As I sat in the Yolo Superior Courtroom this week and listened at length to the expert in linguistics speak about the nuances of language, I thought about the nuances of being beaten within an inch of your life while having your stigmatizing identity hurled at you in the most hateful form possible.
I thought about how the words we accept become gateways to acceptable partitioning and later treatment of people we perceive as aberrant.
The argument that people are not racist or homophobic just because they use a word that has become a common insult may be a true and sad commentary on our society, but is also absurd. It is clear that in moments of anger when all social trappings are dropped, our real selves are revealed in the words we reach for in those moments.
And while it is true that none of us is free from some form of prejudice, very few of us (thankfully) have prejudices that will lead to violence. The argument that someone from a tolerant, upstanding family and progressive community is unlikely to be homophobic does not hold up when the extension of that argument is that that person is unlikely to be dangerously violent as well but is.
I am unclear on the extent of what parameters constitute a hate crime — and currently the defense is arguing that the defendant did not know my son was gay — but I believe it should be a crime to beat someone while verbally affronting a group that that person may be a part of.