Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Transgender Black Woman Murdered in Tampa, Tenth Trans Hate Killing of 2015; Where is the Cisgender Outrage?

Image by Lexie Cannes

Image by Lexie Cannes State of Trans

Tampa, Florida – The lifeless body of trans woman India Clarke (25) was found near a community center basketball court this week. Cause of death is unknown as of this writing, though her upper body bears signs of bludgeoning with a blunt instrument. Clarke is the 10th transgender person murdered this year, according to some sources. If the past experience of the transgender community is any suggestion of the real number of hate crime homicides against trans people, especially trans women of color, 10 is probably a severe undercount, just the tip of a deadly ice berg. With social outrage over the unjust deaths of so many cisgender Americans over the past year, all of it so very necessary to spur fundamental change on matters of racial injustice, the absence of outcries against the decimation of the transgender community is so obvious as to be revelatory. Where is the cisgender outrage over transphobic hate crime murders?

The story line of murders perpetrated against transgender women of color is monstrously similar. In its press release on the killing of Ms. Clarke, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), headquartered in New York City, recounted the names of the 2015 victims of transphobic hatred we currently know:

1) Papi Edwards, black transgender woman, shot to death in Louisville, Kentucky, January 9.

2) Lamia Beard, black transgender woman, shot to death in Norfolk, Virginia, January 17.

3) Ty Underwood, black transgender woman, shot to death in Tyler, Texas, January 26.

4) Yazmin Vash Payne, black transgender woman, fatally stabbed in Los Angeles, California January 31.

5) Taja Gabrielle de Jesus, latina transgender woman, stabbed to death in San Francisco, California, February 1.

6) Penny Proud, black transgender woman, shot to death in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 10.

7) Kristina Gomez Reinwald, latina transgender woman, found murdered in Miami, Florida, February 15.

8) London Chanel, black transgender women, stabbed to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 8.

9) Mercedes Williamson, anglo transgender woman, fatally stabbed in George County, Mississippi, May 30.

Two other gender-non conforming persons have been murdered during the calendar year, anglo Bri Golec, stabbed  to death in Akron, Ohio, and black Maya Hall, shot to death in Fort Meade, Maryland. The NCAVP is still investigating these killings to determine whether a transphobic motive lay behind their deaths.

NCAVP spokesperson Chai Jindasurat, decried India Clarke’s savage murder:

“India Clark’s death is a tragedy, which is made worse by egregious misgendering by local police and media. We must honor India Clarke, and all of the transgender women, especially teams women of color,” Jindasurat continued, “killed in this epidemic by supporting the leadership of transgender women, public awareness and respect campaigns, speaking out against this violence, and protecting transgender people from harassment and discrimination.” 

Trans blogger Lexie Cannes notes the pattern playing out in Ms. Clarke’s homicide, made familiar by the well rehearsed outline of reports of transphobic murder in the mainstream media. She echoes the troubling findings of bloggers Monica Roberts and Carlos Maza who misguidedly, perhaps intentionally misidentifying the gender expression and identity of the victims as “men in dresses.” Cannes quotes Maza at some length:

“The cycle at its worst seems to be the same: a transgender person is found dead,” Maza writes, “law enforcement officials fail to acknowledge the victim’s gender identity, and local news outlets follow law enforcement’s lead, misgendering the victim despite often knowing how the victim wished to be publicly identified.

But failing to report the way Clarke is publicly identified,” Maza continues, “deprives audiences of the information they need to understand her death in the broader context of violence against transgender women. In instances where misgendering is intentional, it’s a statement that her gender identity is little more than a deceptive costume, not worthy of being taken seriously.” 

So, where is the outrage from cisgender activists, ministers, and other citizens? Sadly and tellingly, the larger context of the way transgender victims of hate violence are misidentified and hammered in the mainstream press betrays a cultural dehumanization unworthy of the American spirit. Are trans people, especially trans people of color, partakers of a common humanity with us all? Until cisgender America faces their own transphobia, the brutality and dehumanization of our sisters and brothers will continue. This, in the opinion of the Unfinished Lives Project Team, is every bit as wrong as racism, and is racisms secret ally in staining the American conscience.

July 23, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, cisgender people, Florida, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Arc of Justice Bends Like A Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams

Dallas, Texas – To contribute to the spiritual discussion about the events of this June: the outrageous attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the victory of Marriage Equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, here is the text of my Sunday sermon for 6/28/15:

The Arc of Justice Bends Like a Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams
A Sermon for Pride Sunday, June 28, 2015
The New Church – Chiesa Nuova
Dallas, Texas

Psalms 85:7-12
Hebrews 11:29-40
Luke 4:18-20

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.” These words are among the phrases of Friday that are imprinted into my consciousness and yours, too, I suspect. You will recognize them as the conclusion of the Majority Opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision striking down the bans that forbade marriage to millions of same-sex Americans in 14 states, including our own. “It is so ordered . . .”

But these are not the only words that won’t go away from my mind. Words from cries, and joyous shouts, and eulogies, from late last week and from the recent events of our lives that have culminated upon us this very June like “a thunderbolt” as our President, the Honorable Barack Obama said when he made his historic remarks in the White House Rose Garden celebrating the victory of Marriage Equality for all 50 states.
Here are some other stunning words our President used just this past Friday, 6/26/15, the same day LGBTQ people and our allies danced on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, and at the crossroads of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs right here in Dallas. Immediately following his Rose Garden remarks, he boarded Air Force One to fly down to Charleston, SC beside our First Lady Michelle, to eulogize slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight members of his flock, cut down by hatred in a Bible Study/Prayer Meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Do you feel the whiplash of it? Having to deliver words of celebration at one moment, and then words appropriate to the outrageous deaths of Black Americans because of race hatred, as best we can tell—All in the same day?
Our President tried to make sense of it all from the stage of the University of Charleston, to find a way forward for the nation:

“Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete” he said. “But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
“Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.”

President Obama continued:

“To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
“Reverend Pinckney once said, ‘Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.’”

History, you see, is hard to make sense of when you are in the middle of it, like we are this morning—When we are struck by a two-sided thunderbolt of history, one side damp with tears of joy for decades of struggle to win against homophobia and heterosexism for LGBTQ human equality, but the other side wet with the tears of unfathomable grief because of America’s “original sin,” the sin of racism.

You and I and our President are not alone in trying to make sense of it all, trying to sort out our emotions about the events of 6/26/15. On Friday, my friend Professor John Blevins who teaches at Emory University put it this way on his Facebook wall:

“Not sure” Dr. Blevins wrote, “how to temper the feelings of the Supreme Court ruling with the reminder that today in Charleston, SC there is a funeral for an African-American man and local church pastor who would have supported and cheered this ruling were he not gunned down in cold, calculated, hate-filled violence. We progress and regress. But I want to believe– have to believe– that Love Wins. Yes, the Supreme Court ruling offers some sense of that but so does the testimony of Reverend Pinckney– both in his life and in his death. We should remember that.”

Whatever else and whoever else we are this morning, we are the Church, and we are called upon to remember our heartbreaks, to dance with our dreams in our hearts around the Table of Jesus Christ, and to learn with appreciation from the history of others. We are the New Church, the Chiesa Nuova, founded on the memories and merits of St. Francis of Assisi. We are straight, bi-, and gay, trans- and cisgender, multiracial and multilingual, and we share something vital and living with Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston. We have been given a common task: to speak the truth alongside one another until all the bad news comes to redemption in the Amazing Grace of God. We, Mother Emanuel and New Church together, are called by the God of Life to remember the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, and to set all events of celebration and sorrow in the context of a future in which LOVE WINS, not just for some of us, but for ALL of us!

The Church must engage the events of these jumbled up, joyous and heartbreaking days, and re-tell them to a hurting society both in words and deeds of effective love. We are the storytellers! Who else besides the Community of Faith remembers and re-tells the stories of the justice prophets of Israel and the evangelists of the early Christian movement? Who else remembers and re-tells the stories of the Underground Railroad, and Jim Crow, and the struggle for women’s right to vote and equal pay; who else remembers and re-tells the breathtaking saga of the time of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and the first brave voices of the sexual minority here in North Texas, of the lesbian Lavender Menace, and the life-and-death struggle against HIV/AIDS, of Harvey Milk’s famous call, “I’m Here to Recruit You!”, and of the first legal “I Do’s” spoken on the steps of the Records Building right here in Dallas between Lesbian couples and Gay couples set on letting the whole Lone Star State know that LOVE Wins!

If others want to tell the stories of our times in differing ways, let them. We welcome the stories and the histories of others, and we must grow in appreciation of those histories because we are all members of the One Human Family. But, in humility, and with our knees trembling from awe and joy, we of the Community of Faith must continue the tradition of telling the Good News in the midst of a world were goodness is not so obvious an outcome at all. Like our grieving sisters and brothers at Mother Emanuel, in English, Español, and the other tongues of our languages, the Church has this task: to interpret the events of everyday life, great and small, in the harmonies of the love of God. It is our responsibility to pull together the threads of the rulings of the Supreme Court, and the horror of the slayings at home and abroad, and to weave out of them a roadmap of justice and mercy so the human race can see a way forward in the storm, and find rivers of cool water in dry places—sweet destinies of deliverance and Amazing Grace for all the sorts and conditions of our fragile humankind.

Put succinctly, it is our mandate to follow the example of Jesus the Christ: to read aloud the ancient stories of God’s people, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, freedom for all those oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind, and then to roll up the scroll, and announce: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Justice KennedyDid you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that you would live into a world where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be repealed? Where DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8 would be overthrown? Where Marriage Equality would become the law of the land in all 50 states of the USA, and Justice Anthony Kennedy could pen these words on behalf of the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court?

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Did you ever imagine that 150 years after the Civil War, that 52 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, and 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, you would still be living in a world where young Latino/Latina “Dreamers” are still in peril of being deported from the land that has become their home, where a black teenage girl in a bikini could be wrestled down and choked at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, where we must confront that reality over and over again that, no matter what we say, black, brown, female, and transgender lives mean less than white male lives? Or that the peaceful welcome of a church sanctuary could be desecrated by the cold, violent hand of hatred?

Well, that is the world we have, isn’t it? Filled with joys and sorrows. Where by the grace of God we must rededicate ourselves to bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice in this time and place we have been given. That is what the Community of Faith must be about in our lifetime. President Obama, standing squarely in the tradition of the Black Church, concluded his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, saying:

“…History can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
“That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls ‘that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.’
“That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

Since Love Wins, since Love must win for everybody, let us throw a party where everyone is invited to celebrate with us, where everybody is somebody and nobody is nobody, and then roll up our sleeves and get to the work at hand!
Love Wins! Thanks be to God! Amen.

June 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Brite Divinity School, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Justice Anthony Kennedy, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Mother Emanuel AME Church, President Barack Obama, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Laramie’s LGBT Decision Awakens Us

Matthew_Shepard-ART-SM

Matthew Wayne Shepard, artwork copyright by Peeler/Rose Designs.

After 17 years of dogmatic slumber and denial over the grisly murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, Laramie’s City Council passed the state’s first broad LGBT protection ordinance. Council members voted 7–2 to prohibit discrimination in the city limits against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity in matters of housing, employment, and access to public facilities such as cafés. Like Rip Van Winkle rousing from a long sleep, the city that still only memorializes Matt with a plaque on a park bench awakened and finally addressed its phobias head-on. What took place in Laramie on May 12 was not just a one-off decision. It has implications for the rest of the nation, too.

Like Laramie, no town wants to admit that a bias-driven hate crime took place there. Locales loathe bad publicity. They fear being labeled. So, they deny the problem in a variety of ways. They indulge in blaming the victim. Or sweep the killing under the rug. Or blame “outside agitators” and “other mitigating factors.” The common refrain is “Things like that just don’t happen here.”

But they do happen in American hometowns everywhere, all the time. The only healthy, sane thing for a city or town to do when a murder marks a place forever is to own up to it squarely, and do something to address the root causes that allowed prejudice to take root in the first place. Ask Dallas. Or Memphis. Or Birmingham. You surely can’t make the facts go away. You can and you must rebuild your civic reputation by ensuring that justice and equality for all your citizens take the place of dehumanization and denial. Laramie started that painful process by doing the right thing last Wednesday night.

For seventeen long years, local townsfolk and university students of conscience lobbied Laramie’s elected officials, tried to reason with them, and stood up to their xenophobic neighbors. They opposed the powerful anti-human rights forces that were invested in re-writing the story of the nighttime abduction and brutal beating of slim, slight Matt Shepard by two local men gone bad that unfolded before the world in the Albany County Courthouse. Too many gay people saw no evidence that anything would ever change in Laramie, so they packed up their talent and their verve for living, and left town one or two at a time. Though LGBT people and their allies lost the argument year after year, those who remained persisted in pointing out that the perpetrators, Henderson and McKinney, weren’t “outsiders.” They were homegrown products of Laramie public schools, men who grew up in the same city as Pioneer Days and UW Cowboy Pride. Matt Shepard was not to blame for his own death, no matter what deniers contended, they argued. After losing a close vote to enact a similar statewide discrimination law in February, Wyoming Equality and local advocates mounted the effort that finally passed the first broadly inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance in the “Equality State.” Its provisions will go into effect before the end of the month.

This plaque on a UW park bench is the sole memorial to Matthew Shepard currently in Laramie, Wyoming.

This plaque on a UW park bench is the sole memorial to Matthew Shepard currently in Laramie, Wyoming.

No victim of hate crime ever “had it coming.” No family ever deserves the horror and grief Judy, Dennis, and Logan Shepard have suffered. The public outcry raised by Matt’s death roused other states and municipalities long before Laramie woke up to what happened at the Fireside Lounge and on that cold, high ridge with the buck fence above town. In October 2009, President Obama signed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, saying, “We must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits – not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear.” Now, Laramie transgender high school student Rihanna Kelver can more confidently go about her life, relieved that she will not lose her job because of how she identifies, one of the first practical results of this ordinance.

Throughout the rest of the country, however, hate crime violence against LGBT Americans is hitting historic highs. With widespread publicity concerning the cause célèbre of the day, Marriage Equality, attacks on vulnerable persons, especially gay men and transgender people of color, are alarmingly on the rise. Thinly veiled efforts to turn back the clock on equality cloaked in the garb of “religious freedom,” the RFRAs, are proliferating around the nation. Seeking to stall justice, retrogrades like Texas are trying to enact pre-emptive laws inoculating the states against a possible Supreme Court decision striking down the bans against same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, like Laramie prior to Wednesday night’s anti-discrimination victory, the rest of the nation seems to have drifted back into a Rip Van Winkle coma while innocent LGBT people by their thousands face brutalization and harm in towns and cities every succeeding year. Laramie, the longtime hold out for LGBT protections, has awakened to its responsibility for its most vulnerable residents. If Laramie can do it, after so many years of misdirection, denial, and historical revisionism, surely the rest of us must wake up to our responsibilities, as well.

Justice must bloom in the thousands of urban and rural settings where everyday Americans live and work. It is high time for all forms of heterosexism and homophobia to be put on notice that hate is not an American value. Local advocates must press their elected officials to pass anti-discrimination laws and make them stick. One of the most encouraging signs of this awakened determination to do right by everybody is the Golden Rule attitude of Laramie resident Mike Sumner who said during public speak out time before the City Council vote, “As a Christian I do sin when I fail to follow the loving and compassionate example of Jesus Christ,” he said. “And I believe that a vote against this ordinance is the same as throwing the first stone.”

Drop the stones in your hand, America. Laramie has shown us how to do it.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, University of Wyoming, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay Men Savagely Beaten in Manhattan Restaurant

After peppering a gay couple with homophobic slurs, an assailant beats the men with a wooden chair.

After peppering a gay couple with homophobic slurs, an assailant beats the men with a wooden chair.

New York City, New York – What began as a celebratory drink in a NYC BBQ restaurant concluded horrifically when a patron attacked two gay men with a wooden chair after barraging them with homophobic slurs. The Advocate reports that the gay couple, Jonathan Snipes, 32, and Ethan York-Adams, 25, dropped in to Dallas BBQ to toast Cinco de Mayo with margaritas Tuesday night when the assault took place. Snipes told investigators that he was texted around 11 p.m. that a member of his family had died suddenly, and as he was hastily exiting the premises with York-Adams, he accidentally toppled over a drink belonging to another customer. The heavy set baldheaded customer spat out slurs against the couple, allegedly saying, “White faggots! Spilling drinks!” 

Snipes took exception to the slur, and called on the man not to use antigay language toward his friend and himself, at which point the angry customer lept to his feet and assaulted Snipes. The New York Daily News reports that the assailant punched Snipes to the floor, and then kicked him in the head and spine, shouting, “Take that, Faggot!” Other customers and restaurant staff parted the brawling assailant from the couple, who retreated to get away, when the bearded, baldheaded attacker launched into the two gay men, beating them over the head with a wooden chair. A bystander, Isaam Sharef, captured the savage beating on video, which may be watched here. The room filled with screams and confusion. A staffer can be heard shouting out, “Stop, stop, stop!”  York-Adams, who was helping his partner to a seat following the initial attack, was knocked to the floor. Snipes collapsed into a booth, stunned by the blow. Customers attempted to restrain the assailant, who rushed out of the restaurant.

(L to R) York-Adams and Snipes (Facebook photo).

(L to R) York-Adams and Snipes (Facebook photo).

Police say that Snipes and York-Adams absorbed at least one heavy blow from the chair, but declined to go to hospital, because Snipes said he had no health insurance to cover the costs of treatment. Snipes said that the blows from the baldhead, bearded man snapped the cartilage in his ear, bruised his head, and knocked one of his teeth loose. Snipes told DNAinfo“These guys attacked us specifically because they knew we weren’t their type of people. It was disgusting.” 

The NYPD is still investigating this incident, but have declined to call it a hate crime, as of yet. Various sources say that the obviousness of the bigotry displayed by the attacker will mean authorities will have to classify this assault as yet another anti-LGBTQ hate crime in the Big Apple.

Chelsea, the location of the restaurant, has been believed to be a safe neighborhood for lesbians and gay men. The old “common wisdom” will have to be revised, now. The violent attack makes it abundantly clear that homophobic assaults against LGBT people are by no means a thing of the past.

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Chelsea, Cinco de Mayo, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, New York, New York City, NYPD, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Heartland Terrorist/Homophobe Threatens Gay Bar With Anthrax

Eric Reece Wiethorn, admitted sending hate letter purporting to be filled with deadly anthrax to a gay bar as "God's judgement" against LGBTQ people. [Ames PD photo]

Eric Reece Wiethorn, 49, admitted sending a hate letter purportedly filled with deadly anthrax to a gay bar as “God’s judgement” against LGBTQ people. [Ames PD photo]

Ames, Iowa – Last Thursday, April 9, police officials announced the arrest of a man who sent a threatening letter that purported to be filled with anthrax to a local gay bar, according to the Des Moines Register. Police arrested 49-year-old Eric Reece Wiethorn of Ames, and charged him with first-degree harassment for sending the letter filled with white power to the Blazing Saddles Bar, forcing it to close. Police, firefighters and an emergency medical containment team in hazmat suits rushed to the scene. The white substance turned out to be harmless, non-toxic Gold Bond powder, but the threat sent a shock wave through the community, especially to LGBTQ Iowans.

This is not the first time the bar has been targeted by threats, but the owner, Robert Eikleberry, acknowledged that the anthrax bluff and accompanying note has been by far the most drastic. Eikleberry told the Register that Blazing Saddles, one of the oldest gay bars in operation in the state of Iowa, has been “the biggest target in town” for years. He described his reaction to the incident to EDGEBoston“I opened it up, white powder popped out, and it was an inflammatory letter. ‘Hate fags, gonna blow this up, gonna blow that up, gonna roast you all after pride’,” he said.

As Gay Star News reports the story, Eikleberry elaborated on terrorist-like threats Wiethorn aimed at him and the patrons of his bar. The message of the letter was, in part, “It’s time for all the faggots and dykes to die on Capital Pride night! Your secret enemies are going to blow up your destination for going to hell tonight, and we’re going to eat roast faggot the following morning. This is your punishment for sinning against God, and hopefully you’ll die from the anthrax on this letter!” Eikleberry went on to say that when the white powder came out at him from the envelope, he called the police immediately. “I opened the mail up thinking it was a thank you letter, it turned out to be a hate letter,” he said.

Police swiftly launched an investigation into the terror threat against the bar and the LGBTQ community, and identified Wiethorn as their top suspect. Under interrogation, Wiethorn admitted sending the letter. He is being held in the Polk County Jail on $2000 bond pending trial.

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anthrax threat, Anti-LGBT hate crime, death threats, Gay Bars, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Iowa, LGBTQ, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Inclusive Methodist Church Barred from Easter Parade Because of “Offensive” Message

Methodist Laywomen Suzie Bell says barring her church from the Easter Parade was an act of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Methodist Laywomen Suzie Bell says barring her church from the Easter Parade was an act of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas – Controversy over the acceptance of LGBT people in Arkansas is splitting the Christian community in Eureka Springs. Organizers of the local “Celebrate Jesus” Easter parade, who initially permitted First United Methodist Church to participate in this year’s event, barred the church a week prior to Easter. Why? Because, reports Ozarksfirst.com, the Methodist Church was to carry a banner that read, “Jesus Loves All” — a message deemed “offensive” by parade officials.

Church member Suzie Bell told Ozarksfirst reporters that her church’s exclusion was because of their reconciling stance towards LGBT people. “They wanted to know what our banner was going to say, and it said “Jesus loves all. They had decided that they did not want us in the parade, and that we weren’t welcome,” Bell said. “[The negative decision] was based purely on our love and acceptance of the LGBT community.”

The “Celebrate Jesus” parade has been a community staple for three years now, according to local news outlet in Rogers, KNWA. When reporters questioned parade organizer Laura Nichols about why the Methodist Church was barred from the parade, she refused to speak with them, but issued a lengthy statement instead. The statement reads, in part:

“This day isn’t a day of pointing fingers or playing the blame game. This parade is to honor our Lord and Savior and for praising God for sending His only Son who willingly went to the cross, died and rose on the third day that when we repent of our sins and accept Him… Regardless of what has been stated in the papers. We do not have anything against the Methodist Church. After all my uncle was a Methodist minister. Nor do we have anything against the homosexual community.”  

Methodist Church member Bell isn’t buying it, and is troubled by the organizers’ lack of explanation. In rebuttal to Nichols’s statement, Bell said, “I’m sad, I’m sad that this is something that would divide Christians, It doesn’t seem right.” The United Methodist Church had recently become a Reconciling Congregation, meaning that the congregation publicly welcomes LGBT people and celebrates their sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.

The sign the Methodist Church prepared to carry in the parade, that Jesus loves and accepts all people, was apparently a step too far in Arkansas where controversy has raged over a thinly-veiled discriminatory “Religious Objections” law passed by the GOP dominated legislature which Governor Asa Hutchinson turned back to lawmakers at the last minute because of a storm of criticism over the law’s discriminatory intent. The Governor pressured the legislature to tweak the law just enough that the could sign it, and avoid the missteps recently disabling the Indiana RFRA. Critics of the “Arkansas Fix” say that the new language doesn’t ensure that LGBT residents of the state will be protected from religious-based bigotry.

When “Jesus Loves All” becomes “offensive” to other Christians because of their politicized right wing desire to stymie any dissent on the matter of LGBT people in their community, it isn’t the United Methodist Church who has gone a step too far. As the Arkansas Blog opines in relation to the decision to tell the reconciling Methodists they are no longer wanted in the parade, “Saying ‘Jesus Loves All’ does point a finger in the current debate. Sad to say. I think if He’d visit lepers and eat with publicans and other sinners, he might even drop a cake off at the house of a couple of lesbians. He’d certainly walk in a parade with them.” 

April 6, 2015 Posted by | Arkansas, First United Methodist Church Eureka Springs, GLBTQ, Governor Asa Hutchinson, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), religious intolerance | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rainbow Flag Burning in Omaha: Hate Crime, Stupid Mistake, or Both?

Lesbian spouses Ariann Anderson and Jess Meadows-Anderson speak with WOWT 6 reporter about their brush with hatred and flag burning in their quiet Omaha neighborhood.

Lesbian spouses Ariann Anderson and Jess Meadows-Anderson speak with WOWT 6 reporter about their brush with hatred and flag burning in their quiet Omaha neighborhood.

Omaha, Nebraska – A 23-year-old man sits in jail today, charged with felony arson for burning his Lesbian neighbors’ Rainbow flag, and for resisting arrest after he stole the flag from their porch Sunday morning. WOWT reports that Cameron Mayfield, who lives down the street within eyeshot of Ariann Anderson and Jess Meadows-Anderson, grabbed their pride flag, set it afire, and drove down the street in an act the couple says was a hate-filled attack on them.

Around midnight Sunday morning, the two spouses were awakened by what they first thought was an attempt to break in their home. They checked to see that their daughter was unharmed, and then caught sight of the source of the commotion. Looking out their window, they say a familiar van racing down the street with someone brandishing what looked like a burning stick out of the van’s driver side window. It took some moments before the Meadows-Andersons realized that the “burning stick” was once their Rainbow pride flag they flew from their porch.

The women say that the crime rattled them, not so much because they feared the act of burning their pride flag itself. It was the hate behind the act that continues to disturb them. “It goes beyond vandalism or a threat,” they said to WOWT. “That’s a direct attack.” In another interview with KETV, Jess Meadows-Anderson said, “The actual act itself isn’t terrifying or anything like that, but the intent is.”

“That flag has been hanging on the back of our house, on the back deck, for five years,” Meadows-Anderson told KETV News. “In light on the ruling that we are all waiting for, we decided to move it to the front porch as of last Thursday. This is the first time we’ve had anything like this happen.”

The ruling that they are awaiting, of course, is for the judicial system to strike down Nebraska’s same-sex marriage ban, making it legal for a same-sex couple to be married in the Corn Husker State. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Batailon issued an injunction striking down the state’s ban enacted in 2000, according to LGBTQNation. In 2011, the Meadows-Andersons were legally married in a large ceremony in Iowa, but they intend to marry in Nebraska when it becomes legal to do so.

The couple’s focus on love and happiness makes the flag theft and burning by their young neighbor all the more unsettling to them. Ariann Anderson says she has no recollection of any run in with Cameron Mayfield before, but his father told WOWT News that his son had mentioned a previous encounter with Anderson that bothered him. Mayfield’s father also said that the night before his son burnt the flag, the young man was drinking heavily and dwelling too much on losing his job.

The Lesbian couple say they almost feel sorry for their young neighbor, since this felony will follow him for a long time, and complicate his life. But, on the other hand, they also say that this act of discord and hate makes them wonder who else out there has it in for them and their family. Rather than be intimidated by the attack on their personhood, the couple has replaced the destroyed Rainbow flag with an even larger on that now proudly waves from their front porch in the same bracket the other one occupied before Sunday morning.

The good news in all of this is that the Omaha police acted quickly, and within 45 minutes they had located Mayfield’s van and made the arrest. Though the District Attorney has not yet said that this incident was a bias-motivated crime, police are investigating as if it were one. Mayfield’s father, on the other hand, says that he can’t imagine that his son would act out of hatred against neighbors who live only 10 houses down the street.

In the meantime, the Meadows-Andersons have the more pressing problem of explaining to their daughter why this happened on their quiet street. And Cameron Mayfield awaits trial for the charge of 2nd degree felony arson.

Was this an anti-LGBT hate crime, or a stupid mistake under the influence of alcohol? We at Unfinished Lives Blog suspect it is pretty much equally both. Anti-LGBTQ hatred is far from over in this country, no matter what surveys may say. People in Omaha know that, now.

March 3, 2015 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Arson, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbians, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Nebraska, Omaha, Rainbow flag, Rainbow flag burning, vandalism | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transwoman Murdered in East Texas; Transphobic Hate Crime Suspected

Ty Lee Underwood, 24, shot to death in a suspected transphobic hate crime in Tyler, Texas.

Ty Lee Underwood, 24, shot to death in a suspected transphobic hate crime in Tyler, Texas.

Tyler, Texas – The Dallas Voice and multiple Texas news sources report that a 24-year-old transgender woman was shot to death January 26 in Tyler, an East Texas city 90 miles southeast of Dallas. Police detectives have few leads on the murder of Ty Lee Underwood, and none of them are substantial, according to KYTX Channel 19, the local CBS affiliate.

Tyler Police spokesperson, Detective Andy Erbaugh said that a woman called 911 early Monday morning to report that her children heard shots fired in the Twenty-fourth Street area of North Tyler. Investigators arrived to find Ms. Underwood dead at the scene. She was either in or near her automobile at the time shots were fired at her, and three of them found their mark. She tried to escape her attacker(s) by driving off, when the auto got stuck in a grassy area, according to Erbaugh. Her vehicle had jumped several curbs and had broken off one of its mirrors, finally colliding with a telephone pole. Tyler Police are seeking help from the public to apprehend those responsible for Ms. Underwood’s death. “We will follow any leads that come in, we will follow them completely because this was a senseless murder,” Erbaugh said.

Ty Underwood was a nursing assistant at a local rest home facility, and had been recently accepted by the nursing program at Kilgore College in Longview, Texas, according to The Advocate.

While investigators are not publicly speculating about a motive for the murder, Ms. Underwood’s friends suspect that her killing was a hate crime targeting her for being a transgender woman. Her roommate, Coy Simmons, said, “This has to be a hate crime, this has to be a hate crime, nothing else because that was an upstanding person with a good heart.” Simmons went on to describe his friend as well regarded throughout the community. “She was lovely, just a lovely person. Very real, down to earth person who didn’t deserve this, did not deserve this at all,” he said to KYTX reporters.

Transgender rights advocates throughout the region are angered and on high alert, following Ms. Underwood’s brutal shooting. Leaders of the East Texas PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and TAG (Tyler Area Gays) are calling on police to bring this case to a swift, decisive conclusion. North Texas transgender activist Nell Gaither, President of the Trans Pride Initiative, says everyone in the Metroplex LGBT community should be aware that the level of violence against trans people is alarmingly on the rise. Ms. Underwood’s murder is the 15th homicide of a trans person of color since June of last year. Ms. Gaither posted on Facebook, “The increase in violence is really disturbing. And this is just the murders. If there is an increase in murder, there is likely an increase in harassment, assault, sexual assault, and other violence as well.”

Should this murder prove to be an anti-LGBT hate crime as suspected, it will continue a string of bias-related violence in Tyler commencing with the horrendous slaying of Nicolas West in October 1993. West, 23 at the time of his murder, was kidnapped at a Tyler city park, then driven out to a remote area of Smith County where he was force to strip and kneel in a clay pit where he was tortured and finally shot to death, as reported by Unfinished Lives Blog. The medical examiner’s report found West had been shot 15 times. It took seventeen years for Tyler to recognize West and acknowledge the injustice done to him. In 2010 a plaque was belatedly placed in the park where he was abducted. Perhaps local outrage will mount sufficiently that Ty Underwood’s murder will not be ignored for so long in the Rose Capital of Texas.

Smith County is offering a $1,000 reward for a tip leading to the apprehension and arrest of those responsible for Ty Underwood’s murder. Anyone knowing of a lead should report it immediately to the Tyler Police hotline at (903) 531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at (903) 597-2833.

January 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, East Texas, East Texas PFLAG, GLBTQ, gun violence, LGBTQ, Nicolas West, Texas, Trans Pride Initiative, transgender persons, Transgender women, Transgender women of color, transphobia, Tyler Area Gays (TAG) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ohio Transgender Teen Commits Suicide, Cites Religious Zealot Parents’ Attempt to Control Her Life

Leelah Alcorn, 17, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Leelah Alcorn, 17, lazerprincess, took her own life by jumping in front of oncoming traffic on an Ohio Interstate Highway. Tumblr image.

Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.

Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.

The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.” 

When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”

“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
“Goodbye,
“(Leelah) Josh Alcorn” 

Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.” 

We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)

Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.

For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now. 

December 30, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Councilman Chris Seelbach, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Ohio, religious intolerance, Reparative Therapy, transgender persons, TransOhio, transphobia, Trevor Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!

Dallas, Texas – May the blessings of joy and peace be yours this Holiday Season to all our Friends and Subscribers! We look forward to a time when the worldwide LGBTQ community is free from fear and violence. We who believe in Justice cannot rest. We who believe in Justice cannot rest until it comes.

Your Unfinished Lives Project Team

Happy Holidays

December 26, 2014 Posted by | Happy Holidays, Texas, Unfinished Lives Project | , , | Comments Off on Season’s Greetings and Happy New Year!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,457 other followers

%d bloggers like this: