It’s easy to think that hate crimes are a problem of the past. But as we’ve seen recently, hate crimes do happen, and they still affect our community.
In Grand Rapids last week, a gay man was assaulted by two other men. They punched him, called him a faggot and told him he shouldn’t be alive. This happened as the man was walking back to his car after a meeting for Equality Michigan. The two attackers did not seem to follow or target him. But when asked how the attackers knew he was gay, the man said he was wearing a West Michigan Pride t-shirt.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this story is that the Grand Rapids Police neglected to call the incident what it truly was: A hate crime. We understand that police take caution when investigating crimes. Police tend to avoid upsetting a community, and they wait to make certain judgments or proclamations until they know all of the facts. News outlets follow suit, refraining from calling an incident a hate crime until police have done so first. But this incident was clearly a hate crime, and the police should have called it one. As one BTL reader pointed out on our Facebook page, if the incident had been between two minorities – if two men of one race had used racial slurs while attacking a man of another race – the incident would have been labeled a hate crime immediately.
That’s because our culture has become increasingly aware of racial tension. Colleges lecture on diversity; businesses hold diversity trainings; corporations have inclusive language written into policies and practices. We have all been schooled in politically correct language when it comes to race, gender, even religion. But sexuality is still not considered a class to respect in many circles.
One heartening aspect of this story is that it did receive plenty of media attention. Anti-gay hate crimes are no longer ignored by the press or swept under the rug. Clearly, the local news outlets that covered the story thought that the hate crime would be shocking and worrisome to the community. This signals that things are changing. But as we’ve written before, change is slow. The incident in Grand Rapids is not a lone incident: as we reported on this story last week, Equality Michigan issued an alert for people using dating services because a man was beaten and robbed on a date he set up on a chat line.
Our community is still a target. We need to be wary, and we need to look out for one another.