On an October evening in a small town, Matthew was in a bar, when he met two men, Aaron and Russell, who pretended they were gay. Matthew, who was gay himself, asked them for a ride back home. They accepted, but instead, they drove him to a remote, rural area, and proceeded to rob him, beat him with a handgun, and torture him. They tied him to a fence while he pleaded for his life, and then drove off, leaving him to die. 18 hours later, Matthew was discovered, still alive, but in a coma. His face was completely covered in blood, except where it had been partially washed clean by his tears. Matthew was rushed to the hospital: he had suffered fractures on the back of his head and in front of his right ear. He experienced severe brainstem damage and there were numerous lacerations around his head, face, and neck. Doctors deemed his injuries too severe to operate.
Six days later, Matthew died. He was 21 years old. And gay in Russia. Sorry, I mean in America.
I visited America for two weeks in 2010. As a gay man, I wanted to understand the harsh realities of being gay in one of the most powerful countries in the world. At the time, there were reports of teenagers committing suicide regularly because they were gay or believed to be gay by their peers.
I wanted to know what the schools were doing to protect these kids. The answer was simple: nothing. In many places in America, schools are actually legally forbidden from providing gay kids with the support they need to be empowered enough to accept their sexuality and deal with bullying. Arizona, for example, actually has a law that prohibits portraying homosexuality as a positive lifestyle and it is illegal to even suggest to children that there are safe methods of homosexual sex. In Texas and Alabama, children are taught that homosexuality is "not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public." Utah, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina all have laws that greatly limit speech about homosexuality.
Such laws are not surprising, given that, up until as recently as 2003, many states in America had laws that made homosexuality completely illegal. That is, people could be arrested for engaging in consensual adult same-sex sex. A law, commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", made it illegal for people serving in America's military (the most powerful military in the world) to actually discuss their homosexuality in any way. If at any point their sexuality would be revealed, they would be discharged because their presence "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."
America's homophobia is heavily linked to its very close relationship to fundamental Christian beliefs. Although the US constitution clearly separates church and state, religious leaders and thoughts heavily influence every aspect of its laws and of society's moral decision making. Some American televangelists have collaborated with partners in Uganda to create the infamous "Kill the gays" bill.
The homophobia is also part of TV culture. A few months ago, Phil Robertson, a star on a hugely popular TV show, compared being gay to bestiality. The TV station suspended him from the show for 1 week. The backlash to the suspension was immense. Online campaigns demanded that the TV station apologize, claiming Robertson had done nothing wrong. A slew of supporters came out and defended Robertson. A week later, he was back on his show, one of the mostly popular shows in network history, with over 11 million viewers. He continues to use his show as a soapbox for his religious beliefs and political conservatism.
President Obama, while busy sending drones to kill innocent people throughout the world, has made several campaign promises intended to create equal rights for LGBT individuals, but all of these have turned out to be little more than means of winning an election. Ironically, Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, made a speech at the UN in 2011 about LGBT, accusing the world of not offering equal rights to LGBT citizens, all the while being fully aware that equal rights were not available to LGBT individuals in her own country. Americans seem quick to criticize the actions of other countries, most notably Russia, yet are completely oblivious to the injustices faced by LGBT individuals in their own country. America is often presented as a bastion for freedoms, though in reality, freedoms do not apply to sexual minorities.
Looking at America from outside, it is clear that it is not a place where a gay man or woman can feel safe. With brutal murders, rampant suicides, hateful leaders, and homophobic TV shows, it is clear that America, the self-proclaimed defender of equal rights, needs to stop looking at the faults of others, and focus on its own (gigantic) flaws.
Good luck in Sochi everybody!
A version of this blog post originally appeared on Raja's personal blog, ohmyhappiness.