Ottney: Aiding awarenessWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Earlier this week on World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), a Mother Jones article made the rounds online. It featured portions of transcripts from 1982, 1983 and 1984 White House press conferences in which journalist Lester Kinsolving questioned President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary Larry Speakes about the administration’s knowledge of and reaction to the growing AIDS epidemic.
While numbers cited by Kinsolving increased from 600 cases in 1982 to an estimated 300,000 cases just two years later, the response — jocularity and laughter — remained the same. (It’s unclear from written transcripts who, exactly, is laughing, but as such press conferences are typically a room full of journalists hosted by a few administration members, it likely included other press corps members.)
An interaction from Oct. 15, 1982, begins:
Kinsolving: Larry, does the president have any reaction to the announcement [from] the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Speakes: What’s AIDS?
Kinsolving: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the president is aware of it?
Speakes: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Kinsolving: No, I don’t.
Speakes: You didn’t answer my question.
Kinsolving: Well, I just wondered, does the president —
Speakes: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Kinsolving: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
Speakes: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.
Kinsolving: Does the president, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
Speakes: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any —
Kinsolving: Nobody knows?
Speakes: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.
That right there is the telling line for me. In other words, if it isn’t happening to me, it isn’t happening at all.
I don’t quote this particular conversation to throw Speakes under the bus or cast aspersions on Reagan, but only to point out how easy it is to ignore or make light of something that doesn’t affect you or anyone you know. And how hard it is to stomach someone doing so when it does.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman reversed his stance on same-sex marriage last year when his then-21-year-old son came out as gay. Suddenly the issue was personal. Brian and Cindy Hoeflinger of Ottawa Hills became national advocates against teen drinking after their 18-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver — himself. It wasn’t that they didn’t care before. But suddenly the issue was personal.
On Dec. 2, Toledo City Council voted 12-0 to amend language referring to sexual orientation in the city’s ordinance against hate crime to include “a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity, by orientation or practice.”
Candice Milligan, a transgender woman who was attacked and robbed Downtown last month, was there.
“It’s important to help people who live here, who are a member of this community, feel safe and also to send a message that hate crimes are not going to be tolerated here, that that kind of behavior isn’t going to be tolerated here and this is a place where that’s not welcome,” she told me after the vote.
Toledo’s move is a step in the right direction, advocates said, but Ohio still doesn’t include sexual orientation in its hate crimes statute, which means it’s difficult to charge crimes allegedly motivated by sexual orientation as hate crimes.
Asked by another reporter how she was doing, Milligan said that’s a difficult question. Speaking through her teeth, her broken jaw still wired shut, she said she’s “getting by.” It’s “back and forth,” she said. Mostly forth, I hope. She was also in court when one of her alleged attackers came before a judge. Her build is slight. But she’s clearly strong.
“Keith” expressed a common sentiment when he posted a comment on that story online: “‘Hate Crime’ destroys equality in our judicial system. Yes, one more special group was added to the club, but it sends the message that certain people have more value than others. If a person attacks a transgender person as opposed to an elderly woman in a robbery, ITS THE SAME CRIME, but now the homosexuals are demanding more punishment than the elderly woman who also could have been the victim in this example, which just makes the judgement less fair for the defendant. Or what if a homosexual attacks a heterosexual and the heterosexual in self defense injures the homosexual… was it a “hate crime”? The words ‘Hate Crime’ need to be removed from the equality that is intended in justice for all.”
Keith and those who subscribe to this view misunderstand the very notion of hate crime. A crime against a person who happens to be transgender or black or Muslim doesn’t make it a hate crime. It’s a hate crime if the action is motivated primarily because of the person’s real or perceived sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. It is different.
Two years ago, I talked to Ed Hoffman about the 35th anniversary of the Holiday With Heart Charity Gayla. Hoffman is one of the founders of the event, which has grown from a small gathering of friends to nonprofit status and an annual dinner-dance that raises thousands of dollars for local LGBT causes. This year’s event, which Toledo Free Press sponsors, is Dec. 7.
Hoffman’s voice broke as he told me the Gayla is special because it’s a place where members of the LGBT community can relax among those who accept and support them.
“Unless you are in our community, you really don’t have a clue,” Hoffman said “Things you take for granted. You and your boyfriend or husband or whomever, you can dance slow all you want, nice and close and warm. We can’t. Unless we’re among our own.
“You can feel comfortable there. You can hold hands together. You can kiss each other. You can dance. It’s wonderful to be able to dance with your partner, slowly, and not feel like who’s watching or feeling ill at ease.”
No matter what your personal view on someone’s sexual orientation, race, religion or anything else, everyone has a right to feel safe and be treated equally.
I wasn’t at the White House on Oct. 15, 1982. I wasn’t in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9. I wasn’t at 13th and Madison, Missouri, on Nov. 3.
I will probably never truly understand what it’s like to live as an AIDS patient, a black man or transgender woman. But it’s our job as fellow citizens, as human beings, to try.
Sarah Ottney is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.