In the midst of last month’s Chik-fil-A blow-up, I wrote a piece which attempted to clarify the particular reason so many LGBT people were actually upset. It wasn’t Cathy’s opinion about “traditional marriage,” it was his millions of dollars which were donated to anti-gay organizations. In my post, I wanted to highlight the correlation between anti-gay organizations and the everyday violence that happens to LGBT people across the country. In order to do so, I used Charlie Rogers as an example. Her story was one of being attacked, having gay slurs etched in her skin, and having her house set on fire. Within the following month, police have found several pieces of evidence that suggest Rogers filed a false police report and staged the attack. She stands her ground and pleads not-guilty.
When I began reading articles about her likely having created her own attack, I felt such a mix of emotions. I imagined the ways her story will likely be snatched up as a symbol of all the “lies” perpetuated by LGBT people. Somehow, a surface level interpretation of this woman’s story will act as blindfold for all the other violence experienced by queer people. After all, they could be lying too. Even if such words are not expressed, I believe they will be thought. It happens every day in regards to women and rape.
Unfortunately, it seems to be the norm to hear a woman’s story of sexual violation with deep suspicion from the beginning. This is a horrendous norm in our culture which only invites us to ignore the reality of violence against women. For fear that will also become the new normal for the queer community, I wanted to offer a few other things to keep in mind as we digest the possibility that Rogers did indeed fake her attack.
First of all, while Rogers was the example of violence against LGBT people I happened to highlight, the unfortunate thing is I could replace her name with a thousand others. I could have just as easily used the example of the 17 year old that had a pit-bull unleashed on him in Missouri. I could have written about the gay night club that was set on fire in Illinois, the 16 year old who committed suicide, or the lesbian couple found shot in Texas. These are but a few of the cases of violence against LGBT people reported in June 2012 alone. Whether or not Charlie Rogers was attacked, violence against LGBT people is alive and well.In fact, 2011included the highest number of hate violence murders ever recorded by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. These reports only include the extreme cases. The only way to truly understand the daily violence experienced by LGBT people via unwelcoming spaces, street harassment, vandalism, or homophobic slurs is to talk to a queer person. Everyone holds his or her own stories.
To make a case for a connection between anti-gay organizations and violence against LGBT people, we need not rely on Charlie Rogers’s story alone. There are many others. However, if Charlie Rogers did in fact fake her own attack, she nonetheless has things to teach us. The message posted on her Facebook account just a few days before the alleged attack stated,
“So maybe I am too idealistic, but I believe way deep inside me that we can make things better for everyone. I will be a catalyst. I will do what it takes. I will. Watch me.”
Rogers had recently been a part of a heated debate over a city ordinance that would ban LGBT discrimination. Rogers's City Council passed the ordinance, but it was overturned by groups who gathered enough signatures to force a popular vote. It is possible that the overturning of this ordinance had a strong effect on Rogers’s morale, but it is likely that it was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.
With such insight, we would be remiss to make a passing judgment about the incident. If she is found guilty, instead of using her as a means of ignoring violence, pretending there are no ugly effects of anti-gay organizations, or even getting frustrated with the perception she is painting of LGBT people, we must ask ourselves what sort of society we are perpetuating when someone feels the need to fake their own attack to gain momentum for a movement. Nothing about such a story suggests “it’s not that bad” for LGBT people – it really only highlights the problem.
Whether or not Charlie Rogers lied about this particular incident, there remains an indisputable truth – violence against LGBT people is happening. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are being invested in various anti-gay organizations that disseminate harmful lies about LGBT people – that we are pedophiles, that we participate in bestiality, or that we can be “changed.” While I certainly condemn the shooting that occurred at the Family Research Council and express sympathies to the injured officer, I do not understand how such organizations continue to receive such mass funds.
Be it through Chik-fil-A, individual bank accounts, or even churches, funding anti-gay organizations perpetuates violence against queers. When they convince others that LGBT people are a threat to society in any form, this will inherently lead some people to believe acting strongly against LGBT persons is a “righteous” or justifiable act. These organizations are not simply sharing a different “opinion,” they are creating unsafe environments for a mass of our population. This should be concerning to anyone, regardless of their “stance” on LGBT rights.
I hope that if the news of Charlie Rogers's alleged lie spreads, we will not criminalize her, dismiss her, or even assume we really know what happened. Instead, let us hear the story that stands even where her account may fall apart - a story of an unsafe culture that leads to various forms of violence, sometimes even against ourselves, and a story begging to be changed.
Mary Ann is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is currently working as the Youth Director and Justice Associate at a United Methodist Church. Her primary interests reside in the intersections of church and society, particularly in realms of sexuality, gender, race, and ecology. You can follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/ladygadfly.