When a radical left-wing gunman named James Hodgkinson opened fire at a baseball field on June 14 and wounded Steve Scalise and several other people, it was Crystal Griner and David Bailey, two Capitol police officers on Scalise’s security detail, who took down Hodgkinson. This was despite the fact that Griner and Bailey were among the people wounded. And as has been getting a lot of attention lately, Griner and Bailey are black, and Griner is gay. And as some people have pointed out–much to the anger of many conservatives–Scalise has a very anti-gay record. Like many conservative politicians, Scalise backed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage until the momentum started shifting toward gay rights. After that, he began advocating that states should be allowed to decide the issue for themselves, so that states such as Louisiana could continue banning gay marriage. According to the Washington Blade, “Earning a ‘0’ on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard, Scalise voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protection legislation. In the last Congress, Scalise was among the 130 co-sponsors of the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal ‘religious freedom’ bill seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
As a member of House Republican leadership, he’s responsible for the lack of votes on pro-LGBT legislation on the House floor. When Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment upholding President Obama’s 2014 executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, Scalise was reportedly among House leaders who convinced seven Republicans to switch their votes to ensure the measure would fail.” He was also alleged to have spoken to a white supremacist gathering in the early 2000s, a claim he did not outright deny. Nonetheless, Griner and Bailey did not for a moment let Scalise’s bigotry prevent them from risking their lives to save him.
Let me state unequivocally that I want Scalise, Griner, Bailey, and the other shooting victims, Matt Mika and Zack Barth, to make a full recovery as quickly as possible. And I am not trying to claim that because Scalise is homophobic and possibly racist, he somehow deserved to be shot. I am simply pointing out that Griner and Bailey showed a loyalty to Scalise that he has never shown to them. They risked their own lives to save the life of a man who has treated people like them with disdain. Of course, this is nothing new. Black people have fought on behalf of the United States in every war that the United States has been involved in, despite the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow. Similarly, gay people long served in the military despite first being outright banned and later forced to stay in the closet under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” not to mention being denied a slew of rights in society at large. Consider that homosexuality was illegal nationwide until the 1960s and illegal in some states until 2003. Then consider the brave service of gay and lesbian soldiers during conflicts such as World War II. Yet time after time, many people have refused to give nonwhite and LGBT law enforcement and military personnel the same respect that they give other members of law enforcement and the military. From the Continental Army using slaves to help fight the British, to African American soldiers being treated worse in the United States than German POWs, to LGBT soldiers and veterans being booed when they try to talk about discrimination, it is a tragedy as continuous as it is horrifying. Nonwhite cops and soldiers end up fighting and sometimes dying partly to protect people who treat LGBT and nonwhite Americans as second-class citizens. The same, it ought to be said, is true of female cops and soldiers. Women in law enforcement and the military are forced to endure sexism both on the job and in society at large.
Of course, every once in awhile, when it’s convenient, bigots honor people from marginalized groups who risk their lives to protect them. Griner and her wife, Tiffany Dyer, just got invited to the White House. This is despite the fact our president promised last year to consider appointing judges who could make their marriage once again illegal in some states, and Pence wants business owners to be able to refuse them service. There is no word yet on whether or not Pence attempted to persuade the couple to enter an “ex-gay ministry” or whether or not he opposes openly gay people being allowed to join law enforcement or just the military. But at the end of the day, P.R. dictates that people like Trump and Pence sometimes honor brave and individuals from groups that they normally denigrate. Perhaps Scalise will be so grateful for having his life saved that he will change positions on civil rights. Or maybe he is not self-aware enough to do that. If he is not, he is far from alone. And perhaps a white baby boomer going on a shooting spree and being stopped by two black cops will cause supporters of racial profiling to reevaluate their views. But again, I am not holding my breath.
Postscript: In my next blog post, I will be discussing racial profiling in more detail and how it relates to the Philando Castile shooting.