***TRIGGER WARNING: Descriptions of homophobic and transphobic violence***
It’s come to light that noted misogynist David Vitter, the Senator who protected his women’s rights staffer after he slashed his girlfriend with a knife and threatened to kill her and who doesn’t think abortion is a “women’s issue,” is also a raging homophobe. I know, I was shocked too – I’ll give you a minute to pick your jaw up off the floor.
This episode of “Saw That Coming From 100 Miles Away” involves Vitter’s comments on a right-wing radio show this morning about MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and her high school yearbook photo, which has been making the rounds on the internet. Vitter commented the photo “must have been a long time ago” because Maddow was then “looking like a woman.”
All the mainstream media I’ve seen on the incident shies away from using the “H-word” (HOMOPHOBIA), instead taking the cowardly route of assuming their readers will know why this is wrong and worthy of comment. This is shameful.
I’d bet the first journalist in the MSM to take this on will be Rachel Maddow herself, who has a history of taking on ridiculous criticism with humor and grace and at the same time, packing a powerful political punch. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Maddow and have devoted hours of my life wishing I could write for her show. If I did, here’s what she would say to Senator Vitter:
“It’s come to my attention that Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, made a funny on the radio by suggesting that my high school yearbook photo must have been taken a long time ago because in it, I look like a woman. I can only assume he’s referring to my short haircut and business suits, which don’t fit into his personal idea of what a woman should look like. Senator Vitter, I’m not one to make this accusation lightly but your comment on the radio was an attempt to get a cheap laugh on the fact that I am a lesbian. It was a political play to your constituents, who you evidently believe vote based on hate and bigotry. This, I think, is incredibly disrespectful to the good folks of Louisiana.
I think I’ve proved on this show that I have a sense of humor but this time I’m not laughing. For many people in this country and around the world, failing to fit into a random individual’s profile of what a man or woman should look like is no joke. For many, it is the difference between getting a job or not, the difference between getting into and remaining at their educational institution of choice or not, the difference between being able to safely use a public bathroom or not. For many, not fitting neatly into a gender category is a matter of life and death.
Senator Vitter, I’d like to tell you a story about a young woman named Sakia Gunn. Like me, Sakia Gunn had short hair and dressed in a more masculine way than, inferring from your comment, you’d think is appropriate for a woman. In 2005, fifteen year-old Sakia and her friends were waiting for a bus in Newark, New Jersey when they were approached by a group of men who made sexual advances toward them. When the women refused, stating they were lesbians, the men pulled out knives and started yelling homophobic slurs. Sakia was stabbed in the chest and she bled to death, in the arms of her best friend, in the middle of the street.
Let me tell you another story, Senator, about an eighteen year-old transgender woman named Angie Zapata. Again inferring from your comment, Angie Zapata, with her long hair and form-fitting clothes, fit the bill in terms of what you think a woman should look like. At her murder trial, Allen Ray Andrade’s lawyers claimed that since Angie looked like a woman their client just couldn’t help beating her to death with a fire extinguisher when it was revealed she was born biologically male. Angie Zapata wasn’t brutally killed because she looked like a woman; she was a woman. No, she was savagely beaten to death because of the type of hate you’re peddling, the kind that says a person’s gender expression, how they choose to dress and present themselves, and by extension, a person’s gender identity, how they choose to identify regardless of their gender at birth, are reasons to see someone as less deserving of respect, as less than human.
Senator Vitter, I’m not addressing you personally tonight because I was offended by your joke. I’m addressing you because your type of hate impacts the lives of thousands of Americans who do not, without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity, fit into capricious standards of what it means to look “male” or “female.” It’s time to toss these standards out the window because they are meaningless, destructive and sometimes, deadly. Moreover, it’s time to legislate against the hate bred by these standards by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, known as ENDA and currently proposed in the Senate, that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which includes appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.
I received your apology this afternoon, Senator, and your explanation that you were simply joining in on a joke made by the radio hosts. I accept your apology, sir, but not your excuse: you are a United States Senator and as such you have a responsibility to stand up and correct anyone making bigoted slurs against American citizens. It’s to the American public, not me, sir, that you still owe an apology – and actions that make good on it.”
**This post was edited by the author on July 17th to add a trigger warning for depictions of homophobic and transphobic violence.
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