On July 19, the Iranian government executed the two teenage boys -- one 18 and one 16 -- shown in the photo below for the capital offense of homosexuality. In the 14 months of imprisonment preceding their barbaric hanging, the boys were tortured and flogged.
Although the Iranian government recently claimed -- contrary to all original reports -- that the two were executed for raping a 13-year-old boy, most observers characterize that justification, for several good reasons, as a trumped-up charge to undermine world outrage. Even if it were true, it would not excuse this monstrous act of primitive violence.
When I first saw the picture, one of three in wide circulation, it so shocked me that I was convulsed by tears and rage in a way I haven't been in a long time.
As a reader looking at the picture, you are most likely heterosexual. And you are most likely sickened by the picture, too. But the reaction of gay people is more personal. The image depicts in starkest reality the deepest fear of every young gay person who has been beaten up or called names for being queer, who has had to drop out of school to save his life, or has put a gun to his or her own head to end the suffering.
We think it couldn't happen in America. But I'm sure that many other gay people saw this picture and, like me, recalled Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old man who was savagely tortured and beaten, then lashed to a fence to die in Wyoming in 1998.
Of course, Shepard's murder -- unlike the "punishment" about to occur in this photograph -- was not sanctioned by the state. Indeed, President Clinton mourned Shepard's murder alongside gay Americans. Despite the ways he politically disappointed us, nobody doubted his sincerity. The murder even prompted him to renew efforts to extend federal hate-crime legislation to gays, women and the disabled -- an effort resoundingly rejected in 1999 by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Now, those Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency. And the Republican Party is controlled by the fundamentalist right. These extremists -- who include George W. Bush himself, Bill Frist, Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay -- believe it is completely appropriate to impose fundamentalist religious principles on government. While they have not advocated the execution of homosexuals, they have exploited hatred of them to entrench their power. And, although Iran's act violates international law protecting children, no one in the current administration has uttered a disapproving word.
While few Republican extremists advocate execution of homosexuals, most wish to rescind the Supreme Court decision that decriminalized sex with one's own gender. They want to prohibit gay marriage. They want to ban gay-themed literature in school libraries, and outlaw any teachings about homosexuality that regard it as natural. They want, in short, to return to the days when gay kids knew that being true to themselves meant being treated like criminal psychopaths.
Their argument for this? They cite biblical teaching, just as the theocratic government of Iran cites the Quran to legitimate hanging of homosexuals -- more than 400 in recent years. Is it far-fetched to imagine American extremists invoking Leviticus' admonition that homosexuals should be put to death? Matthew Shepard's two killers, both serving two life terms each, now say the Bible instructed them to kill the boy.
You don't have to search long on the Internet to find plenty of right-wingers who regard homosexuality as a capital offense. On the wingnut website www.freerepublic.com, discussion made light of the Iranian executions and insisted that they prove how "lucky" gay Americans are. One of the threads was so over-the-top, it was apparently deleted, as the site often does when extremists disclose too much of themselves.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration goes about installing a theocratic Shiite-led government in Iraq that will likely duplicate the policies of Iran and represent an extreme example of what fundamentalists would like to see happen in this country.
It will forever amaze me that the followers of a supposedly loving God won't allow people to love one another as they choose. We may not execute gay kids, but we often kill their souls. This photograph is an example of the evil people do in God's name.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.
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