As violent crimes against gay men across this nation from Massachusetts to Georgia to California continue to soar in obvious synch with increasingly angry and hostile language, Washington does nothing.
Our nation’s leaders seem to assume that there is no relationship between vicious language hiding behind a dubious understanding of free speech and freedom of religion and the encouragement of vicious, violent and sometimes fatal assaults on gay children and adults.
So it was somewhat ironic and very insulting to hear a teary-eyed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warn the nation late last week that the current angry and hostile language being used against Obama and progressive Democrats over health care reform is frightening to her and has the clear potential to lead to violence directed at Obama and progressive Democrats such as herself.
She makes her case by drawing an analogy between the current situation and the anti-gay hate language that she now says led to the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
"I think we all have to take responsibility for our actions and our words. We are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we have to carefully balance," she said.
This is the same Pelosi who has worked with fellow gay-friendly and progressive Democrats to water down the Matthew Shepard Act and other legislation to focus on actions only and not words, ensuring that the soaring rate of Christian hate mongering, hate language and anti-gay crusades from Republicans, clergy and "activist journalists" like Coulter, O'Reilly and Limbaugh are in no way “threatened” by laws designed to protect gay Americans from violence and genocide.
Proposed hate crime legislation is designed to punish those who carry out the crimes following the "orders" of authority figures who are protected by free speech and freedom of religion--kind of like jailing the Abu Ghraib soldiers but not Dick Cheney.
Of course, I share Pelosi’s view on the clear connection between verbal threats and violent action. The ghost of young Lawrence King and I just wish she could see beyond her limited Botox defined perspective and listen to her own words as they apply to the rest of us, not just to the President and certain members of Congress.
And I also treasure free speech and freedom of religion, but not as much as I value containing those who would incite violence and murder targeting vulnerable innocents and not as much as I value punishing those who are responsible for the religious persecution of American citizens. The limit on free speech is chaos over civilization.
"I saw," she added, choking up, "I saw this myself in the late seventies in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening and it gave--it created a climate in which violence took place."
Yes, speaker Pelosi, those of us out here in the real world are well aware of this phenomenon.
Pelosi stressed that people are free to speak out. "But I also think they have to take responsibility for any incitement they may cause," she said.
And there’s the rub. If we agree that angry and hostile speech has violent and potentially lethal consequences, then who is responsible? And how is the responsibility enforced and when those who should be responsible are brazenly irresponsible causing harm to others how do we drive fair and appropriate consequences?
As the gay body count mounts, can we at least create a special White House Medal of Honor recognizing these heroic martyrs of free speech? Obama and Pelosi are well protected by armed and expert bodyguards. The rest of us have to survive a day in school, a walk home at night or a social engagement in a Texas bar with no protection beyond our own wits and luck.
Now that Nancy Pelosi is tasting fear, perhaps she can better understand the reality of being an average queer in Christian America.