The Nature of Violence against Lesbians and Gay Men: An Overview
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Violence. It seems inescapable. Even scribbled on the walls in the restrooms of Kalamazoo College's Upjohn Library are the sentiments of violence. There, in the downstairs men's room one can read: "Faggots and their moms should be shot." This particular message may not be there anymore. Occasionally the custodial staff repaints the stalls, burying what is probably layers of similar anti-gay and lesbian libel. Or perhaps someone else, a student, scribbled out the message in an effort to censure it. But such messages will always be there, on the bathroom walls, on the sides of buildings, in the letters sent to known gays and lesbians, in spoken epitaphs, in actual physical violence. "Fags are definitely not human" reads another graffito scrawl. In the upstairs library restroom a certain "dialogue" exists on the walls between one man who writes, "I am glad to be gay," and another who responds, "And I would be happy to kill you." To some, these graffiti are not anything shocking. They have always been there, it's just the way it is. It's only a select few boys being overly offensive. But to others, these messages are just the tip of the iceberg. If they are not alarming or shocking it is because they represent the reality that the threat of violence is real in the lives of lesbians and gay men, or anyone perceived as such. Maybe, hopefully, others are horrified and enraged by such expressions of irrational hate. The messages, and the many others like them, equate homosexuality with inhumanity. They tell us that some people would be glad to kill a homosexual. And they are not, as some would hope, rare outbursts of hate relegated to the occasional restroom. These messages are put into action everyday. They spill over from the remote comers of restroom stalls into the streets, the homes, the schools, in the form of real violence. And their damage is not measured in the amount of paint it takes to cover them up, but in the actual lives and suffering of lesbian and gay male victims. Some cases of anti-gay and lesbian violence make it to the media and get some public attention. The March 9, 1995 murder of Scott Amedure by Johnathan Schmitz is one recent example. Schmitz shot Amedure twice in the chest after learning on a Jenny Jones talk show taping about "secret admirers" that Amedure had a crush on him. The issue for the media was the talk shows themselves, not homophobia. The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, and National Public Radio commented on the humiliation faced by guests who are surprised on the air, not on the fact that a man was killed because he revealed his homosexuality. Even the prosecuting attorney saw humiliation as the reason for Amedure's death. The show "ambushed [Schmitz] with humiliation," reasoned the attorney. "In retaliation, the defendant ambushed the victim with a shotgun" (Mullen 1995). The story of Scott Amedure is just one case in a sea of others. The typical anti-gay or lesbian incident involves male perpetrators between the ages of 17 to 23, who, according to Rebecca Lovejoy of Anti-Violence and Harassment Program in Minneapolis, escape court trial and opt to plea bargain "95% of the time" (Gallagher 1995). Uniting all incidents of violence against lesbians and gay men, from murder to sexual assault to beatings, is the context of ubiquitous homophobia in which they take place, and the message of fear and hatred that they send.