Grisanti, Brown on Rodemeyer
by Amy Upham
I am writing in response to the September 25 candlelight vigil and speaker series in commemoration of the life of Jamey Rodemeyer. The gathering at the vigil was amazing, and shows the support that children in this community who are being bullied because of their sexual orientation have. I hope, as Kitty Lambert requested of us at the event, that we will all do our part to bring an end to this kind of tragedy.
Here is my part: Both Mayor Byron Brown and Senator Mark Grisanti disappointed in their speeches on Sunday night. They both opened their speeches by saying, essentially, that this isn’t primarily about sexual orientation, but about bullying, and continued to speak only on bullying. Jamey’s death was most certainly primarily about his sexual orientation. What happened to Jamey was not just bullying, it was a hate crime, and if he had been any other minority, his minority status wouldn’t be casually brushed aside. This insistence on ignoring the reality of his death just shows how much prejudice exists for homosexual individuals. It was almost as if I could hear coming out of Grisanti’s head, “I mean, just ’cause I’m here, doesn’t mean I’m gay or anything.” And I say that with caution, as I support Grisanti for his move on gay marriage, and his attendance at the rally.
Gay men and men allying with them face excruciating discrimination in this society, and the speeches by Brown and Grisanti are proof. The only other explanation I can think of is that Brown and Grisanti are trying to keep their homophobic constituencies by focusing on the bullying, which would be terribly hypocritical. It’s like trying to keep the KKK.
In 2009, Obama signed into legislation an expanded hate crimes bill to include sexual orientation and disability. A law to bring bullies to task for their behavior is an admirable gesture, but it ignores the origin of their behavior. Bullies don’t learn this stuff primarily from the media or a nebulous entity of schoolyard phantoms. They learn it from their parents and, more importantly, both parents and children learn it from their religion. I grew up fundamentalist Catholic and understand this dynamic very well, and believe that preachers and faux preachers (e.g. Fred Phelps) who spew their bigoted hate speech to the media and their congregations should be prosecuted under the federal hate crimes bill. Hate should never be protected under tax exemption. Furthermore, schools can stop normal bullying; they cannot stop hate crimes. Hate crimes must be the jurisdiction of the police and FBI.
New York is now considering a bill to treat suicides that result from bullying as second degree murder. I would ask Byron Brown if he would have given the same speech following the 1955 death of Emmit Till, dismissing his death as the result of some angry bullies and not primarily a crime of racism.
> Amy Upham, Buffalo
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