As a wave of violence descends on the D.C. transgender community, editor Mark Potok explores our culture's rage against gays, lesbians, the transgendered and other sexual minorities.
A rage is growing on the right. Before it is done, untold numbers of men and women may have to die, casualties in America's ongoing culture wars.
It began with Vermont's passage of a law allowing "civil unions" for homosexuals. Then, earlier this year, Canada legalized same-sex marriage. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in Lawrence vs. Texas, a decision that invalidated anti-gay laws in 13 states. Wal-Mart became the latest major company to expand its anti-discrimination policy to include homosexuals.
And, in November, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that it violated the state constitution to ban gay marriages. The court gave the state legislature six months to rewrite the state's marriage laws for the benefit of gay couples.
Many legal experts expect that the eventual outcome of these decisions — and others like them that are pending both in the courts and in corporate boardrooms — could be the legalization of same-sex civil unions, or even marriages, nationwide.
In the end, the constitutional question may be settled so that states are forbidden to discriminate against gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities.
And this prospect has set off a firestorm.
The neo-Confederate League of the South denounced the Lawrence decision as a "perversity," and renewed its call for Southerners to secede from "the Empire and its godless ideas and actions." Neo-Nazis and Klansmen said it proved that their enemies were shredding the moral fabric of the nation.
But it was among more mainstream, Christian Right conservatives, that the fury burned hottest.
Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said the high court's ruling "opens the door to bigamy, adult incest, polygamy and prostitution." Television evangelist Jerry Falwell said it was "a capitulation to the gay and lesbian agenda" that would lead to legalizing bestiality and narcotics.
"Six lawyers robed in black have magically discovered a right of privacy that includes sexual perversion," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America.
None of these people called for violence against sexual minorities. But there is little doubt that the tone of their statements, likening homosexuality to incest and bestiality and characterizing gays with words like "pervert," has given virulent haters, particularly among the young, a justification for violence.
And the violence has been dramatic. As the Intelligence Report showed six years ago, gay men and women are at least twice as likely to be physically attacked in hate crimes as blacks, the next most targeted category of victims. Some studies have suggested that huge percentages of homosexuals are victimized.
But none are so victimized as the transgender community. These men and women — from cross-dressers to those who have undergone sex change operations — may be the most despised people in America.
In this issue, the Intelligence Report takes a look at the world of transgendered people in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere — and the incredible wave of violence that seems to be overtaking them (see 'Disposable People').
As writer Bob Moser shows, it is a world that is marked by constant fear. And with good reason. In just 2002 and the first nine months of 2003, at least 27 transgendered people have been murdered in what were very likely hate-motivated crimes.
The transgendered are surely among the most misunderstood and victimized people in the world. And, historically, police officers have been chief among their tormenters.
But a remarkable program in Washington, D.C., may be the most comprehensive police effort yet to work with transgendered people and members of other embattled sexual minorities.
As the officer who runs the district's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit explains in this issue, one result has been one of the nation's highest clearance rates for violent crimes against such victims.
Crimes against the politically weak — encouraged by religious zealots who employ the language of hate in their rants against gays and other sexual minorities — harm all of us as a society. Until we are all safe from hate-motivated violence, America is something less than the nation it could be.