On the night of May 11, 2003 Sakia Gunn, a 15-year old African American lesbian was waiting at a bus stop at Newark, NJ with a friend to return home when three men in a white station wagon approached them. The men tried to harass them and lure them into the car. Both women denied their advances and said that they were lesbians. Then one of the men, Richard McCollough, got mad, came out of the car, and attacked them. The young women fought back but McCollough pulled out a knife and fatally stabbed Gunn in her chest.
McCollough was charged with a bias crime which if convicted, could’ve resulted in him being jailed for 110 years. However, he plead guilty and was instead charged with “aggravated murder with bias intimidation” which has less severe penalties and reduced his sentence to 20 to 25 years. At the hearing he admitted that he called her a “dyke” but said that she ran into his knife.
Yesterday, February 19th, the New York Times reviewed a documentary produced last year about the case, “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project” and some of the comments readers left were painfully ignorant. One person wrote (bold emphasis mine):
There is no such thing as a “hate crime”. There are only crimes. People don’t commit violent crimes unless they have some animus against the victim. In this case, a man made a pass at a woman, she rebuffed him, and he murdered her. Simple. Her “sexual orientation” was irrelevant. Why drag her through the mud?
Another comment said (bold emphasis again mine):
There should be no special sentencing provisions for criminals convicted of a “hate” crime because to do so implies that some lives are more valuable than others. Take these situations: your son is walking home from school and is stabbed to death for wearing a blue jacket. A day later your neighbor’s son is walking home from school and is stabbed to death for being gay. How can it possibly be justice for one killer to be punished more harshly than the other? Is the life of the gay son worth more than the life of the son who wore the wrong color jacket? Try explaining that to the family.
Okay. First of all, there is such a thing as hate crimes. Hate crimes against the LGBTQ community are significant but do not get much media coverage. James Dodson, (homophobic) President of the Focus on the Family organization, has said that pushing for hate crimes to be legally recognized and punishable are part of the “homosexual agenda”. Riiiight…because hate crimes against LGBTQ people don’t actually exist, and instead are made up because LGBTQ people want to validate their sinful ways. Well, wake up homophobes because according to the FBI in 2007 there were 1,265 “single-bias incidents” (just call them what they are – hate crimes) against gay and transgendered individuals. Keep in mind that these are just the crimes that have been reported.
Secondly in the first quote, saying that her sexual orientation is irrelevant just shows how society chooses what prejudices are legitimate and acceptable. Patriarchal notions of gender and sexuality promote and perpetuate dangerous ideology that suggest that violence against women and LGBTQ individuals are okay because they “asked for it” (just for being who they are), they are inferior, sinful, etc.
Also, saying “In this case, a man made a pass at a woman, she rebuffed him, and he murdered her” is problematic because:
1. It detracts attention away from the true nature of the crime – violent and unacceptable hate crime. Hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals serve to punish them for daring to subvert traditional patriarchal gender norms and prescribed roles. Gunn’s case wasn’t just a simple murder.
2. It seems to suggest that it’s okay for a man to murder a woman for rejecting his advances. Oh right, of course, I forgot, men are entitled to women’s bodies and women obviously always want sex and always want or need a man, so by rejecting him there was clearly something wrong with her.
Denying the existence of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and saying that there should be no special sentencing for people convicted of hate crimes implies that we are all at equal risk of being murdered or violently attacked just for being people. Wrong. Comparing being stabbed for wearing a blue jacket and being stabbed for being gay is a poor analogy because it doesn’t make sense and completely misses the point.