Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of "Homophobic Hate Crime" in Germany

By Haritaworn, Jin | Social Justice, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Queer Injuries: The Racial Politics of "Homophobic Hate Crime" in Germany


Haritaworn, Jin, Social Justice


Compared to white men, Black men are disproportionately arrested for race-based hate crimes. The second-largest category of race-based hate crimes tracked by the FBI is crimes committed against white people. Every year, the FBI reports a number of so-called "anti-heterosexual" hate crimes--incidents where members of the LGBT community have been prosecuted for supposedly targeting straight people with criminal acts (SRLP et al., 2009).

After more than a decade of opposition we passed inclusive hate crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are (President Obama, before signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Prevention Act, cited by Dunning, 2009).

PASSAGE OF WHAT HAS, MAYBE TELLINGLY, BECOME KNOWN AS THE MATTHEW Shepard Act, (1) has been celebrated as an important milestone in the quest for sexual citizenship and gender recognition. The bill extends older hate crime protections on the basis of race and ethnicity to sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity. For the first time, and departing from previous lobbying and legislating strategies to pass "LGBs" as fully human by sacrificing the "T" (Spade, n.d.), the list of populations that shall live, and whose deaths shall be mourned and punished, thus also includes transgender people. Nevertheless, the bill's liberal multiculturalist telos was not accepted unanimously, and a handful of queer and trans activists and organizations publicly challenged it (e.g., SRLP et al., 2009; Bassichis et al., 2011; Nair, 2009a, Queer Kids Against Gay Marriage, 2009). Ironically, those whose realities appear most fundamentally structured by violence (such as women of color, racialized queers, poor queers, trans people, and their allies) have asked the loudest questions about the perils of "hate crime" as a paradigm for gender and sexual justice.

Such critical voices are located in a radical queer and trans activism that is following in the footsteps of a re-radicalized antiracist feminism. It seeks to fight oppression in all its intersections and manifestations, including the normalized, the banal, and the systemic. This goes beyond what the professionalized and institutionalized movement prioritizes in its opposition to violence against women. It is accorded capital and visibility in expert, media, and policy circles eager to frame victims and perpetrators in proximity with neoliberal funding and racist, revanchist state agendas (Incite!, 2006; Russell and Stewart, 2001; Bumiller, 2008). Besides its intimate and interpersonal manifestations, violence thus becomes perceptible in its institutional forms: as war, borders, inner-city policing, market exploitation, state neglect, or as what happens to the increasing numbers who find themselves behind walls. The state, especially the criminal "justice" system, emerges as an ambivalent protector who arbitrarily saves and lets die, punishes and condones, depending on our recognizability as "victim" or "perpetrator" within dominant iconographies of innocence and evil. But it is a perpetrator in its own right, which systematically targets populations according to historically shifting profiles--from Black, Latino, communist, terrorist, or illegal immigrant, to pervert, madman, loiterer, addict, or prostitute.

These critiques have been crucial to challenging an understanding of violence as exceptional, as well as the exceptionalism of societies that love their women and queers so much that they hurry to remove the few rotten apples fouling the otherwise just and peaceful "community" (see B assichis et al., 2011). (2) In particular, they question the patronage of a criminal "justice" system, whose persecution of sexually and gender nonconforming people has barely ended formally and continues informally (Spade, 2007). (3) Nevertheless, existing interventions have largely remained parochial to the North American context. …

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