The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Homophobia On Full Display in Plainfield: The Toliver File

This deserves a longer post--that will be coming soon. Click to read the Courier-News story about what happened at last night's council meeting: Plainfield Ex-Official's Comments About Lesbian Councilwoman Denounced.

I am the only openly gay person on the city council. As a gay woman of color, I have had to put up with a lot of crap--all LGBT women of color do. Snide and bullying remarks, offensive mailers and fliers--even from classic "closet cases"--are meant to be hurtful, intimidating, and worse. Suffice it to say that Alex Toliver's hateful homophobic (and transphobic) comments about me speak to the kind of person he is. His comments saying I should be beheaded are on the record (click on the link for Inciting Violence for One's Political/Religious Views: A Plainfield Case), as are the homophobic comments he made last night. 

I am grown and able to handle myself, but when I think about his comments being heard by LGBT youth in Plainfield--many of whom are still struggling to come out, some of whom become suicidal because of the hurtful and hateful comments that illustrate a desire to destroy their sense of themselves and which make them feel as if they are not deserving of love--that's when I become angry beyond words. The suicide rates among LGBT youth--especially those of color--are very high--what are they to make of a so-called "elder" who speaks hate? As I noted last night, it's one thing to disagree on policy or on votes, but this was a hateful, personal attack--and all because I called him out on his comments about beheading me. What came before were just private comments to my Facebook page that I certainly characterized as flirtatious. The ignorance and hatred on display last night should not be tolerated.  

Homophobia and hate (should) have no place in American life, but Toliver and his ilk prove time and time again that their hatred, fear, and ignorance can still be willingly abetted when leadership fails to immediately and vociferously shut it down. Instead, what I saw was (in my view) a rather tepid tapping of the gavel from someone who surely ought to know better. This is from the Courier-News story:

“For someone to come here and talk about my manner of dress and allude to my sexual orientation is just unconscionable. I can’t believe that was being allowed here without being gaveled down.”
Later in the meeting, Rivers said she had hit her gavel when he made his remarks. “I don’t promote anyone disrespecting council members,” Rivers said. “I immediately hit the gavel so that he could stop. It was wrong and it shouldn’t have been said.” But a video recording of Toliver’s remarks shows that Rivers allowed Toliver to continue, ignoring a point of order by Williams, and letting Toliver continue for almost two minutes more.

The deflection to a broad comment about how elected officials should be able to absorb negative comments was, to say the least, displeasing. I have no expectations anymore--but the weak response to the devaluing of my basic humanity, as well as that of every LGBT person was stunning. Homophobia, racism, sexism, and classism are all a part of the same strain--allowing one is allowing all the others.


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