The hate crime.
Regardless of whether Jack died in a gaybashing or a roadside accident, he and Ennis were victims of a hate crime. The image of the two ranchers who were tortured and killed for being gay had seared Ennis' memory. He refused to embrace his love for Jack or live with him on their own ranch because of the fear instilled in him when he was young, costing both of them all happiness. In Ennis' mind, to live openly as a gay couple was to invite violence and even death. It was a situation that Ennis said could not be fixed and had only to be endured. And therein lies the exquisite pathos that has so deeply moved so many moviegoers, gay and straight, in states both "red" and "blue."
Among its several moral lessons, Brokeback Mountain illustrates how hate crimes can operate as a form of terrorism. Both terrorists and hate crime perpetrators, while attacking a limited number of victims, are sending a lethal message to a whole group of people. The definition developed by the government-funded National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism affords an uncanny perspective on gay bashing: "These acts are designed to coerce others into actions they would not otherwise undertake, or refrain from actions they desired to take.... Terrorist acts are intended to produce effects beyond the immediate physical damage of the cause, having long-term psychological repercussions on a particular target audience."
The gay basher acts to terrorize all GLBT people, to keep us barricaded deep inside closets lined with fear. Gay bashers can only get their hands on a relatively small number of individuals, but, like terrorists, that's all they need to do to instill fear in us all. While dealing a few people the fate of Jack Twist, anti-gay terrorists would have us all live like Ennis, in secrecy, squandering any chance of happiness in order to survive.
The rural America that Jack and Ennis experienced in the 1960's and 70's was genuinely bleak. Homophobia, both external and internalized, stalked gay people in all facets of their lives; Ennis' fear of falling subject to violence was all too justified. But Ennis was tragically wrong when he assumed that nothing could be done to remedy this state of affairs. While he was slowly dying inside his formidable closet, some of his gay sisters and brothers on the coasts were fomenting a revolution in consciousness that would eventually penetrate even the Heartland itself. Transformative change over the span of less than a half-century would usher in a society where GLBT people have real opportunities to pursue happiness and attain the self-respect that can only come from living honestly and openly about who you are.
Don Gorton is a Boston lawyer and Chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
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|Title Annotation:||Brokeback Mountain|
|Publication:||The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide|
|Date:||May 1, 2006|
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