The Chicago Windy City Times is investigating the Aaron Hall murder case from Crothersville, Indiana. Hall was brutally beaten by two young men who've now attempted to use "gay panic" as their defense. Fellow Bilerico Project contributor Ellen Andersen and I are both quoted, as is John Joanette, Indiana Equality's lobbyist. This is the first statement of any kind by IE about the case that's taken Indiana's LGBT community by storm.
The article speaks volumes about the state of hate crimes legislation in Indiana, but doesn't add any new facts to the story. They review the history of last year's hate crimes bill defeat after IE and the bill's sponsor couldn't push the legislation through after Jackie Walorski introduced an amendment to included fetuses as a protected group. While it is encouraging to read that IE plans to "get this done in the next session," I'm worried that the scapegoat for the legislation's demise has become SJR-7, the marriage amendment. Everyone knows Republicans aren't going to give up that amendment anytime soon; does that mean we won't get hate crimes protections until it dries up and goes away? Surely, the largest LGBT org in the state can concentrate on more than one thing at a time! After all, it was considered a slam dunk earlier this year - even with SJR-7 in front of the Assembly...
John Joanette—a lobbyist for Indiana Equality, a statewide coalition of organizations working toward LGBT equality—has hopes. He believes the failure of the bill’s passage, in part, was due to the fact that the state was so “wrapped up” in fighting anti-gay marriage attacks. “What’s been tripping us up is this marriage thing,” Joanette said. “I have a feeling we can get this done in the next session.”
Andersen just wants Indiana to catch up with the rest of the nation: “It’s odd to see Indiana in that state [ lacking legislation ] . Indiana is a middle-of-the-road state. That we’re hanging down at the bottom is not in character.”
Although many feel that it is too soon to even consider using the Hall murder as an example to push hate crimes law in Indiana, many agree having such legislation would at least keep the defense from arguing “gay panic.”
“These rumors that the gay panic defense will be used in this case just go to show that gay people can still be used as whipping boys around here,” Andersen stated.
Although many agree that although jumping to the conclusion that Hall’s murder is a hate crime can be dangerous—especially because many of the facts aren’t in yet—discussion about hate crimes legislation and “gay panic” is certainly needed, and that the two go hand in hand.
Joanette believes this debate is crucial. “We look at these things, talk about these things and comment on these things,” he said. “It’s a good thing people are debating this, no matter what their opinion.” He hopes the community continues to take a deeper look, and assures that Indiana Equality will be closely following the Hall case.
“I think pushing Aaron Hall as an example of why we should have hate crimes legislation is a little misguided,” said Bil Browning, president of Indiana Action Network and creator of the online LGBT forum The Bilerico Project. “We have to talk about how, in the Aaron Hall case, these kids thought that by claiming he made a pass at them, that it would be okay to beat him to death. What kind of society have we promoted in Indiana by not passing the hate crimes legislation this year, where people think it is okay to beat gay people and that you can get away with murder that way?”
Andersen agrees, and suggests the community take a look at what causes this type of mentality in Indiana. “The fact that they think they can get away with it by using ‘gay panic’ just speaks to the state of gay rights around here,” she said.