Why George Bush (or Anyone Else) Should Read A Trial of OneThe Matthew Shepard Legislation
Do you think anyone should be beaten, raped or murdered? Hopefully not!
Should we consider murder or assault a Hate Crime if the victim is African American, Asian, Jewish, Christian or Hindu? Let''s hope so!
Fortunately, such hate crimes legislation has been on the books for forty years in the United States. But its application has been limited to the type of activity the victim is engaged in?for example, going to school or voting.
The legislation protects "any person because of his race, color, religion or national origin." A person attacking an individual protected by this legislation could be prosecuted also for hate crimes, thereby subjecting him to more severe penalties.
The Matthew Shepard Act seeks to add sexual orientation to that list and to dispense with the requirement that the victim be engaged in a particular activity [voting or school etc.,] The bill has passed the Senate September 27th 2007, and now President Bush has indicated that he may veto it because he believes it is not necessary. I sincerely hope that he does not do so.
In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured, murdered, hung up on a fence and left to die because he was gay. Although the perpetrators were prosecuted for the murder, it could not be dealt with as a hate crime because sexual orientation was not on the list of hate crimes.
I vividly recall the reporting of this horrific event, but did not realize the degree to which it had affected me. At the time, I was in the midst of writing The Osgoode Trilogy, comprised of Conduct in Question, Final Paradox and A Trial of One.
In the trilogy, there''s plenty of action, murder and fraud for the hero, Harry Jenkins, a Toronto lawyer. But, as a theme, I also explore homophobia and gently argue that we must, instead, seek tolerance, love and compassion.
How so? In the third novel, A Trial of One, the hero, Harry Jenkins, a Toronto lawyer, is mildly homophobic. He would never dream of harming anyone, but he is uncomfortable with the notion. But hiding out in a hotel in Venice, he is propositioned by Angelo, the desk clerk, who has been paid by Harry''s adversary, Dr. Hawke, to seduce him. As Harry says ? It just isn''t me!
But Angelo has fallen in love with Harry and only wants to help him. When Harry is beaten by thugs, he rescues him. When Angelo refuses to tell Dr. Hawke where Harry has gone, he is brutally dealt with.
Although, he is an intelligent, thoughtful man, Harry is ? like so many of us ? slow to understand and accept such differences in people. Despite knowing Angelo''s great bravery and sacrifice, he asks him ?
"Forgive me Angelo if my question is too personal." He knew his phrasing would be awkward, but he knew no other words. "Have you ever had a girlfriend...ever liked a girl?"
The boy shrugged. "Sure, lots of times."
Harry saw the proud tilt of his jaw and the flash of defiance in his eyes. He knew he must be careful with such tender pain.
"I''ve had lots of them, but I like guys much better."
Harry was surprised that he had reached the outer limits of his own knowledge. He did not know what else to ask.
Suddenly, Angelo sprang from the bed in fury. "You think I can change, don''t you? You want to cure me." His breath was sharp and shallow. His voice was filled with anger. "Because I had no father, you think..." He broke off in frustration. "Why can you not understand? It''s me ? who I am. And I like being me."
Harry had not expected anger. He stepped back. "I am sorry, Angelo."
"You think you''re better than me! I''m sick but you''re normal!"
"I didn''t say that at all..." Harry faltered.
"Harry, you do not understand. To me it feels right. I am made this way. You are made your way. We are not going to change." Angelo glared at him until his lip began to tremble. "It has nothing to do with my father!" He turned away sharply and lay on the bed. "And I want people to like me the way I am," he said softly into the pillow.
Right here, we come face to face with the problem. Some people seem to think that one''s sexual orientation is a matter of choice ? not understanding that it is a person''s individual identity. I suppose the most obvious argument in support of this is ? why would anyone choose a life on the "outside" of social norms? If we could accept that sexual orientation is simply one''s nature, then perhaps respect on both sides could grow leading to acceptance.
But that may take hard work and time. For now, a small step could be taken at least to protect such people from attack. We should not forget that if one group is in danger of attack, then any group is at risk.
By not vetoing the Matthew Shepard legislation, a small step could be taken on the road to love, tolerance and compassion. And that is why George Bush should read A Trial of One not veto the legislation.
Mary E. Martin practiced law in a small-estates firm until 1999, when she became a full-time writer and photographer. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto and have three adult children. Learn more at: Osgoode Trilogy.