I can only imagine the huge sigh of relief from gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and others considered outside of the hetero-norm in response to the news that the alleged assailant in Mikey Partida’s beating was not motivated by gay-hatred but was only a challenge to Partida’s “masculinity.”
Drawing on the testimony of a linguistics professor from Utah, defense attorney Linda Parisi has argued that when her client, Clayton Garzon, was quoted as saying, “Your (gay expletive) cousin was talking (expletive), I had to (expletive) him up” he really meant, “Your (overly feminine) cousin was talking (expletive), I had to (expletive) him up.”
What, you didn’t hear this sigh of relief? Neither did I. In fact, this argument itself is frightening.
While it may be a reasonable legal defense tactic to avoid a hate-crime enhancement for her client, Parisi’s distinction between gay bias and gender-identity bias reflects a profound ignorance about the common origin and impacts of both biases. Both biases function to enforce rigid categories of male and female, gay and straight, normal and abnormal. Those who transgress these boundaries — based on how they dress, walk, talk or love — are often subject to emotional and often physical violence.
This is why the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, expressly addresses crimes committed based on the “actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity” of the victim.
Similarly, AB 537 the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 added actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender (including gender identity and gender-related appearance and behavior) to the California Education Code non-discrimination policy. These laws recognize that certain actions and crimes not only affect their intended victims, but also serve to terrorize entire populations.
In the case of the near-fatal beating of Mikey Partida, this population is all of us. For some of us who more closely approximate the social norms of gender and sexual orientation, this may manifest in feeling — or being told — that we are not “man enough” or not “ladylike.” These messages can be subtle (“Son, are you sure you want a tea set, not a baseball for your birthday?”) to not-so-subtle (“Boy, stop crying, you sound like a girl!” — or, “Girl, you are not going out in those combat boots, they make you look like a man”).
But for those of us whose bodies, gender identities or sexualities are judged further from the mainstream, these messages can be enforced with discriminatory and sometimes violent acts. In 2011, nearly 1,300 non-fatal and 30 fatal hate crimes were committed against LGBT people in the United States. This was more than the number of religiously associated hate crimes. Unfortunately, gender-identity hate crimes have not been documented, the FBI has now begun to collect these data.
While horrific, beatings, such as Partida’s, are only part of the impact of gender and sexuality bias. Sadly, violence is self-inflicted, as evidenced by the suicide attempt rate among LGBT youth that has been estimated as high as four times their straight peers. Some researchers have further specified that it is young people who are perceived as “gender non-conforming” regardless of actual sexual orientation, who face the greatest risks for bullying, sexual and physical violence, as well as mental health problems, and suicide risk.
The savage beating of Mikey Partida — and the questionable logic of the attorney defending the alleged assailant, Clayton Garzon — should serve as a wake-up call that emotional, physical and sexual violence related to gender identity as well as sexual orientation (perceived and real) are a threat to everyone, not just 125-pound gay men at their birthday parties.
As a man, I am diminished when I have to question and police how I signify my masculinity. As a co-parent of a daughter and a son, I am pained to the extent that they and their friends do not have freedom to love, dress, talk and walk in whatever way gives their lives meaning. As a community member, I am committed to building a society that embraces all of these ways of being.
Now wouldn’t that offer a real cause for relief?
— Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-García. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org