Down-ballot elections are still important

Down-ballot+elections+are+still+important

Faith marie Engle

In April of 2009, Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina’s 5th congressional district, which includes Wake Forest, made a statement on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that caught national attention.

During the debate on expanding hate crimes legislation to include crimes based on sexual orientation, she said the idea that the murder of Matthew Shepard was a hate crime is “a hoax.”

Matthew Sheppard, the college student who was kidnapped, beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming, was tortured because he was gay.

The two perpetrators of this crime admitted that they lured Shephard to his death by pretending to be gay. One of their defense attorneys tried the “Gay Panic Defense” because at the time, Wyoming lacked hate crime legislation which would have increased their sentences.

It was universally acknowledged that Matthew Shepard was targeted and murdered because he was gay. Therefore, his murder was a hate crime.

Rep. Foxx disagreed. While debating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, she said that Shephard’s death was a “very unfortunate incident,” but that he was killed in the commitment of a robbery, and that the idea that it was a hate crime was “a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing hate crimes bills.”

After receiving criticism on both the local and national levels, Rep. Foxx issued an apology that her use of the word “hoax” was incorrect.

She explained that she had made the statement based on two news reports which falsely claimed that the sexual orientation of the victim had nothing to do with the crime.

However, Judy Shepard, Matthew Shephard’s mother, who was in the audience during the debate, responded that Rep. Foxx was “apologizing for semantics but not her sentiment, her insensitivity or her ignorance.”

I agree.

Representative Foxx did not apologize for making a statement that I believe was meant to delegitimize hate crime legislation addressing sexual orientation.

With America reeling at the comments and ideas of Donald Trump, we cannot forget that there are important down-ballot races, such as Rep. Foxx’s, that also need and deserve the public’s attention.

This year’s election should be a referendum at all levels of government on decency, sensitivity, inclusion and the protection of all Americans.

Representative Foxx has shown that she does not value these ideals, and she should be replaced in Congress.