A service to honor victims of homophobic violence falls in the middle of heated political debate about marriage equality
Ruby Molina died last month, her body pulled from the American River on September 22. Her death remains under police investigation as “suspicious.”
Molina, who was born male but lived as a woman, was the most recent victim mourned at the 10th annual Service of Remembrance, but she was not alone. Sponsored by Sacramento Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, the service, held at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Midtown on October 12, was to honor and remember those who “have died violently because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” It included a list of several hundred names. Among them were the well-known as well as those identified only as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe.”
Satendar Singh’s name was on the list. He died a year ago last July, after a punch caused him to strike his head during an altercation at Lake Natoma with some people who called him a “fag.”
Particularly at a time when it seems that all the public discussion of gay community issues in California is focused on Proposition 8, it’s noteworthy that people of faith can gather to remember that, for many who don’t fit society’s norms for gender and sexual identity, public perceptions are still a matter of life and death. To that end, a number of local political and public officials, including Supervisor Roger Dickinson, Mayor Heather Fargo and Sacramento Police Capt. Darrell Fong, joined members of Protestant, Jewish and independent and Orthodox Catholic congregations at the service.
Noteworthy by their absence were representatives of the religious groups most publicly active in promoting Proposition 8: evangelical Christians, traditional Roman Catholics and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the language surrounding the “Yes on 8” arguments doesn’t directly encourage violence, the heated arguments that accompany such ballot issues can make the climate feel less safe to gay and transgender people.
According to Dr. Gregory M. Herek, a professor of psychology at UC Davis and a nationally recognized expert on sexual prejudice, there “is certainly anecdotal evidence of increased levels of violence during periods when gay measures were on the ballots.” However, he was also clear when he spoke to SN&R earlier this fall that there is no empirical evidence to support a link between speech directed against rights for gays and lesbians and violence against them.
“As a social scientist, I want to be cautious about drawing a causal relationship here,” Herek said. “In situations like [this], because there’s a campaign going on, there are more gay men and lesbians in the public eye, which would give more opportunities for violence to occur.” He was clear that the conditions for violence against members of the gay community—a group dynamic that involves proving masculinity, use of alcohol and an inclination toward violent acts—already exist and require no assistance from political campaigns to eliminate rights for gays and lesbians.
However, Herek also pointed out that “when individuals perceive that they have some sort of ‘permission’ to attack members of minority groups, they will do so.”
And violence against gay people has a long history, one that PFLAG and the pastors and religious leaders who gathered for the Service of Remembrance are trying to end. In her homily, the Rev. Susan Hamilton of Parkside Community United Church of Christ invoked the biblical story of Esther as a means of reminding those gathered of communal responsibility.
“Remember who you are and where you come from,” she said. “Honor those whose lives ended too soon and senselessly, and remember the covenant we have with each other. Those who have power and privilege must work to save our people.”
Next to the rainbow candles and the burning chalice at the altar was a single red rose, in remembrance of Ruby Molina.