Perspective by Anne Glasser
Looking straight into the camera, a young man wearing a large white cowboy hat says clearly, "... I just want to say one thing: All gays deserve to ****ing die!"
He went on to disrespect transgender people, shout out support for “all lives matter” and assure the camera that our current POTUS would win another term as president.
This video went viral, not just to our local community, but nationwide, leaving many of us to wonder: Does this rise to the level of a hate crime? What makes someone hate so deeply, especially when they’re only a teenager? What do our local teens think about this? How did the school respond? What are parents thinking of this? How does a small, conservative town in Arizona respond to such a message?
Posting this kind of video is not considered a crime unless it targets one or more specific individuals. Because he did threaten groups of individuals, saying they should die and or be beaten, this can be confusing. To understand how this works in our legal system, we have to know some of the facts regarding hate crime in the US.
“The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines hate crime as a committed criminal offense which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias(es) against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
FBI statistics from 2018 show that there were 7,120 hate crimes reported in the US. That’s about 20 a day! And those are only the reported ones — no one knows the full extent of the problem.
Of these reported crimes, 19.6% were associated with sexual orientation or gender identity. Reported crimes jumped nearly 25% in both 2016 and 2017.
Crime researcher Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, has said the increase may be due to more rigorous reporting of hate crimes.
What leads someone to hate crime?
People can be led to engage in hate crime based on feeling threatened by social or political uncertainty in their lives, or from fear, ignorance or anger.
One reason a person can turn to hate crime is social change. We are living through the worst pandemic in over a century, of course, and having to socially distance is challenging for everyone. For teens this can be especially hard given how they are still learning about forming bonds of friendship and discovering who they are.
Then there is political change. Not only are we in an election year, but we’ve had almost four years of a president promoting hate on both traditional and social media. The social-media-savvy teens of today are very aware of his actions. How could it not affect them?
The America Psychological Association refers to fear as a reason why someone may turn to hate crime. But fear of what? Fear or hatred can be from ignorance. People often fear what they don’t know and have little exposure to. When someone is afraid, it’s common for them to pick a side and lash out negatively at the ‘other.’
Maybe the teen who made the hate video hasn’t had opportunities to get to know people in our LGBTQ+ community.
Local Teens Speak Out
I have spoken to several local teens regarding this video, some of whom attend PHS and some who are part of our LGBTQ+ community, who live in fear of hate crime every day.
This video has increased their fear to simply go to school. Being who they are has always carried some level of risk, but with this video circulating in the community, many expressed how they now feel even more need to keep their guard up. A common theme I hear is they are now more afraid to use the restrooms at school. Some are afraid to be alone anywhere for fear of beatings, harassment or assault.
With the threat of violence coming from a student, one teen said that they are concerned for those that found school to be safer than home. Some are shocked. Still others say they are so used to being hated and treated poorly by other students that they weren’t surprised at all.
When I asked them what they hoped would come out of the hate video, I thought their answers were remarkable! I heard them speak of hope that people could learn from it, respecting each other more, that the community could educate themselves on LGBTQ+ issues, and even offer more support.
When referring to the teen who made the video, this comment impressed me the most: “If they are remorseful, I hope they and I might gain some sort of friendship.” I had the impression from most of these teens that they really want to help strengthen our LGBTQ+ community so we can heal and grow stronger.
PHS Principal Weighs In
I reached out to Prescott High School Principal Mark Goligosky to ask what he’d like to say to the community regarding this video.
He responds, “The staff at PHS are committed to protecting our students and keeping them safe from harm. We have systems in place where students are welcome to contact me or any of our staff if they need anything. We do not tolerate harassment in any form, and will always respond if anyone is threatened. We have responded appropriately in this case and will continue to do so.”
I am heartened to see such a positive response from the PHS leadership. They cannot control when or how such events happen, but they have choices in how they respond, and I am happy to see them being as supportive as they are.
I found that the initial reaction for a lot of parents to the video was sadness that this teen has so much hatred and fear. They also expressed fear for our children, especially those of us that have kids that are LGBTQ+.
Yet there is also substantial hope that this incident will open dialogue and lead to honest conversations. Parents expressed firm desire to come together and make our LGBTQ+ community stronger. They, and I, want our area to be safer for our children, and we wish to show the people of Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley and anywhere else who will listen that there is nothing to fear from the LGBTQ+ community.
While the video is clearly not good, in some ways we can thank it for creating an opportunity to come together as a community. Through The Launch Pad we have teens, adults, allies, and LGBTQ+ who are working together to help support our LGBTQ+ community.
We have formed an Adult Action Group that is looking into how we can build a safer community for us all, with a focus on our LGBTQ+ teens. As a group we are reaching out to teachers, principals, religious leaders and anyone else who is willing to help.
We are also working with the Greater Yavapai County Coalition to help educate the public about LGBTQ+ issues (AZ-GYCC.org).
We would like to invite everyone to join our group and help. We meet on Wednesdays through Zoom at 5:30pm. If you’d like to join, please contact Courtney Osterfelt at The Launch Pad (TheLaunchPadTeenCenter.org)
What started out with a hate video spewing threats has led to us coming together to build and strengthen our community. Together we can heal and come out on the other side stronger than we started.
Anne Glasser is a homeschooling mom of two teens. She is passionate about all things LGBTQ+.