News of a brutal downtown attack last week on a gay man can only be described as horrifying. In a sane world, this kind of tragedy would bring the entire community together in sympathy for the victim and outrage against his assailants.
But this is not a sane world. This is Salt Lake City, where we view every event through paranoid, us-versus-them bifocals.
No surprise, then, that the Dane Hall story -- as clear-cut a case of wrongful, unprovoked assault as ever was -- has Utahns drawing ideological lines in the sand.
Reports say it all happened late Friday, Aug. 26 or early Saturday, Aug. 27 (that close to midnight, it was difficult to settle on an exact date). But all sources agree that as Hall was leaving gay night at Club Sound (579 W. 200 South), four men began calling out anti-gay epithets, then whacked him on the back of the head, punched him in the face and finished up by curb-stomping him and kicking him in the ribs.
The first line in the sand was drawn by the gay community, outraged by the local mainstream media's failure to report on the attack. In fact, it was QSaltLake, a Utah LGBT news and entertainment magazine, which first broke the story.
Now, historically, the LGBT community has good reason to suspect the media of ignoring gay issues. There was a time when local news went out of its way to disregard all but the most extreme and sensational stories involving gays.
But, over the past several years, that's all changed. The Salt Lake Tribune regularly reports on issues affecting the LGBT community -- as, surprisingly, does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned Deseret News. These days, even the local TV stations do their best to present gay-related stories without noticeable bias (although KSL 5 can always be counted on for an elaborate tapdance to avoid any appearance of genuine support for full-fledged LGBT equality).
Still, the mainstream media certainly dropped the ball on this one. Just by the law of averages, with such a long, languorous publishing interval, it's not often that a bi-weekly gets a chance to scoop the dailies and TV news. But scoop them QSaltLake did, when editor Seth Bracken's report on the Hall story broke late Wednesday, Aug. 31.
Other than massive sympathy and support for the victim, the LGBT community's immediate response was disbelief the story hadn't already run in the broadsheets and on TV. Comments on QSaltLake's message board included:
"Thank you for telling this story. I am wondering why this is not all over the news, trib, ksl, fox. Any ideas why this isn’t an outrage everywhere?"
"Why was this not all over the news?? This is horrible and we can not tolerate this kind of behavior regardless. What can we do to help Dane?"
"thanks for the link. i just emailed kutv 2. we need everyone to do the same"
By the very next day, the mainstream media was all over it. Sheena McFarland published the Trib's initial report noon Friday, Sept. 1. (And, might as well come right out and say it: We all gotta love Sheena McFarland, right? I mean, she's very kind, and capable, and lovely. So, seriously, dudes, I think all this gay anger might be just a twee bit misplaced.)
The D-News ran a story at 4:30 that afternoon with the headline "Gay man severely beaten outside club says he was victim of hate crime." (Yes, he says it was a hate crime, but apparently when four thugs curb-stomp a queer, shouting "faggot," there may be some doubt.)
And, later, the TV stations duly offered their segments on the evening news. For example, Brian Carlson's report on ABC 4 was comprehensive and thoughtful.
On Sept. 2, practically every news organ in the state followed up with stories about hate crimes, community response, etc.
This chronology of events suggests that the mainstream media are extremely willing to report on gay issues, so long as our issues are brought to their attention. After all, it's not as though most of us in the gay community even knew about the Hall attack until QSaltLake broke the story. And then it took a concerted effort by the LGBT community to alert the dailies and the TV stations that, yes, this is an important story deserving their attention.
Trib columnist extraordinaire Paul Rolly explained that police-beat reporters are stymied by Utah's new obfuscatory government-records regulations. Basically, what happened was that, during the 2011 legislative season, Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, and Sen. Lyle W. Hillyard, R-Cache and Rich counties, eviscerated the Government Records Access and Management Act. Back in the good old days, GRAMA guaranteed public access to information. But, this year, the Republicans in the Utah Legislature decided they liked it better when government can conduct its business secretly, beyond the eyes of us meddling citizens. So now it's much more difficult for newswriters to get hold of police reports. And, if it hadn't been for the "angry" calls from the alert LGBT community, who knows how long it would have taken for the story to get reported in the mainstream media?
See? Togetherness! Unified action! That is how things should be. I'm proud of the LGBT community for coming together over this heartrending event, rather than splitting apart.
If only the general community could come together like that! But no. Immediately upon the Trib's follow-up story, another line was drawn in the sand by someone who thought that Dane Hall must have provoked the attack by making a pass at a straight guy. Others felt that the attack could have been averted had Hall been carrying a sidearm, while some people bristled at the mere suggestion that there is such a thing as a "hate crime."
"I will withhold judgment until we hear other side. Perhaps hall tried to come onto one of the men and wasn't taking no for an answer. Innocent until proven guilty. We have only heard one side."
"I encourage all of my gay friends to pack heat. Nothing says 'leave me alone' like a .45."
"Obviously the crimes were hateful, but I think that the term 'hate crime' is dumb."
To TheodoreH, you are a dickhead. Nobody ever suggested Hall tried to "come on to" any of his attackers. But even if that were so, I think we can all agree that curb-stomping is never an appropriate response to an amorous advance.
To UnitedElectric, I have many gay friends who exercise their Second Amendment rights. Still, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable in any nightclub filled with guns. Perhaps if Club Sound allowed its patrons to check their pistols at the door, I'd bet those four red-shirted thugs wouldn't dare come within a five-block radius!
And, to Smonster -- yes, the term "hate crime" is dumb, but the legal rationale for enhanced sentencing is sound. Can you think of a better term?
The bottom line is this: Dane Hall didn't deserve to be attacked. None of us -- none of us -- can possibly be anything but appalled that such a thing could happen in our great City of Salt.
And, there is no doubt that Salt Lake's Finest are doing everything in their power to bring Hall's assailants to justice. Give them a break, people! The SLCPD, under the admirable Chief Chris Burbank, are definitely the good guys.
In the meantime, the best thing all of us can do is to come together as a community -- not just an LGBT community, nor an LDS community, nor as conservative, liberal or libertarian communities -- but as a single, unified community. And what we can say, with one absolute, unified voice, is: "No, this kind of injustice does not happen in Salt Lake City."
Our fellow SLC native Dane Hall is now faced with $40,000 in medical expenses -- involving much surgery, pain and recovery -- just to get his life back together. We can help him. Contributions may be mailed to this address:
The Dane Hall Fund
701 E. 400 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84102
Brandon's Big Gay Blog