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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

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(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.

If There Are 56 Oranges and Eight Slaves, How Many Would Each Slave Pick? January 10, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Race, Racism.
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01.09.12 – 7:03 PM

by Abby Zimet

Good job if you got seven. Bad job if you’re a teacher at the Georgia school where third-graders actually got that math question, along with others on slaves picking cotton and kids getting beatings. After two fathers complained, a school official explained, evidently straight-faced, the teachers were “trying to do a cross-curricular activity.” Yeah, and let’s cut even more from school budgets so they can attract even more clueless teachers for our kids.

, Jan 9, 2012 1:45 PM 17:01:53 EST

The dumbest third-grade assignment ever?

For an Atlanta elementary school, slavery references plus word problems equals a heap of trouble

Let’s see if you’re smarter than a Gwinnett County third-grade math teacher. If, in the year 2012, an Atlanta-area elementary school asks its students to solve arithmetic problems about how much fruit a slave can pick — and how many beatings he might get in a week — exactly how many rounds of ammunition has that school just fired into its own feet?

In the most misguided attempt at social understanding since Kirk Lazarus donned blackface, Beaver Ridge Elementary School decided earlier this term to shoehorn a little of the antebellum into its math worksheets. “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” asks one. Another posits, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” Let’s see … Divide by eight, multiply by seven … got it. The answer is, “Oh my God are you people crazy?”

In a surprise to exactly no one, save the school’s faculty, parents were displeased to discover their children — the majority of whom are minorities – were being grilled on the subjects of slave labor and ass whippings. Apparently at Beaver Ridge, there are four R’s – reading, writing, arithmetic and racism. As one stunned father told local station WSB-TV, “It blew me away.”

In a hasty damage control effort, school official Sloan Roach explained that the questions were part of a “cross-curricular activity” designed to incorporate math and social studies. Another question, for example, touched upon the fine Susan B. Anthony received for attempting to vote. But without context, the word problems make abuse seem as normal as a question about how many pencils are in a box.

The school says it will now more carefully review assignments before handing them out, and the vice principal assures that the worksheets have now been shredded. And in a breathtaking understatement, Sloan admitted to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Saturday that “Clearly, they did not do as good of a job as they should have done. It was just a poorly written question.” Time to compare and contrast, students! “Where’s the party at?” — that’s a poorly worded question. “How many beatings would the slave get?” is a fiasco.

The AJC reports that “62 percent of the school’s students are Hispanic or Latino, 24 percent are black or African-American and 5 percent are white.” But Beaver Ridge’s ethnic makeup is almost irrelevant. The questions would simply be a different kind of horribly wrong were the student body predominantly white.

Were the school’s teachers — who have conspicuously not been identified — being deliberately provocative by setting their questions within a difficult chapter of American history? Likely they were just being stunningly insensitive. As one poster on the AJC website noted, they sure didn’t ask any questions like, “If 20 slaves escaped each day of the month, how many slaves would be free by the end of the month?”

Using social studies as a springboard for math is actually a great idea. And making classroom lessons dynamic with real-world context is a time-tested device to teach children the ways numbers are applied in life. Let’s hope this failure doesn’t stop smart and more sensitive teachers from coming up with creative approaches that, you know, don’t involve beatings. Sadly, too, the whole screw-up reinforces the stereotype of what a poster at the New York Daily News referred to as “the New South [that] still has people who loved the Old South.”

Of course, our kids need to be taught history, especially its most painful aspects. But it doesn’t take a whiz to figure out that the debacle in Georgia would earn a big fat zero from the start. The best it can become now is a teachable moment – for school administrators.

Mary 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: @embeedubMore Mary Elizabeth Williams

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