Last week, terror reared its ugly head here in western Montana, in a series of deeply disturbing incidents. First, two anonymous letters containing white powder were mailed to homes in Missoula. A few nights later, an arsonist tied a gasoline-soaked rope around one of these same homes and ignited it, in a cold-blooded attempt to murder the family sleeping inside.
I know this family, because I attend Quaker meeting with them. They are a young couple, educated, professionals, with a young son whom they love dearly. And, as you may or may not be troubled to learn, they are lesbians.
The fact that theirs is a same-sex relationship was clearly what motivated this attack. This couple has recently been in the public spotlight, featured in local news reports because they are plaintiffs in a lawsuit to gain legal recognition of same-sex partnerships by the University of Montana. It isn’t hard to figure out that the public spectacle of their sexuality made them a target. Thankfully, the family escaped without injury. The fire destroyed their home.
These acts of hatred backfired on the perpetrators, in that they inspired a massive outpouring of love and support, galvanizing and uniting the Missoula community. An enormous crowd of people packed into (and spilled out of) a Missoula church on Saturday to speak, sing, laugh, cry, and express their unanimous solidarity with the victims. As Adrienne tearfully told everyone present, "I know now that I don't have to watch over Carla and our son alone. I feel like I am putting my family in the hands of this community -- and it's a good place to be."
The cowards who committed these crimes under cover of anonymity and darkness must be apprehended and brought to justice. Acting out one’s hatred toward a class, category or race of people is both a hate crime and an act of terrorism.
Hate crimes are particularly severe crimes and deserve special status as such, because they intimidate and therefore victimize whole groups of people, whole populations. Should I be afraid for my safety because I’ve written this article? Will I be labeled a “gay sympathizer?” Who will be the next person whose house gets burned down? Who gets beaten to death?
Moreover, this ongoing fear, this perpetual terror, is the precise reason that this attack was also terrorism. It must be recognized and dealt with as such. As one speaker at Saturday’s rally said, "This great nation is spending billions to wage war on terrorism overseas and at home. What will it do to combat terrorism in Missoula, Montana or Laramie, Wyoming?"
Diversity and tolerance are the hallmark of a free society, and the cornerstone of our strength as a nation. Unfortunately, fringe groups and even certain mainstream elements of our society don’t see it that way. These individuals and groups are the ultimate hypocrites, draping themselves in the language of “morality” and “values”, while simultaneously embracing the most immoral and valueless behavior of all
-- blind contempt and hatred for their fellow human beings.
There is a simple but profound concept, taught by Jesus Christ and central to Christianity, not to mention other religions worldwide, and also known in secular circles as the Golden Rule. This fundamental spiritual and moral truth bears repeating, as there seem to be folks out there who either never learned it, have forgotten it, or are choosing to ignore it. It’s short and easy to remember, too: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
To those who committed these crimes, and to any whose belief system involves disrespecting and hating others, I say this: go right ahead and believe whatever you want. Go ahead, even, and poison yourself with your own hatred if you must. But for God’s sake, respect the fundamental human right of others to be true to their own beliefs. Let them live their own lives and pursue their own happiness in this free country, in the manner of their own choosing. Or, as Jesus put it: “Judge not, or you will be judged.”
A relief fund has been established for Adrienne, Carla and their son. To contribute to this fund, send a check to “Relief Fund”, P.O. Box 775, Helena, MT 59624.
copyright 2002 Richard Wachs