By Valerie Milano
Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/9/18 – “All of us here, obviously, would like to believe that Dr. Martin Luther King was correct when he said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We would all like to believe that we are moving toward a more compassionate society, but are we really?” asked Henry Schleiff, group president of Investigative Discovery, American Heroes Channel, and Destination America at the TCA Winter 2018 press tour panel convened on Friday, January 12th, 2018 at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena to discuss LOVE & HATE CRIME. Also present on the panel were series director Ben Steele; crime reporter Margaret Baker; and Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich.
The first installment of LOVE & HATE CRIME is set to debut on Sunday, February 25th. It will look at the murder of a transgender teen, Mercedes Williamson, by her boyfriend, who claims the shock of finding out that his partner had been male made him lose control and kill her.
The three one-hour specials were created in partnership with the BBC to examine prejudice and intolerance directed at people who are viewed as different in our country and the dangers they face because of it. “It’s our hope that between our viewers and your readers, we can actually make a difference, that we can perhaps bend that arc a little faster,” concluded Schleiff.
Director Ben Steele spent many months infiltrating hate groups across the U.S. for this series. Sadly, he is seeing a rise in hate crimes in America.
The 1997 Andrew Cunanan spree murders that all targeted other gay men, including famed Italian designer Gianni Versace, are featured in the excellent AMERICAN CRIME STORY series now running on FX. Ben Steele believes that transgender people are now at the forefront of this fight for LGBTQ equality.
Margaret Baker was the one who first discovered that the murder featured in the first episode of LOVE & HATE CRIME had involved a transgender teen. “All I knew was the guy had a bra on!” she said.
Heidi Beirich pointed out that there were many places in the U.S., especially in the South, where the LGBTQ community has no protections under hate crime laws. There are an estimated 250,000 hate crimes a year in the United States, and we only get about 5,000 on the books. According to the FBI’s fraud statistics, the LGBTQ community is victimized at rates far above their percentage in the population.
Will a call for action follow these “whydunit” films? Henry Schleiff said the purpose was more to instigate intelligent dialogue about the issues and legal aspects surrounding hate crimes.
“One great thing that mainstream Americans appreciate about the United States is that we can dare to be different. We revel in our individuality and feel entitled to every form of freedom. Does this not apply to minorities?” asked one audience member. Heidi Beirich replied, “Yeah, well, I think it can apply less. It’s a very good point that you’re making, actually.”
Even in America, the LGBTQ community is used to living a closeted and very precarious lifestyle prone to violence. Transgender people probably have fewer protections than most, “and rare is the day that there’s justice for them. It just doesn’t happen,” said Beirich.
Self-hatred sometimes underlies hate crimes. This is an aspect of homophobia and transphobia that is rarely discussed.
The two other films in this series concern a black man who was run over by a truckload of white teenagers and a mass shooting involving a gay woman. The latter crime takes place in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is generally thought of as being very liberal!
Henry Schleiff ended the panel by again praising the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “So maybe justice bends a little slowly, but it ultimately gets there,” he said in closing.