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Why Kamala Harris needed to stand up to murderous antigay initiative

It's unacceptable that an initiative calling for the murder of LGBT people could be circulated for singatures

California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris rightly wants to snuff out the hateful "Sodomite Suppression Act" -- which basically calls for the mass murder of all gay men and women in the state -- before it can gather enough signatures to make the ballot. In a blog post Friday, The Times' Mariel Garza argues that Harris is overreacting to the bigoted ballot measure, which she said would be better left to die a quiet death without giving it any of the attention that trolls like attorney Matthew McLaughlin, the measure's proponent, crave with efforts like his.

Garza's opposition to the Sodomite Suppression Act is well taken, but her criticism of Harris for seeking to kill the proposal before supporters can try to gather the 365,880 signatures to put it on the ballot is off base. Harris did the right thing in asking the court to intervene.

The idea that any Californian could propose a measure advocating the murder of a whole segment of our population shocks the conscience. While we share Garza’s desire to see this measure buried in oblivion, her advice to the attorney general doesn't acknowledge the bias and violence experienced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. To LGBT people and families, this measure is threatening in a very personal way. 

We agree with Garza that McLaughlin's proposal will almost certainly fail to make it out of the signature-gathering phase, but the very idea that a "kill the gays" initiative could be circulated is deeply distressing. The measure has been the subject of numerous articles in the LGBT and mainstream press. In fact, articles about the initiative were among the most read and commented on in LGBT media. Our organizations have received dozens of calls from parents concerned about assuring their kids' safety in light of a proposal that calls for their execution. The reality is that much attention has already been paid to this initiative, making it important for Harris to act. 

While the initiative is extreme, the hatred and bias underlying it are not uncommon, even today and even in California. We all know of the the murder of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco in 1978 and the vicious beating in Wyoming of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Unfortunately, violence toward LGBT people did not end in 1978 or even in 1998. In 2002, Trev Broudy, a young gay man, was brutally beaten with a baseball bat outside his apartment in West Hollywood. After his 10-day coma ended, Broudy's doctors determined that he had suffered permanent brain damage and was legally blind.

In 2008, as signatures were being gathered to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying in California, 15-year-old Lawrence King was murdered at school in Oxnard. He was shot twice in the head by a 14-year-old classmate who believed King was gay. In December, Deshawnda Sanchez, a transgender woman, was shot and killed in South Los Angeles. Police believe she was killed based in part on her gender identity.

Allowing signatures to be gathered advocating the murder of LGBT people could lead to more violence. Even today, LGBT people experience regular harassment and assault; in fact, LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers as a result of this bias and social marginalization. What message would it send to the LGBT community, especially the youth, if California's top law enforcement official did not try to stop a ballot measure that advocated killing us? 

Finally, Garza fails to appreciate the larger context in which this initiative arose. McLaughlin may have a history of proposing ridiculous initiatives, but the bigotry that underlies his measure is reflected in the similar, though less murderous, legislation in other states. Indiana's new "religious freedom" law -- a green light for businesses and private individuals to use their faith as an excuse to deny service to anyone, including LGBT people -- is a direct response to the gains our community has made in recent years. 

Government officials who speak out against injustice give hope and support to those targeted by prejudice or hate. Harris is standing up for our community, an action crucial for all LGBT youth who may not have supportive parents, positive role models or a community that values them. All Californians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and should never be threatened with death. We commend Harris and other Californians for fighting bigotry and hatred wherever it exists.

Rick Zbur is the executive director of Equality California, California's largest statewide LGBT civil rights organization. Kate Kendell is the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a nonprofit public interest law firm. 

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