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Can you Believe They Said That

Sometimes people say the darndest things when they’re in the spotlight. With around the clock coverage of anything mildly newsworthy, it’s surprising that people believe they can get away with outrageous statements. Yet here a couple of examples from last week that proved that some folks just don’t know when to be quiet.

Marion Barry, the former civil rights activist and mayor of Washington, DC who was widely admired until he was caught on tape smoking crack, won the Irony Award of the week when he declared his opposition to gay marriage. Appearing with the notoriously homophobic preacher Bishop Harry Jackson, Barry declared himself a “moral leader” who would work to overturn a vote from the DC City Council that would recognize same sex marriages performed elsewhere.

This is in direct contrast to his previous statements in 2008 that he was in favor of marriage equality. He even co-sponsored the bill that he is now vowing to overturn. In addition to serving time on drug charges, Barry has been married four times and been in trouble for tax evasion. I guess all it takes is a homophobic viewpoint to be considered moral in the nation’s capital. No wonder that city has so many problems!

(A little-known local factoid about Barry: before his civil rights work, he earned a masters degree in chemistry from Fisk University and enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Tennessee, although he left after being prohibited from tutoring white students.)

You may have heard that Congress passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, known in the Senate as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act. The bill gives the Justice Department the power to prosecute hate crimes based on the victim’s race, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, or color.

The bill was first proposed in 1999, and on April 29, it passed by a vote of 249 to 175. Voting was generally along party lines, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans voting against it. The Tennessee Democrats who voted against the law are John Tanner, Bart Gordon, and Lincoln Davis. If you want to contact them to express your displeasure, you can find their contact info by searching the site

But I digress.

The reason I mentioned this is because it was interesting to hear the reasons conservatives gave for not supporting the bill. During the debate, giving legal protection to the LGBT community was said to violate religious freedom, usher in an era of government tyranny, and force people to read minds to determine why certain crimes were committed. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas went way off the deep end, asking “You think a pregnant mother does not deserve the protection of a homosexual? You think a military member doesn't deserve the protection of a transvestite?”

But the comment that got the most attention came from Virginia Foxx, a legislator from North Carolina who declared that saying Shepard was killed because he was gay was “a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.” I’m betting Foxx didn’t realize that Shepard’s mother was in attendance watching the debate and vote.

It didn’t take long for people to forcefully point out the error of Foxx’s ways, and she (or, more likely, her media handlers) eventually issued a half-hearted apology where she admitted she used “a poor choice of words.” The original statement was probably closer to her true feelings, but this was an instance in which public pressure forced her to back off her hateful rhetoric, if only temporarily.

While Marion Barry and Virginia Foxx are examples of When Trying To Be Dramatic Goes Wrong, there are times when it does works out, which only feeds the cycle of people trying to win the Outrageous Olympics. Just look at the battle between Carrie Prejean and Perez Hilton. The two will be forever linked thanks to Prejean’s reply to Hilton’s question about gay marriage during the Miss USA pageant. She said she did not support gay marriage, Hilton called her some derogatory names on television and his site, and now both are benefitting from the controversy. Hilton is enjoying newfound credibility as an activist that he lacked three weeks ago, and Prejean has found her calling as the 21st century Anita Bryant, working with the National Organization For Marriage in their campaign against gay marriage.

I think there has been too much attention paid to Miss California and Perez, but I want to mention one thing for those who feel like Hilton is harming the LGBT community with his antics. He may be self-serving and laughing all the way to the bank off this notoriety, but people who are homophobic are going to hate LGBTs regardless of how “respectable” we try to appear to straight society. Short of the emergence of an LGBT Martin Luther King-type personality, anyone who advocates for our equality is likely to be criticized by conservatives.

From “Blackout” for 5/4/09 by Anthony Rucker


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