WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Last month, the U.S. Senate reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. The move was applauded as a practice of bipartisanship for an act that has led to a 51-percent increase in victims reporting domestic abuse. In the updated version, Democrats provided protections for gay, lesbian and transgender couples against acts of violence. It was met with some push-back from Republicans, not willing to take on protections for the gay community, deemed too controversial by some within the party.
The Democratic version of the bill would eventually pass, thus placing a greater onus on the rights of gay couples and whatever acts of violence that comes against them. Still, the enhanced emphasis on protecting both homosexuals and women has been labeled as a political move, with the underlying message being that a bigger social consequence could be on the horizon, if lawmakers aren’t careful.
“Divisive slogans and declaring of phony wars are intended to avoid those hard choices and to escape paying a political price for doing so,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said last month.
Things have changed in the 20 days since the act was reauthorized. President Barack Obama’s affirmation supporting same-sex marriage last week has been met with both sharp praise and criticism, as well as the underlying question of “What now?” Though political pundits believe the president’s support of gay marriage will not have a significant role in November’s general election, there remains uncertainty as to how the president’s affirmation will play out socially among parts of the population that remain opposed to homosexuality and the violent acts against the gay community that could result from it.
“What’s more likely to happen is that people will use the president’s speech and comments as a rationale or justification for their actions,” Gregory M. Herek, a social psychologist at the University of California at Davis, told CBSDC. Herek is one of the leading experts on anti-gay violence. “While I think it’s unlikely that simply because the president made a public statement it would cause an uptick in discrimination or anti-gay violence, it is plausible for people to use [the comments] as an excuse or justification for their actions.”
Recent statistics indicate that though the total number of hate crimes is on the decline, the same does not apply to statistics compiled of violent crimes against the gay community – statistics that could potentially rise with the latest developments. In 2010, more than 2,500 hate and bias incidents against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or HIV-affected victims were reported to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an increase of almost 15 percent from the previous year, according to statistics gathered by the FBI. Members of the LGBTQH community reported 89 sexual assaults, 74 sexual harassment incidents and 199 assaults with a weapon in 2010 to the NCAVP. The number of murders also increased in 2010 to 27, the second highest yearly total recorded in a 10-year time period, according to the NCAVP.
But the call to figure out whether gay violence in the U.S. and abroad goes from here has been met by opponents as being unnecessary. In February, Austin Ruse, president of Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, spoke during a CPAC panel concerning homosexuality and abortion. During the course of his presentation, Ruse bemoaned a decision by the Human Rights Council for a study it requested to perform on “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, in all regions of the world.” The green light to go ahead with the study was criticized by Ruse.
In March, several Muslim and Arab countries walked out on a Human Rights Council panel brought about by the United Nations. During the session, a report from Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay laid out the 76 countries of the U.N.’s 192 members that have laws against homosexuals or homosexual behavior. The study cited another five countries, led by Iran, that have a death penalty for homosexual behavior.
Recent events have brought the conversation back to a central question of what the role is of the U.S. in promoting same-sex equality, while trying to figure out how to weather any increase in violence or discrimination against the LGBT community. Herek said the emotional or physical reactions people have toward homosexuals stems from the stigma attached to not being heterosexual that many people have grown up with – no matter their sexual orientation or viewpoints they hold on the matter. If the violence does in fact see an upswing, using last week’s landmark day in gay rights could be used as a crutch for whatever violence comes about as a result of it.
“There’s a lot of emotion they carry with them that they learn early, so there’s a lot of reaction to gay people and issues like marriage equality, which have an emotional base as a motivator,” Herek said. “I suspect justification for [the president’s stance] and they try to look around and justify what they did, and the president’s statements might be one of those arguments.”