Email #198: “I thank the law enforcement officers”?

After the Alexandria shooting last week, you wrote: “I thank the law enforcement officers who stand guard over the Capitol complex and protect Members of Congress, our staff, and visitors each day.”

Vice President Pence agreed, tweeting: “The courageous actions of officer Crystal Griner, and that of Officer David Bailey, saved lives and prevented an even great tragedy.”

The President agreed too: “Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault.”

The President and the First Lady also visited Crystal Griner in the hospital and gave flowers to her and her wife, Tiffany Dyar. Griner and Dyar were married in 2015 in Maryland, a state that legalized same-sex marriage by referendum in 2012. It is of course ironic that Griner was shot while assigned to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail since Rep. Scalise opposes same-sex marriage.

Like Rep. Scalise, you have opposed gay rights too. You voted for amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2004 and to define marriage as only “the union of a man and a woman” in 2006. If those amendments had passed, Officer Griner’s wife would still be legally unrelated to her and so would have been prevented from being with her during the critical period of her recovery in the hospital.

You also voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2007, a law that would protect Officer Griner’s right to pursue her career as a police officer regardless of others’ prejudices. Even more disturbingly, you voted against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and you voted against extending the Violence Against Women Act to include lesbians like Officer Griner in 2013.

Attitudes toward gay people have changed radically in your lifetime, most especially in just the last decade. I hope that your voting record from 2004, 2006, 2007, and even 2009 and 2013 reflect opinions that you have since reconsidered. If not, then I hope that your praise of Officer Griner’s heroism now leads you to understand her and people like her in very different terms.

Imagine the “great tragedy” if she had undergone the kind of conversion therapy the Vice President has advocated. In 2000 he wrote:

“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

He also expressed the other anti-gay attitudes you shared at that time:

“Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.”

“Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”

But unlike you, Vice President Pence, and Rep. Scalise, Griner does not discriminate. She risked her own life to protect the life of someone who believes her life is wrong.

You owe her far more than a thank you.

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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