There are at least three LGBT related stories coming out of Oregon right now, ranging from good to downright horrifying. This great northwestern state is not only generating headlines for American news sources, as they cover the terrible case of the murder of a four-year-old by his mother for seeming gay, but international headlines as well. With all these news stories coming from Oregon, the state is showing the shocking side of the gay rights issue as it stands in America today.
Yesterday, after about an hour of deliberation, a jury found Jessica Dutro guilty of murdering her 4-year-old son Zachary. Her boyfriend, Brian Canady, took a plea deal to avoid the murder charge, even though he participated in the beating that eventually killed his son. The case showed that the two adults had talked about their toddler’s apparent sexuality, saying that his mannerisms seemed a little gay and that they would have to “work on that.” With this motive apparent and the testimony of the child’s 7-year-old sister who was an eye witness, the jury had little trouble deliberating the case against Jessica Dutro and she will now spend years in prison as part of their judgment.
This is a sad story. The fact that homophobia played a part in the death of an innocent child should not be taken lightly. But in the midst of the concern and horror, it is important to put this in context, especially when it comes to the gay rights movement. In no case should this be co-opted for a cause and used for political gain by either side. This story does not prove that being gay is wrong or bad. Neither does it prove that LGBT equality is a good thing. There is nothing political about this story at all.
The tragic story of a child being killed by his parents is not a political statement. It is simply a deeply tragic story that people all over should be disturbed by. Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. It is everyone’s duty to care and protect them, parents most of all. When parents fail to protect their children, it falls to others to do so, but sometimes that is not enough. Zachary’s story is a warning to everyone that there are still children who need protection and care.
At the moment, Oregon has other stories that are directly related to LGBT rights. In October of last year, the state announced that it would recognize the legal marriages of LGBT couples from other states. This was a big step for a state which has been on a path to equality for some time. Now, there are cases before the court to strike down the state’s gay marriage ban, as well as a ballot measure to be voted on in November 2014 that could legalize gay marriage for LGBT Oregonians. The proponents of the ballot measure have stated that they will withdraw their measure if the court rules in favor of marriage equality.
This is a huge step forward for gay rights and even if the court does not decide favorably, polls show that a most state residents are in favor of the ballot measure. No matter how it happens, equality will eventually happen for Oregon. This could make it the eighteenth state in the union to legalize gay marriage, if the other states with marriage equality cases do not get there first.
Meanwhile, there is also a gubernatorial election, with primaries for both parties in full swing. The last five governors have been Democrats, but Republicans are hopeful that they can take the governor’s office in November. The showing of candidates for their side, however, seems rather less than quality and shows that the shockingly misinformed side of the gay rights issue exists even in a blue state such as Oregon.
Take for instance the recent addition to the Republican primary, Lorraine Mae Rafferty. In a video interview with The Oregonian newspaper, Rafferty was asked some very general questions about why she wanted to run for governor and what her stance was on certain issues, including gay marriage. Among the somewhat rambling statements she made, one was very clear: being gay is a sin and akin to murder. She also said that she thinks abortion is a misunderstood topic and would attempt to educate the state should she be elected to office, ostensibly to show them that abortion is also murderous.
Rafferty’s views put her on the fringe of the Republican party in her state. GOP activists endorsed the upcoming marriage equality bill. Rafferty herself acknowledged that she was more conservative than most of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, a difference that was noticeable after only some listening to the others. Another difference between her and the other candidates would also be professionalism and political sophistication.
The problem with Rafferty is not that she holds homophobic views, but that they seem to be prevalent among hardcore, Tea Party conservatives all across America. It is unlikely that Rafferty, who has never run for political office before (a fact that is obvious in the interview), will be elected at all. But her running shows the growth of the Tea Party movement and the fact that it feels bold enough to appear in a visible public way in a liberal state such as Oregon, even to the extent that it goes against the state’s reigning GOP stance.
Gay rights issues are definitely on the radar for Oregon, not just because of the upcoming election and ballot measure, but also because of stories like Zachary’s death. If Zachary’s murder for the fact that he seemed a little gay will do anything for politics in Oregon, it should be to prompt questions about politicians’ stances on protecting vulnerable persons. Do politicians running for governor in that state support protections for LGBT persons?
That should be a question anyway, but the story of Zachary puts a fine point on it. Obviously, legislation will do nothing for the toddler now, but it shows just how big a role homophobia plays in making LGBT persons or even suspected LGBT persons unsafe. Child protection laws should have protected Zachary. But what laws will protect everyone else?
Tragic stories like Zachary Dutro’s are not political fodder to be used for political agendas. Instead, they are opportunities to re-evaluate beliefs and laws that could prevent such things from ever happening again. When people are in the political sphere, however, political agendas are fair game, as is proven by the pro-gay marriage ballot measure and the candidacy of Lorraine Mae Rafferty in Oregon. All these stories from Oregon taken together do show the more shocking side of the gay rights issue, not because of little Zachary, but because they show that there is a long way to go yet.
Opinion By Lydia Webb