A few readers have told me recently that they think I have a persecution complex on behalf of the gay community. Just because a gay gets beaten up, no matter how badly, or even killed, why does it mean that they automatically deserve sympathetic news coverage from either Capital Xtra or Xtra.ca?
After all, gays can be thugs, ruffians and scumbags too. After all, gays can be instigators of violence or put themselves in vulnerable positions where they should expect to get hurt, they say. Why am I always assuming that our brothers and sisters are somehow innocent victims?
I’ve got a bit of a minefield to deal with in attempting to answer these questions, in that I can’t talk about several recent cases. That’s because there’s a legal onus on publishers that increases once suspects are nabbed. There’s also an ethical one. Any justice-minded paper would be amiss to publish anything – particularly opinion pieces — that could threaten the possibility of any accused getting a fair trial.
And that puts recent violence in Ottawa and more serious incidents in Halifax and Windsor strictly off limits for this discussion. It’s partly irrelevant, since the nitty gritties of the cases aren’t as important to what I have to say as how we, as gays and lesbians in Canada, tend to respond.
So let’s go back a bit.
Some of you are familiar with the gay-bashing murder of Aaron Webster. Webster died in the arm of a close friend in a popular gay cruising area, Vancouver’s Stanley Park in 2001. The community immediately rallied and hundreds of protesters took to the streets, demanding justice.
But there were murmurs. Some gays, while sad about the death of Webster, began to wonder if he should have been more cautious. A guy goes out to a park looking to expose himself and have public sex, what does he expect?
And some even suggested that he deserved it.
Closer to home, the 2002 murder of Christopher Raynsford by Sebastien Roy (whose trial I covered for this newspaper in the fall of 2006) elicited huge outpourings of grief for the man many remember as a friendly face at Centretown Pub, where he was a regular customer in the years before his death.
But the same murmurs bubbled to the surface. Raynsford regularly met men on the Internet and took bar hook-ups home: risky behaviour, they said. Even if he didn’t deserve it, per se, isn’t he at least partially to blame for what happened to him?
During the trial, Roy’s defence lawyer, Gary Barnes, tried to assert that Raynsford forced Roy to give him head. Roy reacted against a perceived rape, subduing Raynsford, Barnes argued.
Barnes’s argument didn’t stick, and for good reason. Unlike many cases of violence against gay men, the jury didn’t buy the blame-the-victim defence. Roy was convicted of the highest possible charge: first-degree murder.
That’s the crux: no victim has to be a saint to deserve justice.
Few would believe that the lovable Raynsford had indeed tried to force Roy to blow him. But even if they had believed Roy’s story, jurors would have still had to contend with the principle of proportionality. So a two-hour beating taking place in several places in Raynsford’s apartment, much of which happened after the victim was tied up with a mix of wire and fabric restraints? Not proportional.
Yes, people have the right to defend themselves. Absolutely.
If someone attacks a man, he has the right to rough that person up — just enough to subdue the attacker so he can get away. Most of the time, that does not entitle someone to kill or seriously, permanently injure them.
Gosh, that sounds so obvious, eh?
Yet here I am being told that I have a persecution complex because of the amount of ink I spill over violence against gays. I suppose some of these people believe that at least some of this violence was both provoked and proportional. But when it comes to permanent injury and death, I disagree. Call me crazy.
Hey, look, it’s not just in our community. There are lots of angry blame-the-victims types out there. But our community’s insistence that we be model citizens in order to deserve the protection of the law: does it come from a place of deep discomfort with ourselves? From a place where gay culture and gay sex still make some of our own a bit queasy? It certainly seems so to me.
When we’re ready to accept that our queer brothers and sisters are just as deserving of the protection of the law — even when we’re not heroes but rather deeply flawed, complex people — then we’ll have made some real progress.
One final note: it’s the period between charging someone and when their trial begins that are, from a journalist’s point of view, the mum period. Once the trial starts, the facts of the trial become fair game. Expect Capital Xtra to continue to cover — to the extent that our readers are interested — criminal proceedings as they take place.