[Ed. note: When this column was named "Profiles in Courage" three years ago, the point was clear that we wanted to focus on young people who were out and making a difference in the world. All of profiles to date have been people who have been advancing the gay rights debate forward by being out, filing lawsuits and sharing their stories. This month, we are faced with a new challenge, a profile of a young gay man who opposes hate crimes legislation, gay marriage, workplace rights and gays in the military. While many people will not agree with these opinions, it still takes courage to go against the grain and speak your mind. Oasis has prided itself on our inclusiveness, which we will now extend to this month's profile.]
Tom Beddingfield has appeared in this section before. In February of this year, he was profiled for speaking out against the harassment of his boyfriend in high school. Harassment that led his boyfriend, Brandon, to kill himself. In the first profile, he was sensitive and emotional, sharing the pain of a lost love.
Since then, Beddingfield -- a Titanic historian -- has been in the public eye a lot as a result of the frenzy around the film. He was one of the crew that dove to the Titanic this summer to recover part of the ship's hull. He has also appeared on Oprah, Letterman, Entertainment Tonight and other shows to talk about the Titanic. At present, Beddingfield is in San Diego serving as a technical consultant on a Titanic spoof movie from the creators of the Naked Gun series.
Beddingfield was asked to speak at the recent Washington D.C. rally for Matthew Shepard, which featured Matt's friends, Ellen DeGeneres, Helen Hunt and other gay leaders. He was asked to relate Brandon's death and draw parallels to Matthew's life also ending too soon.
Beddingfield was torn up over Matthew's death. He had actually planned to go to the hospital to offer support to the family, until he learned Matthew died. He then planned to attend the funeral. Instead, he found himself in Washington D.C. at a speaker's podium, where he resolved not to be led by his emotions, but by what he thought was right.
"I had a lot of emotions around Matt's death. It really upset me, and I had so much animosity against his killers, just praying they would get the death penalty. I was thinking, this is a harsh thing, it's America's fault, the stigma... but then I had to look at the reality of it and go with what was best for the country," he said. "That's when I decided I could not support the Hate Crimes bill. Even though the crime is very dramatic and very hateful and very brutal, I still have to go with my beliefs. I couldn't let emotions tear me away from what I knew was morally right.
Beddingfield noted that most of the speakers said they needed legislation to make what happened to Matthew illegal.
"When I was listening to it, they were talking about things we already have. They're saying we need a law to make this illegal, but the reality is we have a law that says what they did to Matt was illegal," he said. "If we didn't, his killers would not be on trial and facing possible execution for what they did. I believe that hate crimes exist, I don't think having a stiffer penalty or making a hate crime an issue in a trial is beneficial. But, hate crimes do exist."
Beddingfield recalls saying something similar to this at the podium:
This a tragedy what happened. I'm not a stranger to gay youth violence. I've seen it before. I've seen homophobia and what the outcome can be, and it's very harsh and brutal. I am very much against what they did to him. It's not fair. But, everybody is now starting to talk about what we can do to prevent it again, what needs to be done. Some people are blaming the Republicans for their stance against gay rights. Some people are blaming the White House. But the reality is, nothing could have prevented Matt's death except if Matt didn't go to that bar that night. If he didn't go to that bar, he'd be alive today. That's the only thing that would have prevented it.
We already have a law that says you can't kill and you'll get the death penalty if you commit murder in the first degree. The killers are 21 years of age, most likely know the United States has a death penalty system and that the state of Wyoming has a death penalty and that didn't deter them. They didn't care. They knew that robbery was illegal, that assault was illegal, and they didn't care. Why would anybody think that if we had a law that said you can't beat up gay people, what makes them think that would have deterred them from their crime. They still would have done that. A crime is a crime is a crime. It doesn't matter why they did it. The only thing that matters is that they did it, that Matthew was 21 years old, he was in the prime of his life, a freshman in college, had everything going for him and they cut his life down. That's all that anybody should focus on. It doesn't make a crime any more severe just if there's a motive behind it.
Beddingfield said a lot of people in the crowd were booing and yelling at him, and his normal public speaking composure wasn't with him.
"I was uncomfortable. I was sweating. It was a very hard thing for me to say because I knew it was controversial, but I also wanted America to know that this is what's best," he said.
America's favorite lesbian, Ellen DeGeneres, even chastised Beddingfield when he came off-stage, he recalls.
"She said if I was going to say that, why did I even bother coming?" he said.
Beddingfield has stood by his beliefs, though.
"With a hate crime, the problem is that when you go to trial, the prosecution introduces a motive behind the crime. The jury has to look at the motive, and the defense just has to prove that motive did not exist," he said. "That's all the jury needs to hear is that they didn't know he was gay, and the defendants won't get anything, maybe a misdemeanor."
Beddingfield said the prosecution has a clear case against the killers without muddying up the testimony with hate crimes.
"Matt was completely covered in blood except his face, which was completely washed clean from the tears. That's a horrible scene and that's all the jury needs to hear. They will then hear that they found the murder weapon in the defendant's vehicle, the defendant's vehicle matched the tire tracks found at the scene, the victim's wallet was found in the possession of the defendants. That's evidence that shows they did this. You don't need to prove they did it because he's gay. That doesn't matter, it's irrelevant."
Beddingfield also defends the Republican Party, whose anti-gay stance many charged created a hostile climate in the country.
"There isn't a single Republican out there -- not one -- not Bob Dole, George Bush, Trent Lott, who will tell you Matt's killers don't deserve the death penalty," he said.
Most of Beddingfield's quotes read like some slick Religious Right pundit, except that he truly believes what he's saying. Many times, he discusses gays as merely a "minority group" without a hint of irony that he's referring to the group in which he belongs.
When discussing why gays shouldn't be allowed to marry, Beddingfield cites other groups, such as NAMBLA, incest and bestiality groups as groups that would also try to get marriage rights as a result of them being given to gays.
"We, the Republicans, and several organizations feel we have to draw the line somewhere. It has to stop somewhere, and if this one minority group that's very underrepresented [Ed. -- that would be the gay people, btw], if we give in to them and give them what they want, then the next minority will say we want the same rights, too.
"NAMBLA will come out next and say we want the right to marry kids. People from the South will want to marry their sisters and brothers. But we've got to draw the line somewhere, and if we give into gays, we'll have to give into them."
And I swear I've heard Pat Robertson say this, but again it comes out of Beddingfield's mouth: "Marriage is a sacred institution that's been around for thousands of years. We can't alter it just to represent this one population just because they want it."
Beddingfield doesn't think this stance speaks against homosexuality, just with gays trying to get "special rights" (his words)
"I think being gay is OK. I'm openly gay. I'm happy with myself. I don't want to be straight," he said. "But, the thing is I don't think I should be given a special right because I'm a minority and what I'm saying is if gays are allowed to be married then we have to legalize all the other minorities that want representation.
"Marriage is not a right and it's never been a right. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say you have the right to get married. It is a privilege that's given to everybody."
And, he says all gays can get married if they want to marry the opposite sex.
"It's unfortunate we can't see gays get married. I'd eventually like to marry a guy I'm in love with, but the problem is that I can't support it if I have to support all these other minority causes."
Beddingfield amazingly thinks the sodomy laws should be overturned, though. He even admitted that he has potentially broken some sodomy laws.
As a service to Oasis readers, I will spare the details of why Beddingfield thinks Clinton is a bad president and his explanation about how the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal will resolve. One curious aspect, though, is that Beddingfield is actually friends with Monica, whom he met at a fundraiser in 1997 when she was a White House intern.
"She's very nice and America has really turned it around as to what she really is. She was not meaning to attack the president," he said.
And since I had always hoped my name would be a synonym for fellatio, I asked Beddingfield how Monica is holding up under the pressure of the title.
"I'm sure it's not something she likes, being known as the slut of the country," he said. "She was in love with the president, though."
And while Monica had some trouble in the workplace, Beddingfield has his own views of how homosexuality should be addressed in the workplace.
"My belief is gays just don't need to come out at work. The bosses won't care, no one will care, if you just don't say anything," he said. "It's a controversial subject and it doesn't belong at work. As long as you're doing your job description, it shouldn't matter."
Beddingfield explains that it is similar to employers not hiring known felons because it would make them uncomfortable.
"A company cannot run effectively if there's a controversy," he said. "People are homophobic, and there's no law that says you can't be homophobic."
And if he supports "don't ask, don't tell" in the workplace, you can imagine that he's also fine with it in the military.
"It shouldn't be a witch hunt, but the military is a very serious business, and that I do agree with."
Beddingfield said he wants gay youth to realize that they are not "second-class citizens," as many gay activists proclaim. Everyone in this country is equal.
"You have the same rights as all other Americans, and no matter what the HRC, the gay and lesbian community centers or your congressman are telling you, no one can threaten you for being gay. No one can kill you for being gay. It's against the law. You are protected. If you're in school and are being harassed, it's against the law."
He also thinks the gay community is steering itself down a dangerous path.
"I think forcing Americans to accept homosexuality and to deal with it is very dangerous and detrimental to the gay community. It can cause a lot more animosity," the Titanic historian said.
And, just remember, this is from a man who knows what happens to ships that go down the wrong path.