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From the Far Margins

Memorial

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The president of the United States has proposed creating a monument to gay rights. That's a beautiful thought. It's the sort of thing we do when a struggle is over, or a person has died and we want to remember them.

But those in progressive states forget that in states like ours, the struggle is far, far from over.

Here in Idaho, we still die for being gay.

In the past several weeks another gay eastern Idaho teen took his life and 49-year-old Steven Nelson was lured to a lake, raped and then beaten to death by four men police say have a pattern of brutally assaulting gay men in Nampa, our state's second largest city.

A pattern. That means they've done it over and over without being caught. Why aren't they caught? Why won't men risk their jobs and safety and subject themselves to humiliation, harassment or discrimination to report being the victim of a crime? Please.

There are problems with the law in half the states in our country. Gay people are covered under federal hate crimes laws but not under many state laws. Some also claim because Nelson was raped that the perpetrator was gay, so this death cannot be a hate crime. No. Rape is as much a crime of power and humiliation as of gratification. Do we forget how many men have come to recoil at their own desires? It's self-loathing that's instilled in them by the media, family and churches that can make them become violent attackers, seeking to destroy in others what they've been made to fear in themselves.

Talk radio, Ted Cruz, a long list of churches, fathers, friends and memes on Facebook created these men. Yet, on the state and local level, government after government here refuses to say that cruelty to gay and transgender people is wrong.

Believe me, you can use the terms gay and transgender interchangeably sometimes since few people seem to know the difference between us—or between us and the men who murdered Steven Nelson.

Nationally, people want to keep us out of their bathrooms—even if we are there with the stall locked praying to any god that will listen to just let us invisibly use the restroom and get out alive.

So, yes, this is a hate crime. A hate crime is crime that sends with it a message to all who belong to the class, race or religion of the victim: you may be next. Nelson was targeted because he was gay and if you are, too, then be afraid.

A hate crime goes beyond the vandalism, assault, mutilation or murder of a victim. It instills fear in an entire class of people. It is a crime of terror.

Here in Idaho, we have quietly faced a lot of it. Here in Idaho, talk show hosts still broadcast calls suggesting violence against gay and transgender people. I myself have sat in-studio, on-air while this happened and the host, dumbstruck, set the air silent and apologized. If I'd not been there I doubt the call would have ended.

Here in Idaho thousands of people spent a decade educating, negotiating, gathering public support, legislative co-sponsors of both parties and working to pass a law to include gay and transgender people in Idaho's non-discrimination laws.

Still, Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke and Senate President Brent Hill—both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—refused again this year to do anything but contemplate exemptions to quell the supposed fears of the Mormon faithful about having to bake cakes and serve coffee to people like me because their religion is angry that the federal courts said I can marry a woman now.

The hate or self loathing that killed Steven Nelson or the bullied teen in eastern Idaho is one the LDS church is feeding every year that it delays in supporting a bill to actually include gay and transgender people in Idaho's existing non-discrimination laws.

I hope President Barack Obama builds a memorial to the gay rights movement.

I hope the monument is a celebration of the passage of federal law to include gay people in the nation's civil rights laws, ending ongoing discrimination in employment, public accommodation, housing and education. If it's not, I hope the memorial will include the names of our dead. They are many, like the victims of any group that suffers hate crimes.

I don't know how you would fit them on a wall or plaque or a building, especially if you included the children, all the teens waiting out here in rural Idaho and Alabama to know someone notices their beauty, their worth under the laws of a land far too busy spinning politics into hate rather than hope.

Nicole LeFavour is a longtime educator and activist, former Boise Weekly reporter, and served in both the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho State Senate.