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“Gay panic” is not a defense July 16, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Australia, Criminal Justice, LGBT.
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Monday, Jul 16, 2012 11:10 AM EST, www.salon.com

 

Believe it or not, there are still places where an alleged killer can claim the victim was coming on to him

By

(Credit: Lynn Watson via Shutterstock)

Who could use a reminder today that not all Christians are homophobic lunatics trying to bend the Bible to justify their bigotry? Meeeeeee!

So let’s give props to the Catholic priest Rev. Fr. Paul Kelly of Maryborough, Australia, who took a stand against — and illuminated the horrific stupidity — of one his nation’s most cruelly backward laws. As Father Kelly explains in the Change.org petition he started, “A loophole in Queensland law allows people accused of murder to defend themselves in court by claiming ‘gay panic’ — that is, if someone who they think is gay ‘comes onto’ them, the sheer panic they feel is partial justification for murder.” And you thought Stand Your Ground was dangerously insane? There are places in the world where the mere perception that someone of your own gender might be into you gives you the right to kill him or her.

As Father Kelly writes, “A man was killed in my church’s grounds, and one of his killers used this same ‘gay panic’ defense. They were eventually acquitted of murder.” In 2008 Wayne Robert Ruks was punched and kicked to death by two men at the church. His killers claimed Ruks “made homosexual advances” and tried to grab Pearce’s crotch. They were jailed for the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Ruks’ family, by the way, has stated that he wasn’t gay. And Opposition Leader Campbell Newman argues that “It’s important to note that the defense of provocation is not based on one sexuality, it’s open to any Queenslander.” But the Queensland government vowed six months ago to close the legal loophole that would allow a defendant to use the claim of nonviolent homosexual advances as a justification for killing in Queensland.

Sadly, that promise recently fell through. Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie confirmed Monday that “The Liberal National Party remains tough on crime. However, given these laws are yet to be tested, (it) does not intend to make any further amendments to the provocation defense at this time.” He described any amendment to existing law as “unnecessary.”

As Father Kelly says, “I’m utterly appalled that a law that so revoltingly and openly discriminates against gay people is still tolerated in a modern society. Laws like the ‘gay panic’ defense are a crucial part of legitimizing and reinforcing a culture of hate which means that 73 percent of gay and lesbian Queenslanders are subjected to verbal abuse or physical violence for their sexuality.” And while we’re being revolted here, let’s add the fact that loopholes like this are hurtful to gay and straight citizens alike. They tell everyone that any paranoid freak has the right to interpret their actions as some big scary gay come-on and bash their heads in accordingly.

As a person who had this happen in his own parish, Father Kelly can speak with unique authority on why this is utter BS. He seems like a pretty cool guy in general. If you leaf through some of his recent sermons online, you’ll see a man who preaches to his flock about the value of “wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, courage, reverence and wonder,” and who tells them that “fear is the great enemy.” He’s doing the work a spiritual leader is supposed to do – inspiring social change and positive action. His online campaign has in recent days caught fire, garnering 163,000 signatures, including Stephen Fry’s. It’s also created a Twitter storm against “#gaypanic” and earned the endorsement of Kelly’s fellow clergy. Over the weekend, Capetown Catholic priest Father Stefan Hippler tweeted his “support for my brother priest in Australia and his campaign.” Hippler, by the way, is busily and fiercely fighting for tolerance among his own followers, most recently condemning Uganda’s Catholic bishops for speaking in favor of “traditional family and its values” within a culture that punishes homosexuality with death.

In a world where people are still so freaked out by the mere idea of homosexuality — by the possibility of a same-sex gesture — that they can use it to justify the most violent and despicable acts, we all need to speak out and say this is beyond wrong. That this is stupid. We cannot as a society excuse repellent behavior; we have to strike down outdated laws that protect it. And to do so, we desperately need people who have a voice and a platform. Maybe even a pulpit, guys. Father Paul Kelly was personally affected by an unspeakable crime at his doorstep, so he’s doing something about it. He’s fighting hate with humanity, ignorance with light. Because that’s exactly what Christians are supposed to do. Thanks for the reminder, Father.

Mary Elizabeth WilliamsMary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub. More Mary Elizabeth Williams.

In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying Gay Students September 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT.
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Tuesday 13 September 2011
by: Erik Eckholm, The New York Times News Service | Report

Anoka, Minnesota – This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

Also this summer, parents and students here learned that the federal Department of Justice was deep into a civil rights investigation into complaints about unchecked harassment of gay students in the district. The inquiry is still under way.

Through it all, conservative Christian groups have demanded that the schools avoid any descriptions of homosexuality or same-sex marriage as normal, warning against any surrender to what they say is the “homosexual agenda” of recruiting youngsters to an “unhealthy and abnormal lifestyle.”

Adding an extra incendiary element, the school district has suffered eight student suicides in the last two years, leading state officials to declare a “suicide contagion.” Whether antigay bullying contributed to any of these deaths is sharply disputed; some friends and teachers say four of the students were struggling with issues of sexual identity.

In many larger cities, lessons in tolerance of sexual diversity are now routine parts of health education and antibully training. But in the suburbs the battle rages on, perhaps nowhere more bitterly than here in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, just north of Minneapolis. With 38,000 students, it is Minnesota’s largest school system, and most of it lies within the Congressional district of Ms. Bachmann, a Republican contender for president.

Ms. Bachmann has not spoken out on the suicides or the fierce debate over school policy and did not respond to requests to comment for this article. She has in the past expressed skepticism about antibullying programs, and she is an ally of the Minnesota Family Council, a Christian group that has vehemently opposed any positive portrayal of homosexuality in the schools.

School officials say they are caught in the middle, while gay rights advocates say there is no middle ground on questions of basic human rights.

“I think the adults are much more interested in making us into a political battlefield than the kids are,” said Dennis Carlson, the superintendent of schools. “We have people on the left and the right, and we’re trying to find common ground on these issues.”

“Keeping kids safe is common ground,” he said, pointing to district efforts to combat bullying and to new antisuicide efforts.

Gay children, and some parents and supporters, say these efforts are undercut by what they call the district’s “gag order” on discussion of sexual diversity — a policy, adopted in 2009 amid searing public debate, that “teaching about sexual orientation is not part of the district-adopted curriculum” and that staff “shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.”

The lawsuit was brought in July on behalf of six current and former students by the Southern Poverty Law Center and by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It charges that district staff members, when they witnessed or heard reports of antigay harassment, tended to “ignore, minimize, dismiss, or in some instances, to blame the victim for the other students’ abusive behavior.”

One of the plaintiffs, Kyle Rooker, 14, has not declared his sexual orientation but was perceived by classmates as gay, he said, in part because he likes to wear glittery scarves and belt out Lady Gaga songs. In middle school he was called epithets almost daily, and once he was urinated on from above the stall as he used the toilet.

“I love attention, but that’s the kind of drama I just can’t handle,” Kyle said, adding that when he was threatened in the locker room, school officials had him change in an assistant principal’s office rather than stopping the bullying.

The district’s demand of neutrality on homosexuality, the suit says, is inherently stigmatizing, has inhibited teachers from responding aggressively to bullying and has deterred them from countering destructive stereotypes.

“This policy clearly sends a message to LGBT kids that there is something shameful about who they are and that they are not valid people in history,” said Jefferson Fietek, a drama teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Mr. Fietek, the adviser to a recently formed Gay-Straight Alliance at his school, said he knew of several gay and lesbian students who had attempted or seriously considered suicide.

Colleen Cashen, a psychologist and counselor at the Northdale Middle School, said that by singling out homosexuality, the policy created “an air of shame,” and that contradictory interpretations from the administration had left teachers afraid to test the limits, seeing homosexuality and the history of gay rights as taboo subjects. “I believe that the policy is creating a toxic environment for the students,” she said.

Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, agreed that bullying persists but strongly denied that the school environment is generally hostile. He said he welcomed further initiatives that could result from negotiations over the lawsuit or with the federal investigators. “We want all students to feel welcome and safe,” he said.

But conservative parents have organized to lobby against change. “Saying that you should accept two moms as a normal family — that would be advocacy,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council. “There should be no tolerance of bullying, but these groups are using the issue to try to press a social agenda.”

A group of district parents who are closely allied with the family council declined to be interviewed. Their Web site says that depression among gay teenagers is often the fault of gay rights advocates who create hopelessness: “When a child has been deliberately misinformed about the causes of homosexuality and told that homosexual acts are normal and natural, all hope for recovery is taken away.”

This article, “In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying Gay Students,” originally appeared at The New York Times.

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