Why I’m not content to “leave it be”

Go on any Youtube video that has anything to do with religion. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

Found one yet? Good. Now scroll down the comments section. I’m willing to bet money that somewhere in the first 3 pages (unless the pages are dominated by a conversation between a troll and someone patiently attempting to explain evolution or Pascal’s Wager or cosmology to said troll) there is a comment from someone saying something like the following:

“man we shood all chill wit this religion arguin shit let ppl believe wut they believe……i believe in god…..if u dont theres no judgin…..it doesnt affect me so therefore idc and dont judge me sayin that im livin a lie bcuz thats not wut i believe and wut i believe matters to me…..not opinions from u guys tryin to prove your theory…..there is no way to prove god…….but let ppl believe wut they do and chill da fuck out!!”

I’ve talked before about this kind of response and why it’s a futile one. In religious circles it’s “let people believe what they want!”; in racial circles it’s “black people need to get over it”; and in LGBT circles it’s “gay people need to stop complaining”. These kinds of comments are reminiscent of nothing more than a child whining that they’re quitting a game because the big kids are meanies. It’s the rhetorical equivalent to standing up and proudly refusing to take part in a conversation because you’re too lazy. Issues are important, and the truth is even more so. If you don’t want to be part of the conversation, that’s your business; only don’t insert yourself into it only so long as it takes to chastise everyone else for having the courage to take a stand.

Here’s the problem with everyone just “chilling da fuck out” – it assumes that the only reason people are arguing is to hear themselves talk. While I don’t doubt this happens in some circles, most of the time there is a solid reason why people are getting amped up about human rights:

Police are searching for a suspect after a homosexual U.S. man was beaten unconscious and left nearly naked in the snow after telling another man about his sexual orientation at a central B.C. hot springs. Police said the Dec. 29, 2010, incident near Nakusp, about 240 kilometres northeast of Kelowna, started when two gay men were sitting in a hot tub and were joined by a third man.

Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum. People don’t beat the bejeezus out of each other for no reason. They certainly don’t assault a man and leave him for dead (in the absence of any kind of preceding conflict) at random – this world would be a very different and far more dangerous place if that was the case. Hatred for a group of people doesn’t spring forth from the mind spontaneously – it comes from a variety of sources: upbringing, education, and the prevailing social climate.

“The beating lasted for a little bit of time, where it ended up about 50 feet away from the hot springs. The victim obviously attempted to get away, but was continually kicked and punched and pushed to the ground as he attempted to flee. “He was essentially left unconscious in the snow, in his shorts and in a wilderness environment.”

There is a large contingent of folks who, at times like these, trot out the old chestnut “all crimes are fueled by hate” or some other such nonsense. The premise of their argument is that any assault is fueled by hatred toward the other person – if you didn’t hate them why would you assault them? Of course this is fallacious reasoning that ignores the larger picture: that hate is being propagated against specific groups more than others. If we pretend otherwise, we’re simply trying to sweep the details under the rug, which allows the status quo to continue unabated. Gay and lesbian people (particularly gay men) are being physically assaulted simply because they’re gay; the only way to conclude otherwise is to stick fingers in your ears and refuse to see a pattern where one exists.

I’ve said before that I’m not an advocate of punishing hate crimes as being separate from regular crime. My reason for saying so is that the lines drawn around what kinds of groups are considered targets of “hate” seem pretty arbitrary, and laws with arbitrary definitions are notoriously easy to abuse. I have to amend my position, however. Crimes like this one don’t start and stop with the perpetrator and victim – every gay man who hears about this story is made a victim of hatred:

He said the main obstacle for the victim and his 39-year-old partner, who is from B.C.’s Lower Mainland, is the emotional turmoil they will have to overcome. “Physically, he’s fine,” Hill said of the victim. “All his wounds will heal . . . but the biggest scar he’s going to have is emotional, for both of them. You can only imagine the fear that one would have to go through to be beaten in the wilderness and left in the snow . . . disoriented and not even knowing where the hot springs were.”

Similarly, failing to recognize the abhorrent nature of the assailant’s attitude toward gay men sends a message to every homophobe out there that hatred of gay men isn’t really a problem.

Hate crime legislation isn’t enough though. It does not accomplish the goal of changing people’s minds – only punishing those whose minds are fucked up. The only way to change minds is for people to stand up and refuse to “leave it be”. In the meantime though, we can do our best to protect each other from the kind of hatred and bigotry that erodes the foundation of our civilization and propagates these kinds of attacks, and if hate crime legislation helps accomplish that goal then I can be brought around to supporting it.

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