This will undoubtedly be the most unusual Christmas column I’ve ever written and it has to do with a hate crime.
Last week a jury in Philadelphia found a woman guilty of four charges relating to what has been characterized as a hate crime — a hate crime with an ending that most have not realized has changed the way hate crimes should be viewed nationally. And coming at this time, it’s a present that packs a powerful punch.
For those not aware of this incident, let me give you a very quick background.
A gang from a suburban community came to Center City Philadelphia. They encountered a gay couple, words were exchanged and they beat up the gay men. It was, to say the least, a heinous attack, and Philadelphians of all points of view were outraged. This included mainstream media; it became a top story. Three people were charged — two men and one woman — and the men pleaded out; however, the woman, Kathryn Knott, claimed she didn’t touch the two gay men and never hurled insults.
At Knott’s trial, the witnesses contradicted each other and many felt that the jury would acquit. The drama became more intense as the jury debated for three days. Finally, a surprise: Knott was found guilty on four counts and could face up to eight years in jail and a fine. Sentencing is in February.
Here’s the point very clearly: There are many hate crimes across this nation every year. Many are even more heinous than this one, so why did local and LGBT media from across the nation pick up on this one? Maybe the answer is Philadelphia itself. Philadelphia stands out tall as one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in America (and Human Rights Campaign has agreed for the last four years running).
Something happened in Philadelphia that doesn’t happen in other cities: When the attack occurred, the citizens of this city — in all neighborhoods and of all stripes — were outraged. An entire city stood up and said, “Hate crimes are not allowed.” That outrage was registered in the media; the media coverage was so intense that national LGBT media picked up on it, like no other hate-crime story I’ve ever seen. And the jury then made its own major statement.
So the present here is to the citizens of Philadelphia and to an LGBT community that has proven that it knows what real gay liberation is: education, which creates a city that prides itself on its unity and that won’t allow others to destroy that unity.
Philadelphia is special. It celebrates its diversity, and if this case says anything, it’s that Philadelphia cherishes and wants to protect its LGBT community, just like any other community.
Peace and goodwill to all. That’s a Christmas story.