An 18 year old boy who was gay, and had Asperger’s syndrome, a speech impairment and epilepsy recently died to do significant burns. How did he get these burns? A 20-year-old man set him on fire at a birthday party. This article, “Steven Simpson, Gay British Teen, Dies After Being Set On Fire At Birthday Party”, from the Huffington Post both saddened and angered me.
As a dare at the party last June, the boy stripped down to his underwear and was covered in tanning lotion that the older boy then set on fire. Obviously the teenager has significant burns and was emotionally damaged by what he thought would be a fun activity with “friends”. The disable teenager recently passed away due to the horrendous injuries.
Hate crimes have been going on for years as members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community are targeted. Whether or not you support gay rights–this scenario sure sounds like a hate crime correct? A bully deciding to set another person on fire simply because he is gay and has disabilities that he cannot control? And the boy’s burned body is found with scribbled hate messages on it? However, this situation was not deemed as a hate crime against the boy but only homicide since the boy later died from the burns. Therefore, the perpetrator will only have 3-4 years in jail.
This outraged me. How can our society look at this and be able to let this crime go with a slap on the wrist? The prosecuting attorney claims that the boy was not meant to be killed, but that is a pathetic excuse. No one sets another life on fire and watches it burn but expects that they will be completely fine afterward. No matter what ideas you support about sexuality and disabilities- we have people in our society setting each other on fire over differences. Not only is it embarrassing, but unacceptable for it to be passed by as “it was an accident, he didn’t mean to kill him”; this is especially incomprehensible when it involves young adults who should know better. Clearly, if you have the audacity to set a life on fire you are intentionally doing it to kill that person because there is no significant way that person will come out perfectly fine.
To me, the evidence is there. The poor boy probably had no idea about what was really going on, wanted to fit in and was taken advantage of. The older boy clearly knew he had social/physical problems and intentionally tried to hurt him while leaving obvious proof written on his body. This isn’t a prank that went wrong (as the article mentions), this is a clear hate crime against the LGBT community and all disabled people in the world. No sane person thinks of deep burns as a prank. And society shouldn’t either. We need to get our act together and start recognizing these problems and holding people responsible instead of letting them off easy. The article also mentions that the 3-4 year sentence would be the same if it was considered a hate crime- but isn’t that still too lenient? Only 3-4 years after another person bullies you, or your child or sibling? Is that all your physical and mental health is worth? People are worth much more than that- and let’s admit that if we increased the punishment it would defer people from committing the acts.