At least 300 people gathered on the steps of the Nebraska Capitol, Sunday, after a local lesbian was allegedly attacked in her home earlier that day, by three men who bound her, carved anti-gay slurs into her skin, and set her house ablaze.... Though police have yet to publish official accounts of the events that occurred Sunday morning at the victim’s home, the Journal Star reports that the woman alleged to neighbors three masked men entered her home, bound her with zip ties and used knives to carve into her skin before pouring gasoline on the floor and lighting a fire. The woman crawled to safety at a neighbor’s home, where police found her.
...because something about it didn't smell right. So I waited. I got a few angry/hateful/unhinged emails from people accusing me of ignoring this hate crime because it happened to a lesbian. If it had happened to a gay man, they insisted, I would definitely be writing and blogging and tweeting about it. But I didn't write about this alleged hate crime either, which happened to a gay man at the University of North Carolina—a pretty gay man with shaggy hair, which, as everyone knows, is my favorite kind of gay man. Something about that report didn't smell right. And I was right to hold off in both cases because, as it turned out, both hate crime reports were false. The lesbian in Nebraska wasn't attacked by three masked men; the pretty gay dude with the shaggy hair wasn't branded by an unknown male.
John Aravosis didn't write about the lesbian who claimed she was attacked by three masked men either, got the same grief I did, and he had this to say after the hoax was exposed:
I got beaten up on Twitter by a number of lesbians who called me a woman-hater for not writing about this “hate crime” because the story smelled funny to me. I just didn’t believe it. Hard to say why. I read the story, and it just didn’t sound right. And I was right.... I can’t tell you why the story sounded fake, that’s part and parcel of being a good journalist/politico—it’s just something in your gut. I can say why I didn’t write about it. You HAVE to get these stories right. We can’t be seen pushing alleged hate crimes that are fake, lest we become the LGBT who cried wolf the next time a real hate crime happens. And yes, the religious right lies like a cheap rug, but we’re better than that, and we’re smarter than that.
This morning I'm being called out on Twitter for not blogging or tweeting about a gay conservative who claims he was brutally assaulted in his home in Madison, Wisconsin. The story is all over conservative blogs but I can't find any mention of it on any actual news websites in Wisconsin. The details of the alleged assault seem incredible. And I'm not blogging or tweeting about it for the same reason I didn't blog or tweet about the lesbian in Nebraska or the gay guy at UNC. The story smells funny to me.
And let's remember why hate crimes carry extra penalties: because the victim of the actual assault isn't the only victim. A whole community is made to feel unsafe. When a racist piece of shit burns a cross on the lawn of one black family in his town, all the black families in his town are made to feel unsafe. When a gay person is beaten on the street for being gay, all gay people are made to feel unsafe. A false hate crime report can do the same damage—even if there was no victim, even if the "victim" assaulted himself, other members of that person's community wind up feeling unsafe. That's what happened in Nebraska, that's what happened in UNC—and that's why I believe those who file false hate crime reports should be charged with hate crimes themselves.
And that's why I take a wait-and-see approach to hate crime reports: I don't want to amplify the damage done by false reports. I don't want to contribute to making people feel unsafe. Too many hate crime reports turn out to be false. Remember Ashley Todd?
Yeah, that was a fake—and Todd's claim came at roughly the same stage of the campaign. Late October. So, yeah, I'm going to wait until the police investigate before I blog or tweet anything about the hate crime report that came out of Wisconsin this morning, just as I waited to say anything about the hate crime reports out of Nebraska and North Carolina. Because sometimes people falsely report hate crimes and amplifying a false hate crime report does real harm.