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We hear about violence every day in this country. Our newspapers abound with stories of robbery and assault, and every day there is another conveniently edited sound bite about violent crime on our trusty television news networks. The way the news paints it, urban America is a not-so-safe place to live. But most of us at Georgetown—a haven for the “educated elite”—only experience violence from behind a television screen. We Hoyas are generally insulated from the everyday presence of violent crime in the D.C. area, not to mention the rest of the world. But last month’s assault on a gay Georgetown student hit a little too close to Healy Gates for comfort. Far from a mugging on the Lauinger Library steps, this crime has different implications for our student body. That the assailant is one of our own places hate and violence within the context of our own community, facing us with the unacceptable reality that Georgetown is not a bubble and that college students, too, can be victims—or villains.

Only a few weeks into the term, an anonymous Georgetown student was assaulted after being harassed about his sexual orientation. Philip Cooney, MSB ’10 (allegedly the son of Philip Cooney, Sr., former White House chief-of-staff of the Council of Environment Equality who was forced to resign after doctoring reports on the severity of Global Warming, which might explain why Jr. doesn’t play by the rules either), has been charged with assault with a hate bias. The incident was met with refreshing outrage on the part of GUPride, the College Dems, and other Georgetown students, which culminated in a Pride Ralley in Red Square on Tuesday, and a vigorous appeal to the administration that they must treat such incidents with a greater degree of gravity.

A hate crime on a Georgetown student, by a Georgetown student, may have come as a shock to the rest of us. But what’s more shocking to me is that it doesn’t happen more often. In a country where gay citizens are treated by the government as “separate but equal” at best—and even more frequently as second-class citizens—Americans are raised with conflicting notions about how to treat members of the GLBTQ community. Legislation, religion, and the news media all teach us in no uncertain terms that gay people are different, and an emphasis of that difference is only a stone’s throw away from legalized discrimination and socially condoned segregation. Under D.C. law, the punishment for a violent crime with a “bias/hate specification” is more severe than the same crime committed on an impersonal basis. And yet, current law discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation every day. Gay people are not protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, are actively denied entrance into the armed services, and are barred from participation in the most fundamental of social contracts. So why should gay-bashing be a hate crime? It seems to me that this double standard is the government’s way of shirking responsibility. The government can assault gay people in the harshest way they can—by denying them basic rights—but the average citizen is held to a more stringent standard. Here in America, it’s okay to discriminate against gay people, as long as you don’t hit them.

I’m not accusing the Georgetown community of fostering the rampant homophobia that spurred an attack on one of our own. On the contrary, I appreciate that the student body is shocked, surprised, and angry. But the reality is that we operate under a government that marginalizes the GLBTQ community—and an administration that has even threatened to veto legislation that would nationalize the hate-crime laws. If we can’t expect equality from the government, then how can we reasonably ask it from the citizens? In short, I hope the hate crimes legislation passes, and I hope that the assailant is punished to the fullest extent of the law. But I also hope that we use this as an opportunity to demand from our government the same behavior it expects from us. Real change needs to happen on a legal level, and that means ending the heterosexist doctrine by which we are governed. The attitudes and behaviors of the people just might follow suit.

5 comments:

Tinkerbell said...

INNOCENT BEFORE PROVEN GUILTY Has it ever occurred to you that there is ABSOLUTELY no JUSTICE for the innocently accused. Don't let the media and hearsay convict this guy....let a judge or a jury of his peers do that job. There are NO winners here.

Pam said...

She mentioned his name once, as part of telling the full story of what has occurred in this saga. I hardly think that constitutes "conviction", belief of guilt, influencing others to believe in guilt.

The fact remains that the perpetrator was a Georgetown student. Regardless of who in particular committed the crime, that is what is disturbing about this case. Cooney is irrelevant.

Laura Umbrecht said...

I don't want to instigate an argument, but in my defense, I only mentioned that he was "charged" with the crime. That is purely factual information.

Anonymous said...

I'm sitting here in the Midwest reading about this assault, and thinking that a democrat is guilty of a hate crime against the son of a republican appointee. Yes, you "only" mentioned that the supposed perpetrator was "charged," but you also maligned him as guilty through his association with his father, whom you also maligned, through your assumption of his guilt.
There are always two sides to every story, and unfortunately, personality assassination has become a popular hate-sport in politics.... as well as in the media - before the innocent are proven guilty.
Imagine if you were accused, out of the blue, of a crime you hadn't committed, and your name were smeared all over the press. A nightmare of gargantuan proportions.
Grace

Laura Umbrecht said...

I can understand how this post could be read in a condemning light. Granted, that would be an unfair and unjust article. However, I intended only to mention the accused by name as background information. Regardless of the perpetrator's identity, the victim identified him/her as a Georgetown student. The purpose of this post was to attack the appalling situation and its greater implications, nationally and locally in our university. I won't apologize for that, but I do understand how this can be misread a conviction.
Consider reading the post while omitting Cooney's name- the sentiment would still be the same. It's not a hate crime to attack hate.