I arrived at church on a Sunday morning in 1996. I was pastor of a congregation in Miami Beach. Walking in the door, a group of people asked, “Do you know about Richard?” I learned that the night before Richard, a white man in his late 30’s had been murdered. The evening before, he shared dinner with friends followed by a drink.. . Deciding to make it an early evening, he went back to his car alone. He was attacked, dragged into an alley, and beaten to death. To the best of my knowledge, his killers were never found. Richard was gay. At the scene of his death, the word “faggot” was scrawled.
This was not my first experience of a hate crime. But Richard’s death was surely one of the worst. Over the years, I’ve known men and women who have been assaulted and victimized for being members of minority groups.
Of course, there are also the ways I’ve been victimized. There was the high school bullying which began on the first day of freshman year when the freshman football captain pulled me into the coat room and repeatedly punched me and left me lying in a corner. In college, I received numerous treats, including a sign hung outside my dorm room window saying, “Faggot: we’re coming for you.” I transferred schools. There were death threats that came to my home in the 1980’s when I worked to develop AIDS-related services in Pittsburgh. There was also the mild concussion I received in Tucson: while walking one morning in my neighborhood, someone threw an orange from a passing car which hit me hard in the back of the head while yelling “Faggot!” I understand what it means to be the victim of hatred and violence.
Since Trump’s election as president, the number of hate-related incidents has dramatically increased throughout the United States. They are happening in both red states and blue states. Muslims, LGBT individuals, and immigrants are specifically being targeted. The pattern of violence is overwhelming to me. Yes, I am afraid for myself and those I know.
Trump’s election didn’t cause the racist and xenophobic anger we’re witnessing. It was there before his campaign. But his hate-filled rhetoric gave permission for the expression of this violence: violence now seen from middle schools to our neighborhoods.
I have friends who voted for Trump. As individuals, I would not consider them racist, homophobic, or xenophobic. They wanted change. I was told by some that Trump would break the government in such a way that reform would have to come. When I pointed out the hate speech, I was told, “That’s just talk.” Yes, it was talk. And words have great power. The words have spurred violence and will likely lead to a reduction in human rights protection to many people, including me.
Those of us in minority communities need to remember the lessons of the past. All of our communities faced violence in the past. We need to stay connected as communities. Living in Atlanta, I find many reminders of the Civil Rights Movement and the importance of the church and community from which change occurred. In churches, people learned how to engage in non-violent action. They also found support and nurture. In similar ways, we need each other. Today, our gathering places may not be churches. But we need to gather for mutual support and nurturance. We also need to learn to engage in strategic, non-violent action that will bring change.
We can take courage in knowing that it was in communities of support that women organized the suffrage movement; that African-Americans organized the civil rights movement; and that gay men and lesbians organized the LBGT movement. In the 1980’s, this was exactly how we worked to stand against oppression to gain appropriate funding for HIV treatment and services. We’ve been here before. If we remember the lessons of the past, we’ll move forward for the benefit of those who come after us.
How can you help to create communities of safety for those marginalized in society? In what ways can you be part of strategies of hope and resistance that support equality and opportunity for the future?
(Photo credit: Stephen D. Melkisethian via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND)
© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.