Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Perp Sentenced for Beating Disabled Brother and Threatening Castration to “Push the Gay Out of Him”

(L to R) Lawrence Featheroff, Jamie Smith, and Brent Disbennet abused a disabled man for "sexual thoughts about men."

(L to R) Lawrence Featheroff, Jamie Smith, and Brent Disbennet abused a disabled man for having “sexual thoughts about men” (NBC4 image).

Lancaster, Ohio – A Central Ohio man charged with threatening to slice off his disabled brother’s genitals with a butcher knife for being gay, and repeatedly punching him to “beat the gay out of him,” has pleaded guilty to felonious assault and abduction.  On Monday, Fairfield County Judge Chris A. Martin sentenced Lawrence L. Featheroff to 30 months in prison and 3 years subsequent probation for bashing, tormenting, threatening, and beating the younger brother he agreed to care for, because of loathing his brother’s “sexual thoughts about men.”  Featheroff, 38, had taken charge of his disabled younger brother, Jason A. Meyers, 26 after reports of alleged abuse in a group home for developmentally disabled people.  According to The Columbus Dispatch, Meyers is developmentally disabled, but relatively high-functioning.

Featheroff virtually imprisoned Meyers in a house where they lived with an uncle and aunt, and Featheroff’s girlfriend. He admitted to the charges back in January when police, following a tip that abuse might be going on in the house, found Meyers suffering from a concussion, multiple facial bruises including an injured eye socket, and a sprained ankle.  The older brother, a convicted ex-con who had served time for domestic violence, said that his motive for the abuse was to intimidate his younger sibling into becoming heterosexual.  Gay Star News reports that Detective Brian Lowe testified at the sentencing hearing that Featheroff claimed he “wanted to toughen him up to push the gay out of him and make him a normal person.” 

Investigators uncovered a pattern of torture, physical and psychological abuse against the younger man by Featheroff, Featheroff’s girlfriend Jamie R. Smith, and Brent M. Disbennet.  The trio routinely punched and kicked Meyers, limited him to one small meal a day, and forced him to run up and down a hill carrying a heavy wooden railroad tie.  On at least one occasion, Featheroff held a butcher knife to Meyers’s genitals and swore that he would castrate him if he didn’t stop fantasizing sexually about men.  Meyers was removed by officials to a safe location and is now living in adult foster care.

The brothers were part of a family of eight siblings by different fathers who were removed from their mother’s care for reports of neglect or abuse.  The remaining siblings have banded together in a family group of their own. One of the other brothers is believed to have tipped off police about the abuse he feared was going on in his brother’s home.  At the sentencing hearing, some of the siblings showed up to support Featheroff, and claimed that Meyers could be difficult to live with.

Smith, 40, has pleaded not guilty to complicity to commit felonious assault and abduction.  Disbennet, 25, has admitted guilt for felonious assault.  Their court dates are pending.

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Hate Crimes, Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, gay men, Ohio, Torture and Mutilation, Heterosexism and homophobia, Anti-LGBT hate crime, gay bashing, LGBTQ, GLBTQ, Disabled persons | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Four-Year-Old Boy Murdered Because His Mom Thought He Was “Gay”

Jessica Dutro (l), and boyfriend Brian Canady "systematically tortured" and killed her 4-year-old she believed was "gay."

Jessica Dutro (l), and boyfriend Brian Canady “systematically tortured” and killed her 4-year-old she believed was “gay.”

Hillsboro, Oregon – An Oregon mother was found guilty by a Washington County Circuit Court for the murder of her four-year-old-son she thought was gay.  Gay Star News reports that it took a jury less than two hours yesterday to convict Jessica Dutro for the August 2012 beating death of her child, Zachary Dutro-Boggess.  Dutro showed no emotion as the verdict was read.  She was found guilty of murder and five counts of murder by abuse and one count of second-degree assault.  The little boy’s intestines were torn in two places by the brutal beating his mother and her boyfriend, Brian Canady, inflicted on him, but the couple allowed the child to suffer for two days before calling 911 to get him some help.  As the toxic contents of his bowels had leaked into his body, Dutro had searched the internet for sex online and anger management classes, according to Oregonlive.com. Zachary was dying as he was transported to a Portland Hospital where he was put on life-support until he died on August 16.

Brian Canady had pled guilty in a pre-arranged plea deal to testify against Dutro.  He admitted to kicking Zachary.  Canady will serve 12-and-a-half years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault.

The evidence against Dutro for the slaying of her young son was damning.  Prosecutors shared Facebook messages with the court that detailed her loathing for gay people in general and her fear that her child was going to grow up to be one.  In one message, she demanded that Canady “work on” Zachary for being gay.  In another, after using a homophobic slur in reference to her child, she wrote, “He walks and talks like it.  Ugh.”  

Undoubtedly, the most damaging evidence against Dutro came from her own seven-year-old daughter.  The little girl, speaking to a counselor, said (in reference her mother and her boyfriend, Canady), “They beat my brother up, and he died. I seen them.”  Prosecutors presented evidence during the trial showing “systematic torture and abuse” used by the couple as “discipline” against Zachary, his sister, and his three-year-old brother. Zachary’s siblings were covered in bruises, and the three-year-old boy was found to have five cracked ribs.

Jessica Dutro’s sentencing has been scheduled for April 18.

April 4, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Child abuse, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Oregon, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gay Hero and Martyr Postage Stamp Design Revealed

Harvey stampWashington, D.C. – The long-awaited Harvey Milk commemorative postage stamp is now a reality, according to Linn’s Stamp News.  A black-and-white photo image of Harvey Milk will be the central feature of this non-denominated U.S. Postage “Forever” Stamp.  The stamp design includes the colors of the Rainbow Flag in six differently colored squares stacked vertically in the upper left corner.  First day of issue is planned to be May 22, 2014, Harvey Milk Day, to celebrate the San Francisco gay politician, activist, and city supervisor.  Cities likely to be chosen as first issue sites are Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California.

Milk, who is recognized throughout the world as a hero and martyr of the LGBTQ and human rights struggle, was a U.S. Navy veteran, and one of the earliest openly gay elected officials in the United States, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977.  Though gay rights was a major emphasis of his political career, Milk also championed affordable housing, city sanitation, expanded child care, and public transportation. He was shot to death in his City Hall office on November 27, 1978 by Dan White, his one-time colleague who blamed his actions on momentary insanity and disorientation from eating too many sugary desserts.  White also shot and killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone the same day.  The appearance of this commemorative stamp marks the first time a gay hate crimes murder victim has been publicly honored in this way.

EDGE on the Net reports that The stamp, likely to be issued in a pane of 20, will be used to mail a one-ounce letter regardless of when the stamp is purchased or used and no matter how future prices fluctuate.  The current value of the stamp is 49 cents.

According to SF Gate, the U.S. Postal Service selects only 20 persons per year to be honored with a commemorative stamp, out of the thousands nominated by people all over the globe, and vetted by a citizens’ advisory committee.  Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle in October 2013 at the announcement of the Postal Service’s decision to develop and issue the stamp, Milk’s nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, Stuart Milk said, “We’re excited. We think this will represent my uncle’s message, which is hope and courage and authenticity, very well.” 

April 2, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, California, gay men, GLBTQ, Harvey Milk, Harvey Milk Commemorative Postage Stamp, Harvey Milk Day, Harvey Milk Foundation, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, San Francisco, U.S. Postal Service (USPS), Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The “Negative Sainthood” of Rev. Fred Phelps

Rev. Fred Phelps, a "Nemesis Saint"?

Rev. Fred Phelps, a “Nemesis Saint”?

Topeka, Kansas –  Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle has posted a new article on Huffington Post Religion.  You can visit the original article here.  Comments and shares from the Huffington Post site are appreciated by all the readers of http://unfinishedlivesblog.com.

Rev. Fred Phelps, Founder and former Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is dead at the age of 84.  Pundits and regular people are busily dissecting the story and social significance of one of the most venom-filled ministerial lives in American history, as well as the hate-mongering “ministry” the Westboro Church became notorious for doing since 1991.  What, however, is the spiritual and theological import of the life Fred Phelps lived and the religious leadership he carried out for better than two decades?  What does Fred Phelps teach us about God, and the service of others in God’s name?

Dare we even speak of Rev. Phelps as a “negative saint,” the polar opposite of all Christ-like saints, given the carnage Phelps left in the lives of countless queer folk, slain service members, and cultural celebrities he and his flock picketed and condemned to eternal damnation?  “Saint-language” seems blasphemous when we apply it to a man’s life so rabidly committed to eliciting the worst from the human spirit and the Christian faith.  Nevertheless, every life lived has something to teach us about ourselves and God, does it not?  How can we not speak of Phelps as we must speak of ourselves and all others who stand need of the amazing grace of God?  Allow me to explain what I mean.

We remember the epithets Fred Phelps reveled in.  He made “God Hates Fags” a standard feature of modern hate speech.  We cannot erase from our minds the images of Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither, and Diane Whipple writhing in the animated hell fire that Phelps installed on his web site, complete with a background soundtrack of groans and screams to drive home the message that nothing he could imagine could be worse than to be gay and lesbian.  We will never know the number of fanatics Phelps inspired by his vileness, nor the multitude of LGBTQ people young and old who felt his criticisms crush their self-esteem and cut into their souls like knives.  But we have seen his kind before: Pharaoh, and Saul, Ahitophel, and Judas, to name but a few oldies but baddies.  Or Roy Cohn, Senator Joe McCarthy, and “Bull” Connor to name some near contemporary bad guys.  I am sure you have your own personal list. Nevertheless, Phelps and his bad seed still wind up serving God just like the best of us.  That is the theological sense Fred Phelps makes.  His “negative sainthood” shows us that the worst wickedness is, in the end, powerless before grace and mercy.

Karl Barth in his Shorter Commentary on Romans (SCR) and throughout the Church Dogmatics (KD and CD) teaches that the Pharaoh of the Exodus who held the Hebrew children in abject slavery with a hard heart ultimately found himself broken upon God, who uses the story of Pharaoh’s human darkness to witness to divine mercy, standing right alongside Moses who testifies to God’s liberating justice.  Barth writes, “Therefore Pharaoh too serves ‘the power of God’ (SCR, 73).  Barth struggled against anti-semitism and fascism with a theological strength we need to deal with homophobia and transphobia.  Like the contrasting pair of Pharaoh and Moses, Barth talks about Judas Iscariot and Jesus. Barth writes that Judas, the “rejected man,” is the best pattern he can find of a person who rejected goodness, going so far as to pronounce judgment on himself, and joining Jesus in death.  Yet every “rejected one” remains a witness to God, who in the end shows that the very amazing grace upon which the future depends is also there for the “rejected,” too.  Barth declares: “The rejected man exists in the person of Jesus Christ only in such a way that he is assumed into His being as the elect and beloved of God . . . With Jesus Christ the rejected can only have been rejected.  He cannot be rejected anymore” (KD II/2, 502; CD, 453).  Fred, too!

So, does that mean that Pharaoh, or Judas, or Fred get a pass on what they do, thanks to some sort of weak-kneed universalism, the idea that God saves everyone regardless?  Barth denied such a possibility: “The Church will not . . . preach a powerless grace of Jesus Christ or a wickedness of men which is too powerful for it. But without any weakening of the contrast, and without any arbitrary dualism, it will preach the overwhelming power of grace and the weakness of human wickedness in face of it” (KD II/2, 529; CD, 477).  Fred Phelps and Joe McCarthy and Judas Iscariot must, in the end, answer to the same justice and grace of God their words and deeds rejected when they refused to treat all of God’s children with justice and love.  The deeds of the “negative saints” of God are terrible, and it is only right that they should somehow suffer.  No one knows what Fred Phelps had to face from his excommunication or upon his sick bed.  But Fred and Joe and Judas depend upon and bear witness to the divine mercy, also—just like Moses and Mary and Martin Luther King Jr.

Even a “Nemesis Saint” like Rev. Fred Phelps is a witness to the divine mercy.  “Saint” Pharaoh, too.  And “Saint” Judas.  For all the saints, pro and con, testify to the grace and justice before which we are all alike in utter need.  No one I know shows the impotence of wickedness or the need of divine mercy more than Fred Phelps.  And in that way, at the very least, “Saint” Fred shows me something mysteriously awesome about the amazing grace of God.

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Fred Phelps, gay bashing, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Religion Page, Kansas, Karl Barth, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Special Comments, Westboro Baptist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Murdered Lesbian Couple: Did Daddy Do It?

James Cosby, father of  murdered lesbian Britney Cosby, and suspect in her murder along with her spouse, Crystal Jackson.

James Cosby, father of slain lesbian Britney Cosby, and suspect in her murder and that of her spouse, Crystal Jackson.

Galveston, Texas – The father of a lesbian has been arrested by the Galveston authorities in relation to the murder of his daughter and her spouse.  The bodies of the two young women  were dumped outside a Port Bolivar convenience store and discovered early on March 7, according to KHOU News.  James Larry Cosby, 46, father of Britney Cosby, has been arrested by Galveston Sheriff’s officers and charged with two counts of tampering with evidence related to the murder of his daughter and her life partner, Crystal Jackson.  Officials say that the charges may be shortly upgraded to murder.  KTRK 13 reports that incriminating evidence linking the murders of the lesbians led investigators to arrest Britney Cosby’s father, an ex-con and sex crime offender, and hold him in the Galveston County Jail on $500, 000 bond pending other charges.

The suspect was part of a large crowd of friends and family at a community vigil held on Wednesday for the two young women, and investigators interrogated him at the conclusion of the vigil.  “His house was a secondary crime scene, from the evidence that we saw when we went to interview him and we did recover certain parts of evidence that are here at our sheriff’s office now to be sent to the lab,” Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said to reporters.

Autopsy reports say that Britney Cosby died from blunt force trauma, and that Crystal Jackson was shot to death.  Investigators believe the two women, both 24, were killed at another location, and then transported to the quiet coastal town and left beside a garbage dumpster as if they were no better than trash.

KHOU’s reportage uncovered Cosby’s violent past.  His ex-wife Loranda McDonald said that she left him because he was so violent, and she and other Cosby family members say that he was “unhappy” about his daughter’s being a lesbian.  “He said it to me a few times that he did not like the idea of her being gay,” said McDonald.  Detectives indicated that, in addition to blood stains in Mr. Cosby’s home, they found a copy of the Holy Koran open to a passage some fundamentalist Muslims use to denigrate and condemn homosexual conduct.  Mr. Cosby is not cooperating with his interrogators, and since no motive has been officially established, no hate crime has yet been charged against him–but anti-gay hate crime charges are definitely on everyone’s mind who knew of Mr. Cosby’s animosity towards gays and lesbians.

Vigils and commemorations are being planned throughout Texas. Later in the coming week, a vigil is being organized in Dallas by c.d. kirven, a local advocate for LGBT justice and equality.  On a Facebook post, c.d. said, “I still plan to hold vigils next week and will keep those interested update! Please pray for families!”  The couple leaves a 5-year-old daughter behind to face life without her moms.

While the language of caution and hesitation is still being used in relation to this heinous crime, should the allegations against James Larry Cosby prove true, there should be little doubt of the horrific potency of heterosexism, patriarchy, and homophobia–powerful enough to invade the most sacred and intimate of human relationships, that of a father and his daughter, and to leave a small child parentless.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bludgeoning, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Koran, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Murdered Lesbian Couple Dumped Like Trash in Texas

Crystal Jackson (l) and Britney Cosby (r), both 24, found murdered beside a dumpster.

Crystal Jackson (l) and Britney Cosby (r), both 24, found murdered beside a dumpster.

Port Bolivar – Suspicions are mounting in the double murder of a Texas Lesbian couple whose bodies were discovered by a dumpster in Port Bolivar.  KHOU Houston reports that the corpses of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, both 24, were found dumped beside a trash dumpster outside of Fisherman’s Cove store by a beer deliveryman taking out garbage early on March 7.  Galveston Sheriff’s Department officials say that the young women were in a romantic relationship.  Details of the murders remain scarce, but  officials have said that each of the victims was killed in a different way, and that the lack of blood at the scene suggests they were murdered at another location, after which their bodies were taken to the dumpster site.

KTRK Eyewitness News says that the young lesbians who lived with their great grandmother had gone to Galveston for Mardi Gras. Jackson, who is described by her relatives as loving her partner Cosby, leaves behind a five year old daughter.  The child considered Cosby and Jackson as her parents.  The families of both women are desperate for answers.  They are pleading for informers to come forward and give authorities leads as to who killed their loved ones.  McDade Cosby, Britney’s sister, begged the public via KTRK, “Just come forward, just to give us closure as a family. Just come forward, ’cause we need closure at this point.” Crystal’s sister, Lequita Jackson, sobbed as she decried the murder, “What did they do to you to kill my sister? You beat my sister up and you just, you messed her up to the point she can’t breath no more.”  

Police are searching for Britney Cosby’s 2006 Silver Kia Sorrento that appears to have been stolen.  Authorities believe whoever took the vehicle may be the key to this grisly double murder.  In an update on the case, a police sketch of a prime suspect in the murders has been released to the press.

The quiet beach town is rattled and on edge from the news of the murders.  Residents say they do not feel safe.  “Unbelievable, it’s scary,” Nancy Palley, a Port Bolivar citizen, said to Huffington Post. “You know, I told my husband we are making sure to lock our doors today. I’m not coming home to find someone in my house.”  Though an explicit statement that these killings are an anti-gay hate crime, that possibility looms large in the minds of the public and law enforcement.  This case recalls the double shooting of two lesbians in Portland, Texas, a Corpus Christi area town, in 2012.  Mollie Olgin, 19, was found dead at the scene of a gunshot wound, and her partner, Mary Christine Chapa, 18, was grievously wounded but survived.  No one has been arrested in the Portland murders.

March 11, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Texas, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rush Limbaugh Demeans Matthew Shepard’s Hate Crime Murder

Attempts to demean Matthew Shepard and his murder are a Right Wing fetish.

Attempts to demean Matthew Shepard and his murder are a Right Wing fetish.

Palm Beach County, Florida  -  Conservative radio bombast Rush Limbaugh attempted to undercut the powerful anti-gay hate crime narrative of the murder of Matthew Shepard during a broadcast on Monday, February 24, from his top secret studio in Florida.  In the show, entitled “When did the ‘hate crime’ concept begin?”, Limbaugh launched a diatribe against Jason Collins’s decision to wear Number 98 on his basketball jersey in memory of Matthew Shepard who died because of anti-LGBT bias in 1998.  Collins, the first openly gay person to play on an NBA court this past Sunday for the Brooklyn Nets, came out back in April 2013 to both accolades and brickbats.

According to the broadcast transcript, Limbaugh attempted to win sympathy and outrage from his Dittohead audience for being the “original” target of hate crime language back in 1998. He had one major problem, however–the internationally embraced story of Matthew Shepard’s hate crime murder for being gay by Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney in October 1998.  So, Limbaugh proceeded to undermine the hate crime dimension of the Shepard murder that gripped the nation and the world and galvanized the human rights movement, eventually leading to the passage of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act  in 2009.  Limbaugh said to his audience:

“[Jason Collins is] the first openly gay player to actually play in a professional sports game.  It happened last night, the Brooklyn Nets against the Los Angeles Lakers.  This is the Nets play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco, as Jason Collins — who, by the way, took the number 98 in solidarity with Matthew Shepard, who it’s now been proven didn’t happen, but was reputed to have been beaten up by a bunch of anti-gay bigots.”  In the transcript, Limbaugh provided readers with a hotlink to a book by right wing darling Stephen Jimenez purportedly “disproving” the anti-gay hate crime aspect of the Shepard case.

As Unfinished Lives reported last year at the publication of Jimenez’s book, these rather tired arguments are part of the continuing scheme to erode all anti-gay hate crimes narratives by attacking the archetypal Shepard story. Some of Jimenez’s own major sources have decried and disavowed his use of their names in his book of allegations, among them Henderson’s defense attorney who said that none of the “evidence” Jimenez advances was admissible in court when he was defending his client, and it is without merit now.  The Matthew Shepard Foundation, where Matt’s memory is making a difference by saving lives throughout the world, issued a strong rebuttal to this problematic book Limbaugh takes as gospel.  In the New York Daily News, the Shepard Foundation statement reads, in part:  “Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law.”  

rush-limbaugh-260x300The extremist Right Wing, epitomized by Limbaugh, famously called “Comedian Rush Limbaugh” by Keith Olbermann on Countdownhas made a virtual cottage industry out of demeaning the lives and deaths of LGBT people for over 16 years.  Their agenda is running out of gas.  This latest attempt also fails to obscure the ugly truth that Matthew Shepard and over 14,000 other American queer folk have been murdered for their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity and expression since 1980.

The Shepard murder captured the world’s sympathy, outrage, and imagination as no other anti-gay hate crime murder story had done before.  As Gay Star News reports in its story on the Limbaugh allegations:  “Shepard, a 21 year old college student, died after being tortured in a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson each received two consecutive life sentences for his murder. The prosecutor in the case alleged that McKinney and Henderson pretended to be gay in order to gain Shepard’s trust so they could later rob him. McKinney originally pleaded the gay panic defense, arguing that he and Henderson were driven to temporary insanity by alleged sexual advances by Shepard. After meeting Shepard at a bar, the pair took him to a remote area outside of Laramie. Once there they robbed him, beat him severely, and tied him to a fence with a rope from McKinney’s truck while Shepard pleaded for his life.”

As Dr. Stephen Sprinkle explains in his award-winning book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011):  “The public outcry at [Matthew Shepard's] cold-blooded killing meant the hate crime that cut his young life short became the holotype in the American psyche for all instances of oppression against people in the sexual minority.   It also sent a chill into the bones of the religio-political Right Wing.  Power to enact protection statutes for LGBT people coalesced around Matt’s death so swiftly that the Wingers feared anti-LGBT hate crime legislation might actually become law.   Their strategy was to kill the story, or failing that, change the narrative.   Cut the power of moral outrage out from under Matt’s murder, they reasoned, and they would blunt the mounting public sentiment for an end to anti-LGBT oppression.”   

None of Comedian Rush Limbaugh’s or Stephen Jimenez’s allegations concerning Matthew Shepard’s murder hold water.  It seems the extremist Right Wing is all out of ideas.

February 25, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Florida, gay bashing, gay men, gay panic defense, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Jason Collins, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard, Matthew Shepard Act, Matthew Shepard Foundation, National Basketball Association (NBA), New York, Rush Limbaugh, Social Justice Advocacy, Stephen Jimenez, Torture and Mutilation, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinished Lives Project, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gay Bashing in North Texas Leads to Hate Crime Charge

Gay bashing victim Arron Keahey, 24, after teen assailant savagely beat him last Labor Day.

Gay bashing victim Arron Keahey, 24, after teen assailant savagely beat him last Labor Day.

Dallas, Texas – A Springtown man who lied about his encounter with a gay man via social media in September has been charged with a bias-motivated hate crime.  According to a press release by the Dallas Division of the FBI, Brice Johnson, 19, has been charged with “willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation of that person in a federal criminal complaint.”  On September 2, 2013, 24-year-old gay man, Arron Keahey, connected to Johnson through the social app, MeetMe, being led to believe that Johnson was gay.  The FBI press release details how Johnson led on Keahey to lure him to his home: “During their communications, Johnson said that he was interested in engaging in sexual activity with A.K. He invited A.K. to his home, gave A.K. his cell phone number and address, and they exchanged text messages planning their sexual activity.”

As soon as Keahey arrived at Johnson’s home, the assailant beat Keahey savagely, bound his wrists with an electrical cord, and rolled him into the trunk of a car.  Johnson drove to a friends house with his injured victim bleeding in the trunk.  Upon learning that Johnson had bashed the gay man so severely, Johnson’s friends threatened to call the police themselves if Johnson did not rush Keahey to a hospital.  Johnson drove his victim to a hospital in Fort Worth where he was treated for ten full days for smashed facial bones, lost and broken teeth, and multiple skull fractures.  Johnson concocted a story that he had found Keahey wounded, and being such a Good Samaritan, took him to the Harris Methodist Hospital.  Officers investigating found evidence to the contrary on Johnson’s cell phone where he had recorded a gay slur to refer to Keahey’s contact number.  Johnson then changed his story to say that he was “pulling a prank” on Keahey by the use of the slur to refer to him because of his sexual orientation.  Keahey has sworn that he had never had any sort of sexual or physical contact with his attacker prior to the moment Johnson lashed out at him on the night of the crime.

At the time of the incident, North Texas news media and law officers were reluctant to say that the assault that nearly killed Keahey was a hate crime.  Only after an extensive investigation with the FBI who were called into the case because of the possible anti-gay violence did the Parker County Sheriff’s Department and the Springtown Police Department come to final agreement that Keahey had told the truth all along, and that he had indeed been the victim of a hate crime due to extreme animus against his sexual orientation.  Though it remains unsaid in the FBI press release, the U.S. Department of Justice was able to step into the case investigation because of the provisions of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in October of 2009.  Otherwise, like so many under-investigated attacks against LGBT people, this hate crime would have gone uncharged and unpunished.

Brice Johnson, 19, charged by FBI with bias-motivated hate crime.

Brice Johnson, 19, charged by FBI with bias-motivated hate crime.

According to a report by the Dallas Morning News, one of the major news outlets most reluctant to name anti-gay hate crimes as they demonstrated in this case, it was a Springtown Police Lieutenant, Officer Curtis Stone, who first suggested in his report that the Labor Day beating might be a “possible” hate crime.  WFAA-TV which covered the September attack and interviewed Keahey, spun the story to subtly suggest that the gay man’s use of the MeetMe app had led to the crime.  Such an intimation may be factually accurate, but does not take into account the use of social media daily by millions of heterosexual people to hook up with the reasonable assumption that they will be safe in doing so.  While there is always risk in meeting unknown people through web-based or phone-based media, no one at WFAA has issued a warning that straight men and women who fall victim to violence after using social media are somehow responsible for their own victimization–a suggestion that LGBT hate crimes victims are to blame for violence against them.  The WFAA story ends with Keahey agreeing that he had “learned a painful lesson.”

Johnson appeared in court for the first time on Thursday to be charged with a hate crime.  The statutory maximum penalty is a ten year sentence in a federal penitentiary, and a $250,000 fine.

It took five full months for the Department of Justice and the FBI to firm up the hate crime charge against Johnson that the Springtown Officer had first suggested.  No one in Springtown or Parker County, or North Texas for that matter, wants to have to admit that anti-gay hate crimes take place there.  But they do.

February 21, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Dallas Morning News, FBI, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, MeetMe.com, Slurs and epithets, Social Media and Smartphone Apps, Texas, U.S. Justice Department, WFAA-TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gay Panic Murder At TCU Raises Unanswered Questions

David Hidalgo (l) claims "gay panic" led him to stab Stewart Trese (r) to death.

David Hidalgo (l) claims “gay panic” led him to stab TCU senior marketing student Stewart Trese (r) to death.

Fort Worth, Texas – The roll out of developments surrounding the murder of a 23-year-old Texas Christian University senior at the Grand Marc Apartments leave a host of questions unanswered–both about the so-called “gay panic” his confessed killer claims led him to murder, and the uneasy state of LGBTQ members of the campus community.  This we know so far: the victim, Stewart Trese, a marketing major and Japanese minor at TCU, was stabbed to death in the hallway of the Grand Marc by 21-yar-old David Hidalgo, a “townie” who had known Trese for some months before the fatal “altercation,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.  At 9:22 a.m. on February 4, Trese was pronounced dead outside his apartment from multiple stab wounds.  A day later, Hidalgo was taken into custody at John Peter Smith Hospital by Fort Worth Police and charged with murder.  Now in the Mansfield Jail under $100,000 bond pending trial, Hidalgo made the explosive claim in a jailhouse interview with WFAA TV that Trese made sexual advances, drew a knife on him, and threatened his life.

In what amounts to a “gay panic” justification of his actions, Hidalgo claims that Trese called him over to his apartment near the TCU campus “to see something,” and when Stewart met him in the hallway of the Grand Marc outside the apartment, he seized Hidalgo’s buttocks, made sexual demands of him, and drew a pocket knife, threatening to kill Hidalgo if he didn’t give in sexually.  “He pulled out the knife and said, ‘I’m gonna kill you,’ he said, ‘I’m gonna kill you,’ and he came toward me with the knife and I grabbed his hand that the knife was in and I tried to wrestle it out from him,” Hidalgo claimed in the WFAA/Channel 8 interview. “We ended up on the floor and I ended up stabbing him in the chest and in the throat.”   Expressing regret at what he had done, Hidalgo went on to say there was little else he could do because Stewart was so angry at being refused sexually.  “When he pulled that knife on me I was really scared, I thought he was going to kill me,” Hidalgo said. “I really think he was going to.”

Gay media are expressing doubt about Hidalgo’s story.  John Wright of Lone Star Q  isn’t buying Hidalgo’s “gay panic” account on two counts: first, Wright calls any such defense of violence against LGBTQ people “bunk,” and second, to believe that a man in a relatively long-term friendship would suddenly attempt rape at knife-point seems “bizarre.”  More likely, Wright suggests, a romantic relationship had developed between the men, and the hint of drugs makes the friction between them more credible.

The notorious “gay panic defense” has been a staple of heterosexist, homophobic and transphobic legal and public relations tactics for decades in the United States, relying on the gullibility and anti-LGBTQ prejudice of juries and the general public to lessen punishments for defendants perpetrating violence against gay and transgender victims.  But in August 2013, the American Bar Association in its annual convention unanimously supported the demise of “gay panic” and “trans panic” in U.S. courts.  The Journal of the ABA reports:

“The ABA House of Delegates has unanimously passed a resolution urging federal, state, local and territorial governments to pass legislation curtailing the availability and effectiveness of the use of ‘gay panic’ and ‘trans panic’ defenses by criminal defendants. These defense strategies seek to excuse the crimes by saying that the victim’s sexual orientation caused their assailant’s violent reaction to them.”  Speaking prior to the vote, D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association said that such legal tactics were “surprisingly long-lived historical artifacts” reflecting the homophobia and heterosexism prevalent in the past.  She went to say that such defenses were based upon “the notion that LGBT lives are worth less than other lives.” 

Trese had been introduced to Hidalgo approximately 18 months before the killing by a “friend” who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, according to the Star-Telegram.  The two men met at the Altamesa Church of Christ, and volunteered at the church’s related charity program, Neighborhood Needs.  The anonymous friend went on to say that the men became “close,” and that their unequal backgrounds did not seem to hinder their relationship.  While Hidalgo did not have a job or a personal vehicle and grew up literally beside the train tracks, Stewart was the son of Dr. Thomas Trese, D.O., a prominent Fort Worth Neurologist.  Even if their friendship soured over time, it strains credibility to believe that “gay panic” ignited the wrestling match that led to Trese’s grisly murder.

TCU Allies logo

TCU Allies logo

Was Trese a gay man, or same-sex attracted?  His family does not believe so, according to his brother Steve who told the Star-Telegram “Stewart was not that guy. We have the utmost faith in the Fort Worth police and district attorney’s office and the truth will come out.”  Concerning Hidalgo’s motive for making a gay claim against his brother, Steve Trese added, “We believe that somebody in his predicament would do anything to save his skin.”  Trese was not a member of TCU’s LGBT student organization, though he was listed as a member of TCU Allies, a gathering of students, faculty and staff supportive of the equal rights of LGBTQ people.  His sexual orientation remains a mystery. His station in life and his association with evangelical Christian organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Churches of Christ (Non-instrumental) would have encouraged a deeply closeted gay man to remain so to all but a few confidants, lovers, and friends.

Is Hidalgo gay, or gay curious?  Does he harbor the sort of anti-gay feelings that would add fuel to the sort of attack that bears all the hallmarks of an anti-gay hate crime murder?  By his own admission, Hidalgo stabbed Trese five times and cut his throat.  While not being definitive, brutality and bloodiness like this are characteristic of the type of “wet work” carried out by homophobic killers.  But how could he have remained friends for so long with Trese, if indeed Trese was closeted or questioning, were Hidalgo to suffer from deep seated antipathy towards same-sex desire?  Once again, we are faced with a mystery, and with the suggestion that money and drugs may have played a critical part in this case.

David Mack Henderson of Fairness Fort Worth, in liaison with the Fort Worth Police Department’s LGBT contact, communicated with TCU GSA Alumni to say he is working to keep channels open with the police and the LGBTQ community on campus.  Henderson voiced confidence in the FWPD, saying, “I have every confidence that FWPD is taking the murder of Mr. Trese very seriously and will develop the case necessary to prosecute Mr. Hidalgo to the fullest extent of the laws.”  

While Texas Christian University has an active LGBT Gay Student Association and alumni group, the record of the university on same-sex issues is spotty.  There is little encouragement for faculty and staff to come out openly if they are LGBTQ.  The administration’s attitude towards queer concerns is by turns benign and callous, as the unbending decision to bring notoriously anti-gay Chik-Fil-A to campus shows, despite faculty and student unrest about the fast food purveyor.  As is the case in many church-related colleges and universities in the South and Southwest, TCU likes to point to its enlightened, progressive approach to LGBTQ concerns while at the same time refusing to establish and staff an Office of LGBTQ Relations on its campus (something conservative Texas A&M has done since 1996).  The whiff of gay murder and hate crime around campus will probably encourage the policy of denial that TCU has adopted for years.  But hard questions will continue to be asked as the investigation into the brutal murder of one of the university’s prominent marketing seniors proceeds–a murder that certainly suggests  that troubling gay aspects of this case will not be denied for much longer.

February 10, 2014 Posted by | American Bar Association (ABA), anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Fairness Fort Worth, Fort Worth Police Department, gay men, gay panic defense, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Internalized homophobia, LGBTQ, National LGBT Bar Association, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Texas, Texas A&M GLBT Center, Texas Christian University (TCU), transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gay Student Condemned By Church Dies By Suicide

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville.  Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins.  The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged.  The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog.  As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers.  The leader said, You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay.  Who here is comfortable being around him?”  Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?”  Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben.  Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip.  His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later.  Mrs. Wood writes:

“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip.  He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed.  He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group.  He was no representative of God. 

Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway.   Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway.  One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened.  The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip.  His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over. 

The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake.   He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated. 

While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.” 

Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens.  Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people.  On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.”  On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.

So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death?  The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be?  Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness?  The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other?  And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?

Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being.  The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel  records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.”  The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman.  But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours.  So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood.  While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives.  Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks.  But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”

Dr. Sprinkle concludes:  “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate.  And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, Bullycide, gay men, gay teens, GLSEN, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, United Methodist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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