Should Fighting Back Against Homophobia Be Called a “Hate Crime?”

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
March 26 2014 10:19 AM

What Does Vandalism Look Like?  

1012936_10151937760230899_1484598613_n_2
Vandalism can take different forms.

Atlah's Facebook page.

Justice has to be blind—that’s the only intellectual frame in which I can comprehend the news that the NYPD is treating the recent vandalism of Harlem’s Atlah World Missionary Church “Jesus Would Stone The Homos” sign as a hate crime.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

In case you haven’t been following this story, a quick synopsis: Back in February, Atlah’s (locally infamous) pastor, James D. Manning, broadcast this Christian message to the neighborhood: “Obama has released the homo demons on the black man. Look out black women. A white homo may take your man.” Great stuff. A few weeks later, the pastor doubled-down with “Jesus would stone homos. Stoning is still the law.” Lovely. Then, over this past weekend, a community member decided to offer a response, removing the letters of the sign and spray-painting it with the observation “God is Gay.”

Advertisement

I am, of course, partial to this last missive. But the method of its sharing is technically illegal, and given that the victim of the crime (resisting the urge to scare quote every other word here) is technically a church, I guess I’m glad the police are applying hate crime statutes even-handedly.

That said, can we talk for a minute about what “vandalism” actually looks like? As someone who grew up in the South, I am no stranger to the tacky plastic church sign or interstate billboard laced with a dubiously interpreted “clobber verse”—while troubling, these are at least impersonal and fairly easily ignored. Manning’s message, on the other hand, is aggressively direct. In an interview with Vocativ, the spiritual leader and former convict clarified his views on stoning:

Should we demonstrate some constraint if a person is repentive [sic], if a person is willing to leave that lifestyle? Absolutely. However, I do think that anyone who promotes that as a lifestyle and tries to make it a national and international event and create warfare upon everybody else, then the appropriate response would be to stone them back to the Stone Age, or stone them back to hell.               

Manning’s commitment to barbarism makes Jennifer Louise Lopez, a local lesbian resident, all the more impressive in her recent confrontation with the church during which she offered herself up for stoning. Her protest is perhaps more legally conscionable than the sign-hacking, but both actions are a response to the true vandalism that’s going on here—that of the wellbeing of Harlem’s LGBTQ community.

As a multiyear resident of West Harlem, I count myself among that group, and I’ll be honest, the fear that I might be attacked by Manning or one of his followers as I walk around my neighborhood has become an unwelcome part of my life. How could it not, with statements like the following being taken seriously by some faction of my neighbors?

The white homo who now lives in the community—and there are a lot of them that moved up here—they brought their restaurants, they brought some of their lifestyle, they brought their Starbucks coffee with them … and like anybody else, they prey on black men, they convert black men.

And this from a man who thinks gays are the “most intolerant of all people.” I guess Manning thinks we should be willing to tolerate direct threats on our physical safety as well as bizarre assaults on our character? No thanks. While I am compelled to hope that Atlah receives fair compensation under the law for the vandalism it has endured, I don’t think Manning and his ilk will ever be able to make up for the psychic damage their hate has inflicted on many in Harlem—a community they claim to be defending. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They’re just not ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 16 2014 4:08 PM More Than Scottish Pride Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.