In 1999, the A&E Network (back when they were still in the business of producing quality programming) devoted an episode of the documentary series Investigative Reports to gay bashing across the United States. I was able to give the producers some information on some incidents that had happened in Fayetteville in previous years.
The original title of the piece was “Gay Bashing - American Style: Fayetteville featured on A&E’s Investigative Reports,” but it has occurred to me over the years that a lot of folks may not be familiar with the old comedy series that the title was inspired by.
Gay Bashing: Fayetteville featured on A&E’s Investigative Reports
Once again, Fayetteville finds itself featured prominently on a national scale, though it is not the sort of publicity most of us in the Ozarks enjoy seeing. Tuesday, July 6, the Arts and Entertainment Network series Investigative Reports will look at “Anti-Gay Hate Crimes.” In a series of frightening vignettes, several incidents in the Fayetteville area are examined.
One of the most comprehensive examinations in recent history, the program paints a grim picture of a disturbing trend in the United States - violent assaults against men and women simply because of their perceived sexual orientation. Including interviews with nationally recognized experts on the subject, the program takes a hard look at those who are all too willing to cross the line from hate rhetoric into actual assault - and in more than a few cases, murder.
First on the agenda is the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, a crime which forced many to face their own feelings about anti-gay violence. Included is footage of the Reverend Fred Phelps, leading some of his congregation from Topeka, Kansas, in yet another hate-filled demonstration outside the church where Shepard's funeral service was taking place.
Phelps, who has a website devoted to anti-gay language, routinely leads his followers to the funerals of those who have died of AIDS, screaming loudly about “eternal damnation.” Phelps is but the most vocal of a growing number of people who are willing to stir the ever-boiling stew of anti-gay feeling.
Here in Northwest Arkansas, Timothy Hill ran for mayor of Springdale in 1998. One of his platforms was that of publicly “caning” those who were open about their homosexuality. A&E’s efforts to locate and interview Hill were unsuccessful.
Also included is a profile on Idaho artist Mark Bangerter, a heterosexual almost beaten to death simply because a man in a bar became enraged when he hugged a male friend.
But it is the incidents in our own area which may prove the most disturbing for Arkansas viewers. Beginning with the murder of Allen Walker, killed after he was picked up by two men from a local gay bar, it also tells the story of two young people, William and Ryan, who suffered beatings at the hands of their peers.
William, a young gay man attending Fayetteville High School, came to Fayetteville with his parents because they felt that a town with such a tolerant reputation would prove to be much safer for their son than their previous home. It was a forlorn hope. William’s assault by eight of his classmates (none of whom were sent to jail) is just one of the disturbing views we see of area schools.
The second young person profiled is Ryan, who suffered taunts and physical attacks on a regular basis because her mother is a lesbian, married to another woman. Both young people tell of the belittling treatment they received, with few if any attempts on the part of school authorities to come to their aid.
Also featured are interviews with William's mother and father, and Ryan's two mothers. Their fear for their children's safety comes through loud and clear.
The bizarre defense used by some who attack gays - “gay rage” - is discussed. As in the case of the nurse killed in Fayetteville, it is used by men who claim to fallen into a rage simply because a man came on to them, as if this were an excuse for taking a life.
Yet despite the obvious good intentions of producers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, the show’s content has raised the concerns of some in the gay community. While most of the stories in the show detail the increasing anti-gay violence, including the hate-filled rhetoric of the Reverend Phelps, an interview with the controversial Family Research Council worries some in GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).
The FRC sends agents “undercover” into gay sex clubs, and utilizes lurid footage to paint all gay men and women as somehow depraved and dangerous. There is no mention of similar activities on the part of straight couples.
GLAAD released a statement in which they deplored the decision to use the footage, saying:
“The FRC's description of its covert footage suffices in making clear its views on lesbian and gay men, and its inclusion does little more than give FRC a platform for its exploitive practices. Furthermore the images shown will likely stay in viewers' mind far longer than most of the other visuals in the piece, and ultimately, they detract sharply from the positive impact the piece otherwise would have.”
Also included are television ads showing “ex-gays” who claim to have broken free of their homosexual leanings. No attempt is made to refute the ads. The program does point out that the “Exodus” program is plagued by defections, and many of the gay men and women “cured” return to homosexuality.
While educated men and women may see through such self-serving propaganda, there is some concern that those who are opposed to granting gays legal protections may simply be strengthened in their beliefs. Yet despite its flaws, this particular show may serve the valuable purpose of reaching men and women who have simply not thought much about the issue.
Because this is not a polite classroom debate, and all round us men and women daily know the fear that an attack may come from out of literally nowhere. And as we are seeing, their assailants may no longer be content at simply hurting them.
As one participant in the show says, “It may be your turn to die.”
Ozark Gazette - June 28, 1999