by Thomas A. Foster
If the Senate passes the Matthew Shepard Act -- known also as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- a long and ugly history of violence and hate based on sexual orientation may finally approach an end. The legislation was stalled for years in Congress, but with Democrats now in control it passed the House of Representatives and will be voted on by the Senate this summer.What few people realize is that the culture of terror that has long affected gays and lesbians also threatens heterosexuals. Though the hate-inspired murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 garnered national attention, too many other offenses go largely unreported in mainstream media. Some would argue that to focus on barbaric killings obscures the run-of-the-mill abuse that gays and lesbians suffer. Such a climate of hate, backed by the ever-present threat of violence, keeps gays and lesbians from holding hands in public, embracing at an airport, or from being comfortable in workplaces where heterosexual family photos are ubiquitous. Such strictures also harm heterosexuals by enforcing narrow norms of how to act in public as men and women.
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