Wednesday’s shooting at the Family Research Council was a tragedy, and the wounded security guard and others who put themselves in harm’s way to overpower the shooter are indeed heroes. But how conservatives have responded in the shooting’s wake is incredibly disconcerting, an attempt to appropriate a tragedy to cover up the harm caused by their anti-gay views. As FRC readies its “Religious Liberty Under Fire” campaign, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown has offered the most flagrant response, claiming that the use of the term “hate group” is an invitation to violence:
BROWN: NOM has always condemned all violence and vilification connected to our ongoing national debate about the meaning and definition of marriage. For too long national gay rights groups have intentionally marginalized and ostracized pro-marriage groups and individuals by labeling them as ‘hateful’ and ‘bigoted’ — such harmful and dangerous labels deserve no place in our civil society and NOM renews its call today for gay rights groups and the Southern Poverty Law Center to withdraw such incendiary rhetoric from a debate that involves millions of good Americans.
This distortion of reality demands an understanding of the different ways the word “hate” is used. First, it’s important to point out that yesterday’s shooting should be investigated as a possible hate crime. The Family Research Council is a political organization — not a religious one — but it does couch its beliefs in religion. Religion does not justify the anti-gay positions the group has, nor does its extreme interpretation of Christianity in anyway represent what most Christians believe. If the shooter merely objected to FRC’s anti-gay political beliefs, then it probably was not a hate crime, but if the shooter was specifically targeting FRC for being a Christian or heterosexual organization, then it very well could be. FRC claims to oppose all hate crime laws because they “undermine the freedom of speech,” but any argument (like NOM’s) that uses the shooting to victimize all anti-gay Christians relies on the very same principles at the foundation of hate crime laws.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines “hate groups” as those organizations whose beliefs or practices “attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Groups like FRC do just that, spreading lies to the public about the supposed harms of homosexuality and lobbying against LGBT equality. In fact, members of FRC have publicly supported “criminal sanctions” against people just for being gay. By advocating for hetero-supremacy in society, groups like FRC own the identity of “bigot” through their outspoken intolerance and the classification of “hate group” through their actions.
What’s “incendiary” isn’t the label “hate group” itself, but the words and actions that earn such a designation. Equality and inequality are not just opposite beliefs, but competing philosophies about whether different groups of people should have equal standing in society, or whether some should have an advantage over others. Those who advocate for LGBT equality do so for the express purpose of reducing harm. They advocate for marriage equality so that same-sex couples have the same opportunity to care for their children and loved ones. They advocate for nondiscrimination protections so that LGBT people have the same opportunity to work for a living, maintain shelter, and participate in their communities. They advocate for hate crimes laws and bullying policies to protect LGBT people from the violence and harassment that plays out daily across this country. And at every step of the way, they work to reduce anti-gay and anti-trans stigma, to free LGBT people from the psychological stress that limits their ability to live and love freely in society. Groups like NOM and FRC intentionally work against that vision of inclusion, and regardless of their motivations, the effect of their efforts is indistinguishable from hate, bigotry, and intolerance.
Violence is not the answer to solving any conflict and nothing justifies the actions taken Wednesday by Floyd Corkins. But any attempt to use the shooting to justify reinforcing the inequality LGBT people experience everyday is intolerance at its most basic.