During the 1960s, Jesse Helms, then a TV-station executive in Raleigh, North Carolina, delivered nightly editorials decrying the "special rights" sought by participants in the civil rights movement. His opinion, he insisted, had nothing to do with racism; it was simply a matter of opposing "preferential treatment" for blacks.
Echoes of Helms' rhetoric were heard in Colorado this fall as voters on November 3 approved Amendment 2, designed to strip away legal protection for gay men and lesbians. "Our objective has never been to discriminate," said Will Perkins, head of Colorado for Family Values, the conservative group that sponsored the ballot measure. "Our position is that sexual orientation is not an acceptable criterion for special rights."
The Colorado amendment, however, had nothing to do with "special" rights. Amendment 2 repealed local bans in Denver, Boulder, and Aspen on discrimination based on sexual orientation, and bars the passage of similar laws. Protection from discrimination is not a special right--but special vigilance, as unfortunately has been shown, is required in its defense.
Immediately following the vote, gay and lesbian institutions and individuals reported an outbreak of hate violence, including broken car windows outside gay bars, bomb threats at gay bookstores and community centers, and the firing of gay workers. In all, 23 hate crimes were reported in the two weeks after the election.