There has been a recent spate of vicious hate crimes in New York City targeting gay men, including the murder of Mark Carson on 18 May by a man alleged to have shouted homophobic slurs as he shot Carson in the face. As Jay Michaelson has pointed out in Huffington Post, it's surprising that some people find the vicious backlash reaction to gay rights breakthroughs surprising: neither the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s nor the feminist movement has stopped violence against people of color and women.
This past weekend, there was a march of solidarity with victims of anti-gay hate crimes in New York. The Times has posted a video documenting that march. I'm struck by what Sharon Stapel, executive director of New York's Anti-Violence Project, has to say in this video. Asked whether the sharp increase in anti-gay acts of violence in New York City is evidence of a backlash against gay rights breakthroughs, Stapel replies that her group has been tracking an increase of violence against LGBT people over the past five years. From 2010 to 2011, there was a a 13% increase of such crimes in New York on top of an 11% increase from 2009 to 2010.
And then Stapel says,
There absolutely is a backlash, and that backlash is often very public and very loud and very full of vitriol. And I think that that backlash, especially when it comes in the form of hate speech, say, from community leaders who people look up to and respect, it really does encourage an anti-LGBT sentiment in the world, and it really says to the world, it's okay to hate gay people.
What community leaders say or do not say about LGBT human beings can have critical effects for the lives of LGBT individuals. As I hear Stapel make this observation, how can I possibly forget that the leader of the highly influential Roman Catholic church in New York City, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, recently chose to identify all of his brothers and sisters who happen to be gay with a little boy whose hands aren't clean enough to sit at the family table?
And how can I forget that as leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Dolan has been utterly silent as suicides of teens who are gay or tagged as gay have made national news in recent years, due to their shocking increase?
Silence can be as damning, as damaging, as the spoken word. Words can have cruel effects, when they're wielded with the intent of telling human beings that their real humanity is less than that of other human beings--that they are the dirty-handed at the family table, in contrast to the rest of the family whose hands are clean.
Cruel, oily, hate-bearing words disguised as "welcome" and "charity" can have lethal effects when they come from the mouths of influential religious leaders whose real message is a message of dehumanization and not of love. They can be signals to people who act out real violence that, in their violent attacks against gay and lesbian folks, these people have the blessing of religious leaders who mouth insincere words about "loving" gay and lesbian people while they actually stigmatize and other those who are gay.
Cardinal Dolan wields great power in American Catholicism. He wields great power in New York City.
What will he say, I wonder, as gay people are attacked and murdered in New York City these days--as, in fact, two more gay men were assaulted in New York's East Village only a few hours following the march of solidarity discussed above, by a gang shouting homophobic slurs as they pummeled and kicked these men?
Will Dolan open his mouth?