Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Matthew Shepard and Coming Out

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was brutally attacked and left for dead hanging on a fence in the cold night air. Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day that celebrates the often difficult decision that people make to be honest about their sexual orientation.

Events around Tennessee will provide an opportunity for the GLBT community to reflect on both. Today I'll be speaking to a group of Vanderbilt medical students and on Sunday I'll be in Chattanooga for their annual hate crimes vigil that kicks off a week of activities for Tennessee Valley Pride.

The pairing of the two reminds us of the risks to our lives. We've seen a rash of hate violence already this year in Tennessee. Given the danger we face, I'm amazed and humbled that our movement makes progress. And I'm amazed and frustrated that there is not a national consensus that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be covered in federal hate crimes laws.

Coming home from Kentucky last weekend, I heard a radio preacher fulminating against the Matthew Shepard Act that would add these two categories to federal law. He violated a commandment in the process. He repeated the common fear tactic that hate crimes laws would restrict the freedom of the pulpit to denounce the "abomination of homosexuality." The proposed law criminalizes behavior and it adds law enforcement resources to deal with the problem. Pure and simple. It does not restrict speech or religion.

At one level, I'm comforted that all our opponents have left are lies as their last defense against a just law. On the other hand, I'm angry that these lies generate enough calls and emails to Tennessee's U.S. Senators to prevent them from voting for the Matthew Shepard Act.

So Lamar, Bob, and Bob, I hope 2008 is the last year in U.S. history that federal law overlooks the violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Whoever among you enters the Senate chambers next year, have the courage to defend all your fellow Tennesseans. In most places in Tennessee, local law enforcement are either uninformed or unwilling to devote the resources to investigating and solving hate crimes in our state. We need the involvement of the FBI if we're going to put a dent in the problem. That won't happen unless you and your colleagues support the Matthew Shepard Act.

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