Homophobia is on the rise in Minnesota

  • Article by: GARY GIMMESTAD
  • Updated: July 23, 2011 - 9:17 PM

The connections between increasing violence against LGBT Minnesotans and the reckless antigay proceedings at our State Capitol have become brutally clear.

On the last Friday night of June, the Interstate 35W bridge was brilliantly lit with rainbow colors; dozens of tents were popping up in Loring Park. June had been declared national LGBT Pride Month, and marriage equality had been established in New York.

There was much for Minnesotans to celebrate on the eve of the Twin Cities LGBT Pride festival. The festive mood, however, was rudely interrupted for my friend Larry and me when we were assaulted physically and verbally near my home in the Loring neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Unfortunately for us, we walked into a predator's sight line at a moment when he was primed to let loose his homophobic rage. In the aftermath of the assault, the connections between increasing violence against LGBT Minnesotans and the reckless antigay proceedings at our State Capitol have become brutally clear.

A 2009 report issued by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) indicates that violence directed against LGBT Minnesotans continues to increase. OutFront Minnesota's Anti-Violence Program documented a 64 percent increase in the numbers of hate/bias incidents in Minnesota, while nationally there was a 7 percent decrease.

The just-released 2010 NCAVP Hate Violence report shows that, nationally, reports of anti-LGBT hate violence increased by 13 percent from 2009 to 2010. Larry and I, and several other Minnesota victims of Pride-weekend hate violence, have now become an integral part of those foreboding statistics.

Yes, assailants should be apprehended and tried, but taking predators off the street does little to address the underlying issue: the continuing demonization of Minnesota's LGBT citizens.

That nefarious project, aided and abetted by discriminatory politicians and organizations, reached a contemptible milestone with the vote to place a constitutional marriage amendment on the 2012 election ballot.

And now, as in other states that have voted on anti-same-sex marriage amendments, the nightmare of escalating violence is well underway in Minnesota.

I was there at the Capitol when Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, introduced the amendment. He trotted out one obscure academic and several clergy members in support of the measure.

One after the other laid out tortured and ill-conceived arguments, paying no heed to pesky constitutional issues such as separation of church and state and equal protection under the law, not to mention their own guaranteed freedom of choice regarding who can and cannot marry in their own religious settings.

I was again at the Capitol when the bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, sat before the House committee charged with saying yes or no to sending the bill to the floor for a final vote.

When Gottwalt's responses failed to convince his questioners, he resorted to the favorite slogan of the amendment's supporters: "Let the people decide" -- as though it were somehow our patriotic duty to decide the rights of a minority group of Minnesotan citizens by popular vote.

I was once again at the Capitol for the final round, rallying with hundreds of others, the vast majority of us hoping to persuade our legislators to defeat the amendment. Shamefully, bigotry and a lack of political will prevailed that day.

The authors of this cynically divisive legislation deny any partisan political intent, but they are willfully and knowingly endangering Minnesota's LGBT citizens in a bald-faced attempt to consolidate their power base.

This amendment is an instrument of antigay rhetoric. It protects nothing and harms much. It contributes powerfully to a culture of bigotry and homophobia that inevitably finds expression in hate crimes. By definition, this amendment is hate speech and bullying.

Gottwalt said of the amendment, "This is not about hatred, it is not about discrimination or intolerance. I have faith we as Minnesotans can have a reasonable dialogue on this issue characterized by respect and decency and allow the people of Minnesota to decide." His disingenuous call for civility was apparently unheard by the man who attacked us.

Video of the assault against Larry and me, taken by a bystander, presents a scene that is all too familiar to those of us in the LGBT community: the shoving and jabbing; the foul, homophobic slurs; the insults and threats.

And for many, that's just the prelude to more gruesome violence. Imagine that. Then ask yourself what it is that Gottwalt, Limmer and their supporters are actually protecting.

I have faith that the majority of Minnesotans will not be persuaded to vote for discrimination.

Early polls indicate that the amendment will fail, but as election-year money flows into Minnesota in support of this perverse legislation, it's crucial that the antigay rhetoric about to wash over us be challenged, its sources identified and called out, and yes, Rep. Gottwalt, that "the dialogue on this issue is characterized by respect and decency."

Let's choose the path leading to a world in which all of us, kids and adults alike, are appalled by homophobic bullying; a world in which hateful legislation such as the Minnesota marriage amendment is denounced as abomination; a world that refuses to accommodate homophobic thugs who attack innocent people as they walk through their own neighborhoods with their friends.

Let's create a world in which the marbled halls of government are inhospitable to legislators who would tyrannize their own constituents by appealing to ignorance, bigotry and meanness.

Gary Gimmestad, of Minneapolis, is a musician, arranger, composer and piano teacher.

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