He and a friend had met at the Victor Village Inn for a night of beer and karaoke. Eskildsen says they were having a great time and decided to go outside for a little fresh air. They had only been outside for a short time when he says two men approached them, yelled the gay slur and attacked them.
It was over almost as quickly as it started, but that wasn’t the end.
Eskildsen went back in to get his coat and left. He says the men came back, but this time with a third man and the beating started all over again.
“I was tackled… slammed to the ground, punched, kicked. I basically couldn’t do anything,” Eskildsen said. I sat down with him and his fiancée two weeks after this happened.
Throughout the hour or so that we talked I could hear the raw emotions in his words…sometimes sheer anger. Other times I could sense his shock and humiliation. How could this 40 year old – who looks more like 30-something, athletic build, soccer player, engaged man – be brutally beaten because he was presumed gay. He is heterosexual, but so what if he was gay?
I kept asking myself, he’s a Caucasian male and he was subjected to the same hatred and bigotry that African Americans, Jews and now Muslims have faced.
Eskildsen puts it best: “If it can happen to me a
White heterosexual male…it can happen to anybody, it can happen anywhere.”
I keep hearing those words and it leaves a chilling picture in my mind about this America where hate seems to be on the rise in places as small as Victor, NY all the way to Orlando, Florida where a lone gunman opened fire last summer in a crowded night club frequented by L.G.B.T. people. He left 49 people dead.
Forty-nine people lost their lives why?
As Eskildsen puts it…”over a man’s hate.”
I ask myself how could these people think their hatred justifies their actions?
The most recent statistics collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show members of the L.G.B.T.community are twice as likely to be targeted as African-Americans, and the rate of hate crimes against them has surpassed that of crimes against Jews.
Of the 5850 hate crimes in 2015, 1053 were hate crimes based on sexual orientation and 664 of those were based on an anti-gay male bias.
But beyond the statistics maybe it’s time to begin asking ourselves the question, what kind of America do we want to live in? Do we want to tolerate hatred of this magnitude whether it’s based on race, sexual orientation, religion, gender or ethnicity.
I remember when Trayvon Martin, an African-American 17 year old was killed in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. His killing outraged people from coast to coast. This case was tried in the courts and the shooter George Zimmerman was acquitted on self-defense grounds. But I can’t help but imagine That the teen who was wearing a hoodie, was “perceived” as threatening.
So I had “the talk” with my son – who was 18 at the time and who loved wearing hoodies – about how he dresses and the image he portrays. Thinking that if you look innocent you’re less likely to have those kinds of issues.
But I wonder should Eskildsen’s mother have had “the talk” with her son? Would it have spared him if she had warned that people in 2017 when it is legal for same sex couples to marry, might perceive two men singing karaoke and making fun of each other as gay and attack them?
No! No mother should have to have any talk with her child to protect him or her from America’s hatred and bigotry. This country was founded on freedom – that everyone has the right to freely pursue his or her own happiness without fear of reprisal.
So what’s next America? How many more of these hate crimes can we stomach before we take a stand like Eskildsen and say this is wrong.
When will we compel lawmakers to put more teeth in the hate crimes laws and our law enforcement leaders to train officers to treat these crimes seriously so people will have the courage to report them. When will we begin to talk to one another, lay our differences on the table and have a conversation.
Maybe I’m idealistic, but I believe at the end of the day we are more alike than we are different!