Gay Rights: Hostile Climates

Montana: The state Senate requires anyone violating the state's "deviant sexual conduct" law (which includes homosexual activity) to register with police; Maine, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho: Religious right activists campaign to pass statewide anti-gay initiatives restricting the rights of lesbians and gays; Texas: A church in Austin was expelled from the Austin Baptist Association for ordaining a gay man as a deacon; Ohio: A student at a Toledo Catholic high school was punished for wearing a "Boycott Homophobia" T-shirt.Detroit, Scott Amedure, a gay man, was murdered after revealing his crush on a straight acquaintance during a Jenny Jones taping. These are just a few of the 180 anti-gay incidents nationwide compiled by People For The American Way, according to its third annual issue of "Hostile Climate," a report documenting anti-gay discrimination.In the two years since the first report was released, there has been a staggering increase in the number and breadth of anti-gay incidents fueled by hate speech and ignorance as well as by numerous measures in Congress and state legislatures that would infringe on gay rights.As a result, American Way has challenged Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and other political figures to "Condemn in no uncertain terms the hate-filled language and anti-gay legislative agenda advocated by the Christian Coalition, The Traditional Family Values Coalition and their allies."For the first time in more than a decade the American political system is largely controlled by people who firmly believe in "traditional family values." Many gay activists believe one of the key factors behind the rise of anti-gay activity stems from the emergence of this new ultraconservative majority."The political government world is really the thing that has the most direct effect on our everyday lives and if things are getting bad for us in that realm, it's very, very serious and that causes a great deal of problems," notes Jeff Montgomery of the Triangle Foundation in Detroit. "Their rhetoric gets quite a bit of play and it can be very dangerous. [It's] translated by the followers of those people into violence and very ugly activities."All too often, corporations, elected and spiritual leaders and nonprofit organizations -- the very groups and individuals that should be leading the charge for equal justice -- are the source of the strife, according to the report. It cites evangelist Pat Robertson as an example."It's not a question of denying anybody any rights," insists Robertson. "It's a question of giving special rights to people on account of how they perform sex acts. It has nothing to do with being good to people of this persuasion. It's giving them special privileges."That kind of rhetoric simply fuels the hate parade, adds Montgomery."Gay people aren't looking for anything special or anything different," he says. "What we're trying to do is have our citizenship recognized, and have access to the rights, or equal rights, as any other citizen of the state or the country...What people like Pat Robertson want is a special right to discriminate against us."Meanwhile, "Hostile Climate" reports several success stories as well, especially stories about the work of broad community coalitions -- including churches and labor, business, minority and civic organizations -- and ongoing evidence that the average American still holds fairness and tolerance in high regard.

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