Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt: she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole.
These words are from an essay entitled De Profundis, written by the great playwright, essayist, novelist, short story writer and poet, Oscar Wilde. This essay was written while he was serving a two year sentence in a jail in Reading, England for the crime of being a homosexual. After his release from this institution, he entered into self-imposed exile in Paris, and died a few years later, in a hotel room, without friends or money. A victim of narrow-minded intolerance born of inexplicable hate. The year of his death was 1900.
In November of 2001, a gay man by the name of Aaron Webster was beaten to death with pool cues and baseball bats in an area of Vancouver’s Stanley Park popular with gays. The men who did this had deliberately loaded up with these weapons, and gone looking for this type of fun. The apparent leader of the group, a man named Ryan Cran, was found guilty of manslaughter earlier this week, and sentenced to six years in jail. Two other assailants, who cannot be named because they were young offenders when the attack took place, were each sentenced to three years. Despite appeals from Vancouver’s well-organized and vocal gay community to have this brutal attack treated as a hate crime, with a correspondingly more severe sentence, the Crown decided not to do so.
The fact that this story followed hard on the heels of Stephen Harper’s public commitment that the Conservative Party of Canada will fight to uphold the “traditional definition of marriage” made the whole thing doubly disturbing. Like a lot of other progressively-minded people that I know, I found these news items both bewildering and disturbing. The words of the newscaster kept going around in my head the other day: same-sex marriage a threat to society; sentenced to six years; not a crime of hate. The fact that two women or two men can love each other and want to live together as a married couple is considered to somehow be a threat to the rest of us. A group of men load up with weapons and head out to a well-known gay area, and subsequently brutally murder a man for no other reason than the fact he is a homosexual, and this not a hate crime. What is the message here? What are we saying to the gay community about their place in society “as we have constituted it?” I will have to go for a walk in the woods, away from the voices of those who are filled with fear and hate, to try to sort it all out.