Q on the tube: Defiling the dead

Virginia Foxx — absolutely no relation to Red Foxx — has made the news.

The previously under-the-radar Republican Congresswoman from North Carolina spoke on April 29 during the House debate on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, named for the Wyoming college student killed in a 1998 torture murder because he was gay.

Foxx told the House, “The hate crimes bill that’s called the Matthew Shepard bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn’t because he was gay … This — the bill was named for him, hate-crimes bill was named for him, but it’s really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”

The somewhat-incoherent syntax mirrors the stunning ignorance displayed by the words. Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, was in the gallery during Foxx’s commentary.

This Republican meme — that Shepard was a robbery victim — was somehow extrapolated from a November 2004 episode of “20/20” in which one of Shepard’s killers, Aaron James McKinney, accused Shepard of making sexual advances toward him. McKinney then said he planned to rob Shepard. Republicans refer to this as “proof” that the Shepard murder was not a hate crime.

Shepard died after sustaining 18 separate skull fractures — what the medical examiner called “overkill.”

On April 30, Judy Shepard appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” to discuss the hate-crimes bill, her son’s death and, of course, Foxx’s comments.

Shepard told Maddow, “Well, you know, attacks of lesser consequence, I guess, have been said about Matt since the beginning, and in 2007 when it passed the House, the same sort of vitriol was spoken from the floor as well. I did not ever expect it to be called a hoax.”

Shepard, who became an activist for LGBT issues after her son’s murder, also explained that the legislation would expand the abilities of law enforcement to prosecute such crimes.

Maddow wrapped the interview with her own take on the legislation. In her usual down-to-earth explication of something complex, Maddow asserted: “The idea is that the federal Justice Department can get involved in a case to help local authorities or even to take the lead on a case if need be, in prosecuting individual serious violent crimes and murders in which the victim was selected on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. The idea is that crimes like that are intended not only to hurt or murder an individual, but to terrorize an entire community, and so there is a national interest in ensuring that those crimes are solved and prosecuted, particularly if local law enforcement doesn’t want to because they are blinkered by the same prejudice that led to the crime in the first place.”

There’s no question that Foxx is “blinkered” all right. After the floor vote, she claimed she’d received death threats. However, the Capitol Police had no record of any such threats, just as Matt Shepard wasn’t killed during a “robbery.”

Defiling the dead isn’t a hate crime. But Foxx’s comments certainly evince what makes hate-crimes legislation so vital to protect minorities from the ignorance — and concomitant violence — of others.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.