By Kymberlie Adams Matthews
Photo courtesy of Becky Reichling
This past October my sister woke me up from a deep
sleep. She had tears in her eyes, and a devastated look on her face.
I bolted up, asking, “What
is it? What’s wrong?” She sat down on the edge of my bed,
grabbed my hand, and told me our friend Becky had just called to tell
us her long-time friend and colleague was involved in a brutal attack.
He was assaulted because he was gay and now lay brain-dead in a hospital
bed. Michael Sandy was 28 years old. He died a few days later.
Michael met someone in an online gay chat room and they arranged to meet at a
popular Brooklyn hangout for gay men. When Michael arrived he was ambushed and
beaten. At one point he broke free, running for his life. His attackers chased
him onto the Belt Parkway, where he was struck by a car and dragged several feet.
The car never stopped. His attackers pulled his battered body off the highway
and robbed him.
Anthony Fortunato, 20, John Fox, 19, and Ilya Shurov, 20, have since been charged
with second-degree murder as a hate crime, attempted robbery in the first degree
as a hate crime, manslaughter and assault, also as hate crimes. If convicted
on the top count, the men could serve 25 to life in prison. If not, their sentence
could be as low as five years.
But really, it doesn’t change things. Michael is still dead.
I don’t claim to have known Michael, but I feel as though I did. Like other
hate crimes inflicted upon the LGBTQ community, I felt personally attacked. And
because Michael lived in my city, and had been close to one of my best friends,
his story resonated with me more than usual.
The thing is, I tend to forget I am “different.” I live in a very
accepting, hip and gay-friendly area. Two moms or two dads can be regularly seen
walking their children to school in the morning. Rainbow stickers indicating
pride and “safe zones” can be spotted in many storefront windows.
And I unabashedly cuddle up with my girlfriend in the park as we share the Sunday
paper. So how is it that Michael, who perhaps felt equally as safe, came to such
a horrible fate? Have I been looking at my little piece of the world through
rose colored glasses?
Back on the Trail
This past October, President Bush hit the campaign trail. With taxes and terrorism
he ardently condemned, not hate crimes, but same-sex marriage. “For decades,
activist judges have tried to redefine America by court order,” Bush said
to a full house. “Just recently in New Jersey, another activist court issued
a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe marriage
is a union between a man and a woman, and should be defended.” The line
earned Bush by far his most sustained applause at the rally, said the New York
Times, also noting that even children jumped to their feet alongside their parents
to cheer and clap.
At the same time, in another political arena, desperate Republican House candidate,
Indiana Rep. John Hostettler launched his new campaign ad, warning fellow Americans
that a vote for a democrat would cause a blasphemous shift in House leadership
and push forward a “homosexual agenda.” Homosexual agenda…do
the democrats even have one? Was I out of the loop? Just for fun I let Google
work its magic—2,610,000 hits.
I had a pretty good idea that the religious right had been hot on the gay trail
for some time, using the term “homosexual agenda” to describe our “movement.” James
Dobson, director of Focus on the Family, describes it perfectly, “Agenda
goals include universal acceptance of the gay lifestyle, discrediting of scriptures
condemning homosexuality, muzzling of the clergy and Christian media, granting
of special privileges and rights in the law, overturning laws prohibiting pedophilia,
indoctrinating children and future generations through public education, and
securing all the legal benefits of marriage for any two or more people who claim
to have homosexual tendencies.” And while I was expecting spoofs and other
religious zealot sites, I was taken aback to find many were honest to goodness
political organizations dedicated to battling this radical gay war.
A Different Agenda
There was however, among the holy, righteous and political propaganda, a voice
of reason. A voice of kindness, of after school snacks and bedtime hugs. A voice
of a mom. “Matt is no longer with us today because the men who killed him
learned to hate. Somehow and somewhere they received the message that the lives
of gay people are not as worthy of respect, dignity and honor as the lives of
other people.” Judy Shepard, a schoolteacher turned political activist
after her son Matt was beaten to death eight years ago for being gay, Judy now
spends her time pressuring officials to work for tougher hate crime legislation
and urging young people to vote. Wyoming, Matt and Judy’s home state, is
one of many in the U.S. without any hate crime protections. The current federal
hate crime law, passed by Congress in 1968, allows federal investigation and
prosecution of hate crimes based on race, religion and national origin, but sexual
orientation is not included.
Joyous day, the democrats took the House and the Senate. And while we can thank
the ‘great voice of reason’ for giving the boot to Rep. John Hostettler
and Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who compared gay sex to “man-on-dog” sex,
what else does this election tell us? Don’t get me wrong, I clapped, cheered
and celebrated with champagne toasts the Democratic takeover of Congress. But
after the hoopla settled down, I still felt the need to ask, is this really a
victory? Did ‘we the people’ once again avow control over a corrupt
and unjust administration that steered us into a destructive war reducing our
civil liberties and human rights to near nil? Or did we simply vote for the lesser
evil? Have we reclaimed our chances for the long-sought federal hate crimes bill
and other necessary changes such as a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t
Tell.” At this point we can only cross our fingers that Pelosi does have
a pro-homosexual agenda up her sleeve.
When the notion of allowing same-gender couples to get married—a happily-ever-after
ideal all couples share—prompts our president and politicians to deliver
fire and brimstone speeches to conjure up votes…it seems they are the ones
with a homosexual agenda. When Michael Sandy is brutally murdered in an environment
fostering anti-gay bigotry, I realize it is time to take off my rose colored
glasses. Time for everyone to view more clearly, the sometimes-stark reality
in which we live, and sometimes die.
Will it be easy? I doubt it. Necessary? Absolutely.
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