people were evaluated and passed, just that the wrong doctor was listed on their records. Over a thousand times. Over the course of ten years. Isn’t that reassuring?

I mean, a single psych eval doesn’t guarantee anything, particularly one done years before. And if I’m going to be disturbed about problems in the case, it would be the shooter’s history of domestic violence. One might ask how people get jobs where they are given badges and weapons and put in charge of security at places like courthouses when they have a history of domestic violence. I’m reminded of a chilling op-ed piece I read years ago that pointed out if having been arrested for domestic violence (or admitting in divorce proceedings to abuse) disqualified people from being cops, prison guards, and the like, we’d have a very hard time staffing departments, prisons, and so forth3.

A FELONY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONVICTION IS THE SINGLE GREATEST PREDICTOR OF FUTURE VIOLENT CRIME AMONG MEN.”
—according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s analysis of The Offender Accountability Act

Let’s not forget that all the societal forces and institutions that encouraged the shooter to hate queer people, and that afterward blames the victims for bring this thing on themselves just by being who they are, are still active in this country. Some of them are even running for high political office. Others are merely preaching in churches around the country. Though some are finding themselves less welcome with their co-religionists: Baptist Union distances itself from anti-gay pastor.

The pastor in question, Steven Anderson, is one of many who said (from his pulpit) the Pulse massacre victims deserved to be murdered. He’s not the pastor who said that who has since been arrested for molesting a young boy. But since this guy also often goes off on homophobic rants, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets caught doing something similar. But right now he’s just trying to go to South Africa and preach. He might not get to spread his hate there, however: SOUTH AFRICA CONSIDERS BANNING U.S. ANTI-GAY PREACHER.

Not that banning one pastor from one country is going to make much of a dent in the hate: Fox News Commentator Tells Conservative Christians They Must Support Anti-Gay Hate Groups.

But enough about the hateful people. What can we do to help love to win? Well, the first thing is not to forget the previous victims of hate:

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando three months ago.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando three months ago. (Click to embiggen) (Facebook/AP/Reuters/Rex)


Footnotes:

1. The political cartoon I link to above refers to the Orlando shooter as a “gay homophobe” which was widely reported, but later debunked by the FBI2. The shooter installed a gay hookup app on his phone and set up his account around the same time that he bought the weapon that he later used in the massacre. And as I mentioned, his conversations never turned into meetings. He would ask gays what the busiest club was, and if they didn’t know, stop talking to him. If they mentioned any clubs, he would ask questions about the nightclubs, and then deflect any attempts by the person he was talking to to actually meet. A few people who spoke to the press in the aftermath of the shootings, claiming to have been flirted with by him or have even had sex with the shooter. But the FBI determined that none of them had actually met the shooter.

2. I still run into people who believe that the shooter was a self-loathing gay man, and that this fact means it wasn’t actually a hate crime. First, he wasn’t gay. Second, lots of hate crimes against queer people have been committed by self-loathing or in-denial queer people. Doesn’t make it any less of a hate crime.

3. I wish I could find that specific article, but I haven’t been able to track it down. There are numerous other sources of that data, however: Research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population. So where’s the public outrage? for instance. Or: 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence.

Weekend Update 8/6/2016: Pulse shooting still a gut punch

d790a0602a60bb6dc97326d6fe8334a0They’ve begun releasing autopsy reports of the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando: Most Pulse victims shot multiple times, first autopsies show. It was nearly two months ago, on June 12, that the killer snuck a gun into a busy gay night club on Latino night and opened fire, killing 49 people and wounding many others. In that time we’ve had Republican politicians express false sympathy, then days later vote down gay rights protections. We’ve had people try to claim that the act wasn’t an anti-gay crime. We’ve had people gin up evidence (which has been thoroughly debunked) that the killer was secretly gay himself. We’ve had people and politicians try to claim the killer was part of an organized Islamic terrorist organization, and that has been thoroughly debunked as well.

And a lot of people have moved on.

Some of us can’t. As I wrote before, one reason it’s so difficult for me is because my whole life I’ve lived with the fear and knowledge that there are people who hate queers enough to attack me and kill me, but I haven’t often had to think of the hatred of me being a danger to those around me. The killer’s own father said that his son had become disproportionately angry about seeing two men kissing in public over a week before the incident. Others who knew the killer have talked about his increasingly angry outbursts about gay people. Seeing two men kiss made him go kill 49 people in a busy gay nightclub during Pride month.

It’s one thing to know that bigots hate me enough to kill me. It’s another to realize some hate me enough to commit a massacre.

And it’s upsetting to know that some people who claim to be friends, and relatives who have said they love me, are completely incapable of understanding that this killer’s actions are a symptom of society’s messed up attitudes about queer people and about guns. And that’s what people are saying when they claim this is just one lone nut. Or that this isn’t really about queer people. Or that there is nothing society can do that will make these events less likely to happen. So, yeah, it’s upsetting to be told to my face that someone else’s right to sell assault weapons to a person with a history of domestic violence (despite even a majority of NRA members expressing the opinion that people convicted of such crimes shouldn’t be able to legally purchase guns) is more important than protecting the lives of people like me.

One of the other things we don’t think about in our haste to move on after an event like this is just how long the aftermath is. It’s been nearly two months, and they’re still working on the autopsies. The reports just now released are only the first part of the analysis. Experts won’t be able to begin to do a thorough incident analysis until all of the rest of the autopsy reports are complete, and then the work of coordinating those with all the other evidence and reports begins of trying to understand what happened in there.

And there’s so much more. A lot of money has been raised to help the survivors and victims. And the hard work of figuring out how to distribute the money is just beginning: Pulse survivors seek answers from $23 million OneOrlando Fund. And it isn’t going to be easy: The Costs Of The Pulse Nightclub Shooting.

People are still trying to decide what to do about the location itself: Mayor and owner want to turn Orlando nightclub Pulse into a memorial for the 49 killed.

There is uplifting news related to this. Some of the more severely wounded survivors are getting better: Pulse victim dances for first time after being shot multiple times. Seriously, go watch the two videos. They will do your soul good.

And please, don’t forget the people who died: Read about the victims.

Weekend Update 7/9/2016: anti-trans law not going to ballot, shooter stopped

Copyright NBCI posted my first Weekend Update just over two years ago because there had been a lot of new information coming in the day before about one of the stories I had linked to in that week’s Friday Links. I didn’t originally intend it to become a regular thing. I do skip it some weeks. But most weeks I wind up feeling I need to post some follow-ups to some of the previous day’s news. Before I get into the unpleasant story, let’s take a moment to rejoice:

Backers of I-1515, the initiative to restrict which bathrooms transgender people can use, have told Washington state officials they will not turn in signatures by the Friday midnight deadline! Thank goodness. We keep referring to this as a transgender bathroom initiative, but it did more than that: it overruled a state finding that Washington’s existing non-discrimination law and certain portions of federal law required access to public bathrooms consistent with a trans person’s gender identity; it also forbid state agencies to make any such rulings in the future; it also forbid cities and counties from enacting their own transgender non-discrimination laws; it forbid any school (private or not) allowing any transgender student to use any bathroom other than a private, single-person bathroom; and finally, it mandated a $2500 bounty be paid to public school students who caught any transgender classmates using any bathroom other than the one that “matched” the gender the student had been assigned at birth.

None of us had any doubt the law would stand up in court if passed. Several of its components are identical to laws and policies that federal courts have already ruled violate Title IX of the United States Education Amendments of 1972 (also known as the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act). The state constitution requires that initiatives cover only one topic with a very narrow focus, and multi-part initiatives similar to this one have been struck down in the past for violating that requirement.

But in our state, initiatives that gather enough signatures are almost always placed on the ballot regardless of how unconstitutional they appear, under the reasoning that the people can reject the initiative if they think it is unconstitutional, and courts can examine the law in full after it is enacted if need be.

Past experience indicates that when an anti-gay initiative is on the ballot, the amount of harassment and hate crimes in the state go up, as the haters are whipped into a bit of a frenzy by all the advertisements and misinformation. Fighting an initiative takes time and effort away from other worthy causes, and it if did pass, fighting the initiative in court is also costly. And as we’ve seen recently with the Brexit vote in Britain, sometimes when a vote like this passes, it convinces the haters that everyone agrees with them, and the hate crimes and harassment continue.

So, this news Anti-Trans Campaign Fails To Collect Enough Signatures To Advance is wonderful and deserves a round of applause!

Politics_PR_2016-Jul-08In less pleasant news, the Dallas shooting situation was still happening Thursday night when I finished the yesterday’s Friday Links, so there has been a lot of developments. Among the details that I think people have still missed: there was only one shooter, not several. The shooter was not the person whose picture was plastered everyone as a person of interest, and whose picture remained on the police web site for nearly 24 hours after the police had already determined he wasn’t involved. Five officers total died. The Black Lives Matter organization was quick to condemn the shooting. The demonstration was peaceful. The sniper was killed by a remote controlled robot that the Dallas police obtained from the military supposedly for bomb disposal purposes.

Alton Sterling was a felon. Philando Castile was a ‘good man.’ None of that should matter. Whenever a black person dies in police custody, the press seems to put all effort they can into digging up information about the person’s past, as if that has anything to do with the use of force at the time of the killing. It doesn’t matter if Sterling had a criminal record, in the video he was clearly not struggling and was not a threat to anyone. It doesn’t matter the Castile was an exceptionally wonderful man and pillar of his community, having a broken tail light is not a valid reason to be executed by a cop, let alone be denied medical attention and allowed to bleed out while his wife and child watch, with the cop pointing his gun at them.

And let’s not lose sight of this issue: FBI’s warning of white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement nearly forgotten.

Police harassment of people based on racial profiling and other criteria that should have no bearing on how the citizen is treated isn’t a new problem. We mostly know about more cases now simply because nearly the entire population carries phones with cameras and the ability to uploads pictures and video to the world wide web from just about anywhere. There have been attempts to deal with the misuse of force by some police even before the era of the smart phone. We should revisit those attempts and figure out which things worked: The Blazer Experiment.

There are things that we can do as individuals. Here are some: How to be a white ally: Fighting racism is your responsibility — start now.

I’m glad that the suspect was stopped before any more cops were killed, but I’m not at all comfortable with the continued militarization of police: Use of robot in Dallas highlights tactical opportunities, ethical questions for police.

Then, of course, there is the man who was not in any way involved in the shooting, but whose picture was plastered all of the world as a suspect, and the stupid reasons that it was: The Case of Mark Hughes, Or Don’t Carry at a Protest. “Hughes may have been totally within his legal rights. But his actions were really only barely less stupid than the jackasses who terrorize folks at the local Bennigans or Home Depot by ‘legally’ walking into a public establishment with an AR-15. Why do you bring a rifle to a peaceful protest? I get it. You do it as a message of self-assertion and power in the face of dehumanization and powerless. It’s still stupid; it’s not the right or a safe way to send that message.”

I’ve spent almost two hours on this post. That’s enough. I’m going to go post more cute cat pictures to my twitter, and then get back to Camp NaNoWriMo.

Why thoughts and prayers are worse than inadequate

A cartoon drawn by Patt Kelley and posted from his twitter account (@pattkelley) More of his work available at www.pattkelley.com (Click to embiggen)

A cartoon drawn by Patt Kelley and posted from his twitter account (@pattkelley) More of his work available at http://www.pattkelley.com (Click to embiggen)

When horrible things happen, the first reaction of some people is to say that their thoughts and prayers are with who ever is suffering because of the events. It sounds nice. It makes the person saying it appear to be concerned, without actually costing them anything. It is a poor substitute for actually being helpful. This cartoon, which Patt Kelley recently shared on the topic, shows a person on fire, and another person holding a garden hose and spraying water into a bucket rather than putting out the fire. The person with the hose offers prayers, when a means to actually do something about the pain, suffering, and death is right there in his hands.

People insist that there is nothing they else they can do, but frequently they’re wrong. There are things which can be done. Things within the power of the people making that statement. Congress critters of the conservative sort are especially liable, here (but not the only ones). And I don’t just mean in passing laws, though that could often help.

The very same congresspeople who sat in Republican caucus recently and prayed that gays are “worthy of death” made a big show of talking about thoughts and prayers while a lot of the public was up in arms about the Orlando shooting. It didn’t stop them from killing an amendment to extend job discrimination protections to queer people. It didn’t stop them from voting down an amendment to tighten (but hardly close) the so-called gun show loophole. It doesn’t stop them from attending rallies with pastors who call for the death of gays. It doesn’t stop them from telling their supporters that letting trans children use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is dangerous.

They’re not just withholding a water hose. They’re the people who have been splashing gasoline in the direction of every queer person they could for years. They’re the people who handed matches out to lots of people and said, “I don’t condone violence, but god says queers are monsters.”

Thoughts and prayers is more than just a means to look like you care when you don’t. It’s more than just a means to appear helpful while you do nothing. It’s more that just a means to make people focus on your piety rather than the problems of others.

It’s also an attempt to establish an alibi.

If they offer thoughts and prayers, then clearly they can claim they had no idea that all their anti-gay rhetorical was going to encourage another to attack queer people. If they offer thoughts and prayers, then clearly they can also claim that they had no idea that all the anti-trans hysteria they’ve whipped up over bathrooms would make gender nonconforming kids hate themselves to the point of considering suicide. If they offer thoughts and prayers, than clearly they can claim it’s not their fault that queer people grow up filled with fear and self-loathing, driving some to self destructive behavior, while driving some to turn that violence toward others. Clearly, they say, it isn’t their fault that anyone would listen to all the hate they have been spewing and act on it.

Why would anyone ever think they wanted that?

Weekend Update 6/18/2016: Compassion, mourning, and an epic vogue battle

Ernesto Vergne prays at a cross honoring his friend Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado and the other victims at a memorial to those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting a few blocks from the club early Friday, June 17, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Ernesto Vergne prays at a cross honoring his friend Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado and the other victims at a memorial to those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting a few blocks from the club early Friday, June 17, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

I’m going to be an emotional wreck because of the Orlando shooting for a while. Usually on Saturday I’ll post a few news items that I would have included in Friday Links if I had found them in time along with more commentary than links usually get in the Friday post. Or I post links to stories with new developments related to a story posted previously, also with more commentary.

Most of today’s links are things that made me cry, not because they’re about something awful, but because the story is about something wonderful and loving that people have done in response to something awful. Two of the links were sent to me by one friend. After the second one I replied back, “You keep sharing things that make me cry. Don’t stop.”

What happened when an Orthodox Jewish congregation went to a gay bar to mourn Orlando.

I included this one in yesterday’s post, but it’s worth sharing again to remember that we’re human, and we’re most human when we show each other compassion: Jetblue passengers write letters to Orlando victim’s grandmother.

LGBT community raising millions for Orlando victims.

These Are Some Of The Heroes Of The Orlando Shooting.

Some people are either outright ignoring the fact that this happened in a queer club, on a Saturday night, during Pride month, and otherwise was clearly a hate crime. Many of the jerks trying to further the myth that Islam is attacking America or freedom or whatever. Never mind that of the last thousand or so mass shooting in America, two were committed by muslims, and the other 990-some have been committed by white Christians. Anyway: The Other Group Mourning The Orlando Massacre: LGBT Muslims.

Gay rabbi: We can all mourn Orlando, but this was terrorism against gay people.

Orlando shooting prompts outpouring of blood donations. It’s a good thing all these straight people feel such compassion, seeing how gay men are banned for donating blood. Some pedants point out that technically gay men are allowed to donate blood if they swear they haven’t had sex for an entire year, but as one of my local TV stations reported, Some Seattle blood banks still ban all gay men from donating even if they meet the no-sex in 12 months criteria. I bring this up because the vast majority of medical experts agree that the 12-month rule is ridiculous. Straight people can (and do, lots more than you think) carry the virus that causes AIDS, and no one has suggested a 12-month ban on them. Also, a lot of bi people are closeted, and some so closeted that they would never admit it even in a confidential medical situation, so they’re not going to say. And all blood donated is screened precisely because people may not know that they’ve been infected or may lie about their sexual activity for the reasons stated above.

Enough about that. Another of the “it’s not a hate crime” craziness has been a claim that it can’t be a hate crime because maybe the shooter was a closeted gay man. First, if you don’t understand that a society in which the phrase “closeted gay man” describes a real phenomenon, then nearly all queer people live with a lot of internalized homophobia because of societal pressure, you’re really in a deep state of denial. Also: FBI ‘Increasingly Skeptical’ That Orlando Shooter Was Gay and Closeted.

The case that he was a closeted gay man was built on the fact that he had a user profile on at least one gay hookup app, and reportedly had been seen in the club previously, angrily drinking alone and sometimes becoming belligerent. Oh, and one old college classmate thinks he might have been gay and might have hit on him once. We already know that at least one of the conversations that shooter had on the hookup app with a local gay man consisted of the shooter asking, repeatedly, “what are the most popular gay clubs” and “where could I find the biggest crowds of gay people?” This would hardly be the first time that someone planning an anti-gay hate crime used a hookup app or online gay chat services to scout out potential victims. Or hung out at gay clubs to get the lay of the land. And the old classmate? Please! Both gay and straight men misread signals all the time.

But, we need to end this on a high note, so: Orlando Shooting Vigil In London Turns Into Epic Vogue Battle.

#TwoMenKissing and why the Orlando Pulse shooting was a punch in my gut

d790a0602a60bb6dc97326d6fe8334a0Michael and I had only been dating about four months when it happened. It appeared to be a day just like any other. Back then he lived and worked in Tacoma. Because he worked in a bar, his “weekend” was in the middle of my workweek. He didn’t own a car, so he would often take the bus up for Tacoma, we’d spend a day or two together, and he’d take the bus back. Sometimes I drove him, but most of the time it was the bus. On this one morning, for various reasons, I drove him into downtown Seattle and dropped him off at one of the big bus stops there, and then went on to my office. When I pulled over to the curb we said “good-bye,” leaned in and gave each other a quick kiss, and he got out of the car. I drove off, sad that it would be several days before I saw him again, but happy about the day we had had.

I was oblivious to the fact that as I drove away, a random stranger at the bus stop started harassing him for being queer. Because he’d seen me kiss Michael.

One of our friends has described my husband has “the most capable guy I’ve ever known.” His job history has included working as a bouncer at a not entirely savory bar. He bikes. When he was younger, he rode bulls in rodeo for fun. He’s not a small man. He can take care of himself.

But none of that matters if someone takes you by surprise. Or if you’re outnumbered. Or if you’re just not as good as them. And don’t think that being armed himself changes that equation. You can’t shoot another person’s bullet down in midair. You can’t safely defend yourself with a gun in a location crowded with bystanders—such as a very busy street in front of a bustling office building on a bright sunny weekday morning.

Even though the guy didn’t physically attack Michael that day. Even though Michael survived the incident to tell me about it after, sixteen years later I still have nightmares about how that situation could have gone down differently. All because I kissed him.

That was only one of the nightmares I’ve had this week, thanks to the news out of Orlando.

Eighteen years later, every time we are out in public and I feel an urge to tell my husband that I love him, or to hold his hand, or give him a quick kiss, I have to do that calculation. Are we safe here? Will someone say horrible things? Will someone threaten us? Will someone do something even worse?

A friend shared someone else’s blog post about why the Orlando shooting has so shaken him this morning, which makes substantially the same points:

If I kiss Matt in public, like he leaned in for on the bike trail the other day, I’m never fully in the moment. I’m always parsing who is around us and paying attention to us. There’s a tension that comes with that… a literal tensing of the muscles as you brace for potential danger. For a lot of us, it’s become such an automatic reaction that we don’t even think about it directly any more. We just do it…

We live constantly with the knowledge that there are people all around us who hate us enough to kill us. And this event isn’t merely a reminder of that, it carries another message:

Additionally, now we just got a lesson that expressing our love could result in the deaths of *others* completely unrelated to us. It’s easy to take risks when it’s just you and you’ve made that choice. Now there’s this subtext that you could set off someone who kills other people who weren’t even involved. And that’s just a lot.

That’s why I’m personally a bit off balance even though (or because, depending on how you look at it) I live in Texas and was not personally effected by this tragedy.

The day Michael and I got our marriage license, after 15 years together, thanks to 54% of the voters of our state saying “yes” to marriage equality.

The day Michael and I got our marriage license, after 15 years together, thanks to 54% of the voters of our state saying “yes” to marriage equality.

This is part of why I’m taking this shooting in Orlando so personally: the constant knowledge that there are people who will kill me, my husband, and so many more because of who we love. Worse than that, there are more people who will encourage that hate. They may say they don’t hate us personally, and of course they don’t condone violence, but they also say that violence is the natural consequence of our sin. In the same breath they condemn the violence, they declare the violence a result of divine will, and apparently don’t see the contradiction in that. And there is an even larger group of people who sincerely believe they are not prejudiced against us at all, but they enable guys like the Orlando shooter in thousands of little ways, whether it be opposing hate crime legislation, or anti-discrimination laws, or any form or gun policy reform.

This is why I’m long past the point where I can be silent about the hateful rhetoric of people like Ted Cruz, the Family Research Council, the Pope, and everyone else who says that queers are sinners. This is why I can no long sit silently polite and bite my tongue (yet again) when people say that I’m the bad guy for thinking that maybe a guy with a history of domestic violence who was also on the FBI watch list should not have been able to legally buy an assault rifle with no questions asked.

If your first reaction to me or any queer person you know expressing our feelings about this mass murder is to argue with us about gun policy, or to tell us we’re over reacting, or anything other than, “you seem to be taking this really hard, are you all right?” then you may well be part of the problem.

To answer the question that some people I thought were my friends didn’t ask before launching into attack mode this weekend: No, I’m not all right. I’m mad as hell. And I have more than ample reason to be mad.

It is not unreasonable to be upset at this mass murder. It is not unreasonable to ask questions about why fairly simple, non-draconian measures that are supported by a solid majority of voters—and that have been proven to work in other countries—are constantly being opposed by absolutists. It is not unreasonable to want to hold people who have enabled the hatred responsible. It is not unreasonable to hold people who keep enabling a toxic society that turns young men into festering piles of self-loathing and anger responsible. And it is not unreasonable to hold people who don’t just enable, but encourage, the easy availability of assault weapons to people that even they agree shouldn’t have guns in the first place responsible.

I’m not all right. I’m mad as hell. And you should be, too.

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