Greensboro, NC – A gay veteran of Iraq who was savagely attacked, beaten, and set on fire by a younger man who checked into a hotel with him finally succumbed to his injuries on Saturday. Stephen Patrick White, 46, a well-regarded member of the gay community in Piedmont North Carolina and a patron of Club Chemistry, a popular gay bar in Greensboro, was fatally assaulted by Garry Joseph Gupton, 26, a city employee of the Water Services Department. The two met, according to witnesses at Chemistry, and left the club together late on November 8, as this blog previously reported. They checked in to the Battleground Inn.
White’s injuries were horrendous. He suffered burns over 52 percent of his body, and had large portions of his arms amputated in an attempt to save his life. Gupton was arrested on the scene and charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The City Water Services Department subsequently fired Gupton from his job as a consequence of the investigation. Now, Gupton is charged with first degree murder. Q Notes reports that the Greensboro police are saying that there is no evidence of a hate crime in this case. The Q Notes report includes this statement from a Greensboro PD spokesperson:
“He (Gupton) never verbalized to us that he intended to kill somebody,” said Susan Danielsen, a Greensboro police spokeswoman. . . . There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate that this is a hate crime.”
She added: “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently. This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
But Danielson could not refrain from adding that while the Greensboro PD are “sure this is not a hate crime,” they have no other explanation for Gupton’s heinous acts, including his use of fire in his deadly attack on White. “We’re not sure what caused Mr. Gupton to act so violently,” Danielson went on to say to Q Notes. Then, as if she had opened a door she did not want to open, Danielson concluded, “This is not a crime motivated by hate.”
At this point, all the public has to go on is the assurance of the police that a brutal attack against a gay man who was naked in a hotel room that included a weapon often reserved particularly for the “purification” of “sodomites,” fire, was not a hate crime. Police in the Tarheel State are not permitted to investigate bias-motivated crimes of violence against LGBT people anyway, since the state has refused to include them in its hate crimes statutes. Nonetheless, the police seem eager to rule out hate crime in this instance.
Let us say for the time being they are correct. There was no hate against homosexuality expressed in this crime, explicitly. This, the police are suggesting, was a consensual sexual situation gone terribly bad. Still, the public is left to ask who brought the flammable material into the room? Why was fire used in this case–a give-away for extreme passions and, yes, hatred of the victim targeted in attacks involving burning someone, in this instance as in the instances of thousands of other gay men and lesbians, to death?
However this crime went down in the Gate City, an entire LGBT community is left fearful, shocked, and wondering. Chris Srgo, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, vocalized the anguish of the statewide community in a statement on Saturday:
“Stephen White’s death is a tragic loss for the Greensboro community and North Carolina. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Stephen’s family. Equality NC promises to follow this investigation closely to ensure that it is thorough and justice is served. The loss of a community member is always tragic, but this loss is unacceptable. As fellow citizens of Greensboro, my husband Ryan and I mourn tonight and stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Greensboro.”
Of course, it is wrong to suggest that an obvious marker for homophobia (perhaps internalized homophobia), the use of the torch to burn a gay man (where the despicable term “faggot” originates–the burning at the stake of gay men as if they were dry wood), inevitably leads to the conclusion that Stephen White was attacked so savagely because of his sexual orientation. Yet, is it not also a mistake of equal magnitude to conclude that because the suspect, Gupton, never verbalized that he intended to kill someone that night, he simply went berserk, and finding flammable liquids at hand, thought to use fire as a way to punish his naked pick up for the night?
The North Carolina state motto is “Esse Quam Videri” (“To Be Rather Than To Seem”). Perhaps it would do investigators and lawmakers in Tarheelia well to move beyond what they seem to want to believe in this instance-to the point that they refuse to investigate or legislate even the possibility of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes-, and to answer the nagging question about the motive for the use of fire to kill another gay man the Old North State.
Greensboro, NC – A decorated gay veteran wounded in Iraq was beaten with a phone, pieces of furniture, a large television, and then set afire by a city employee he met at a local gay bar. 46-year-old Stephen White, a regular customer at Greensboro’s popular gay venue, Chemistry, was discovered naked, savagely beaten, and burned over 52% of his body at the Battleground Inn at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 9, according to Q Notes. Garry Joseph Gupton, a 26-year-old Greensboro city employee, was arrested at the scene and charged with the near-fatal attack. Police are saying that assault was carried out “with intent to kill.” Employees of the bar say that Gupton met White Saturday night and they took a cab from the club. Since White is a well-known patron of Chemistry, everything seemed “normal.” In the aftermath of the attack, the gay community is left speculating that Gupton came hunting for an openly gay man to kill. White’s hand and a portion of his arm had to be amputated because of the severity of his burns at Wake Forest Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He remains in critical care. Hospital officials say that White faces months of surgery, skin grafting, and rehabilitation.
WFMY Television reports that Gupton, a member of the Greensboro City Water Resources crew, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and inflicting serious injury with intent to kill. He was initially being held on $150,000 bond pending further charges. At his first court appearance on Wednesday, Gupton’s bond was increased to $250,000, and he asked for a court appointed attorney to be assigned to him.
White’s friend, Riki Dublin, told WFMY that the brutality of the attack on the Iraq War veteran staggers her imagination. “I am just in awe of the magnitude of the hate that is involved and I truly do not believe this man has a soul. Cause you, I just couldn’t ever imagine any human treating another human like that,” she said. After announcing a fundraiser for White, who does not have insurance, Dublin went on to say, “It’s hard. When you send your son off to war and he comes back, and he comes back injured but he comes back alive and then he is brutally attacked… here on our own dirt, it’s hard to fathom.” The fundraiser was scheduled for the following Saturday to defray White’s massive medical bills.
The owner of Chemistry, Drew Woffard, also stepped up, calling upon the Greensboro community to support White, according to The Advocate. In a statement issued to Q Notes, Woffard announced a November 15 benefit at the club, and said, “Stephen has a long road ahead of him but he is a fighter and he is definitely not alone. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are all fighting for him. Also I remind you to please use caution when leaving our bar or any bar with someone you don’t know. I never would have dreamed something like this would happen here in Greensboro… but let’s make sure it never happens again.”
The Advocate went on to report that no agency yet plans to charge Gupton with a hate crime, and investigators are not bothering to do so. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force notes that North Carolina’s hate crimes statutes do not include LGBT persons as a protected class. Victims of anti-gay violence like White are left exposed, since North Carolina’s law does not address violence perpetrated against persons because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
If there ever was a case that screamed “hate crime,” this horrific attack does. The use of fire as a weapon in anti-LGBTQ violence has a long and fearsome history, dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. Scholars have noted a decided uptick in cases of bias-driven hate crimes against lesbians and gay men incorporating fire as a deadly weapon. As Stephen White struggles to recover from this heinous act of violence, and Garry Gupton awaits justice to be meted out as it can be in a state that ignores anti-LGBT crimes, the gay community in the Tarheel State is left to ponder what form of murderous intent would set a young man like Gupton to stalk and purge one of their own with fire.
“Worst Mother in the World” and Boyfriend Take Plea Deal For Torture Murder of 8 Year Old Son They Feared was “Gay”
Palmdale, California – The mother of an eight-year-old son she despised for being “gay,” and her live-in boyfriend have pled guilty to first degree murder and torture under special circumstances in exchange for avoiding the death penalty. Pearl Fernandez and her sometime lover, Isauro Aguirre, took life in prison without hope of parole, and agreed to waive any appeal to their sentence in the horrific case of young Gabriel Fernandez. Paramedics were called to the couple’s apartment on May 22, 2013 because Gabriel had stopped breathing. He died two days later. According to court testimony by Gabriel’s older sibling Ezequiel, an eye witness to the repeated beatings and torture inflicted on his younger brother, Pearl Fernandez had beaten her child into unconsciousness, and then fearful of discovery, ordered her older child to fabricate a story about an accident in the Palmdale apartment so the adults could escape prosecution for his murder. The paramedics found Gabriel naked, with cracked ribs, burns, and BB shot in his lung and in his groin area. As quoted in the Antelope Valley Press, Paramedic James Cermak said, “It was like sensory overload. There was burn marks, there was BB holes, bruises in various stages of healing, [it] looked like his ankles were broken. It was like every inch of this boy had been abused.” Cermak added, “We noticed that he had bruising all over his body, he had strangulation marks around his neck, and looked like his teeth had been knocked out.” When Cermak asked Pearl Fernandez about the situation “she became very defensive,” he said, and blamed the unconscious boy for fighting with his brother and being “a dirty boy.” According to NBC Los Angeles, the couple were arrested the day following Gabriel’s discovery for capital murder and torture. Though they both entered a plea of not guilty, a Grand Jury indicted them both in August for one of the most horrendous cases of child abuse and homophobia in Southern California history.
Testimony earlier this year established that Pearl Fernandez and her then-boyfriend Isauro Aguirre locked the boy in a dark closet for hours at a time, stuffed socks in his mouth to prevent him from crying out, repeatedly beat him, psychologically harmed him, and on at least one occasion forced him to eat cat feces and his own vomit as punishment for playing with dolls and acting “gay.” They whipped Gabriel with the metal end of a leather belt for a period of at least eight months, hit him with a bat, knocked his teeth out with a club, and tortured the boy with pepper spray. Though Gabriel was being overseen by the Department of Children and Family Services, at least four social workers who missed or ignored the signs of repeated abuse were dismissed from service in the public uproar over the case. After a total of no fewer than seven reports of suspected child abuse from sources including Gabriel’s teacher, the social workers did not investigate the allegations thoroughly enough to remove the boy from what amounted to a torture chamber of horrors. A blue-ribbon panel formed in the fallout from the case issued a scorching report mandating changes in the way at risk children are overseen in Los Angeles County. Gabriel’s maternal grandmother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the DCFS.
While there is plenty of blame to go around in the horrific torture murder of the eight-year-old, the fact of the active savagery of a mother, deemed otherwise sane, against her own child for whatever reason prompted Gay Star News to dub Pearl Fernandez “The Worst Mother in the World.” According to the Antelope Valley Press, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Beck testified in court that on the night of Gabriel’s discovery, Pearl expressed little or no concern for her child. When prosecutors asked Deputy Beck if she showed concern for anything, he said, “Her cats.” The depth of hatred for LGBTQ people shown by the punishment rained down on Gabriel by Aguirre and Fernandez is hard to fathom. For allegedly playing with dolls, they humiliated him by forcing him to wear girls’ clothing, ridiculed him in front of his siblings, and tortured him beyond belief. Apparently, these two adults believed that blaming an eight-year-old child for being “gay” somehow mitigated and justified what they did to him. It also betokens that his own mother would rather have a dead son than a gay one.
Now, according to an organization posting on Facebook as “Gabriel’s Justice,” Fernandez and Aguirre’s guilty plea and the life-without-parole sentence finally brings some sense of closure to this outrageous case. For the advocates for Gabriel, there was never a doubt that the couple would be found guilty of this heinous crime, for putting Gabriel through such hell for so many months of his young life. The group expressed relief that years of appeals could now be avoided. Now, the fear to which these people subjected an innocent child would now be visited on them with a vengeance. “The two would sit on death row for over 30 years utilizing appeal after appeal with no closure for anyone,” the Gabriel’s Justice web master said in a post on Facebook. “Both will be placed in general population, there’s no safety house for them. This would not be true on Death Row.” With a sense of some vindication, the post is summed up with these words: “Justice has been served.”
All the assailants were convicted, and served various sentences in Texas for the crime. Because of Buice’s role in this particularly heinous anti-gay hate crime, he received the longest sentence, and is the only one of the Woodlands 10 still in prison. The case received national attention because of the brutality involved in Broussard’s cold blooded murder.
Buice, who has been described by his supporters as a “model prisoner,” was granted parole in July 2011, but because of new evidence presented to the Parole Board at the time, his reprieve was revoked before his release. That evidence has remained confidential to the board, but as in the case of his 2014 parole denial, whatever it was has kept him incarcerated. By special agreement, Buice will come up for review annually.
Broussard’s mother, Nancy Rodriguez, once again appeared before the board to encourage it not to grant parole to her son’s murderer. Every year, she travels from her Georgia home to Texas in order to keep Buice behind bars. “It’s something I do for my son’s memory and because I want justice,” Rodriguez said. Since 1992, Rodriguez has been aided by Victims Advocate Andy Kahan to ensure that Buice serves the majority of his sentence. In a statement to The Courier, Kahan said, “This was a particularly vicious, senseless crime that centered on hate. We appreciate the parole board taking the stand that convicted murders need to serve the majority of their sentence.” Rodriguez and Kahan have set a goal to keep Buice behind bars for at least 27 years: one year in prison for every year of Broussard’s lifetime. “That was Paul’s entire life before Buice took it from him,” Rodriguez said to The Courier.
Kahan pointed out to the Parole Board that it is rare for release to be granted to convicted killers before serving out the most of their sentences. He said that the savagery of the crime was the reason the board chose to deny parole this time. Buice has served 22 years so far.
Gay activist Ray Hill, a chief advocate for Buice’s release, contends that Buice is reformed, and that a 45-year sentence is too long for a person who was 17 at the time of the crime. Buice’s lawyer, Tim Habem, refused to discuss the arguments he presented for his client’s parole, but vowed to return next year “for another swing at it.”
Every Sunday, Nancy Rodriguez says she misses her son’s calls. Every Christmas, the holiday he always honored by coming home to see her, is especially hard. “[Paul] was a good student and a good son,” she said. “I just miss him.”
Dallas, Texas – An amateur blogsite sparking interest and conversation on hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTQ people has broken through the 600,000 visitor mark this month! The 600k mark was crossed on Wednesday, October 15. Unfinished Lives Blog, established in 2008 by a Baptist theologian and divinity school professor to keep the stories of LGBTQ hate crimes victims before the public, has touched many more people across the globe than its originator could have imagined six years ago. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, the author of Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011), and a Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School of Fort Worth, Texas, said, “This blog was and remains to be a labor of love done on a part-time basis. It is breathtaking to me how many people around the world have been touched by this site.” In response to the question of where the emphasis for the Unfinished Lives Project will be going in the future, Sprinkle said, “We will be lifting up more international stories of queer folk struggling to live securely and safely internationally. Human rights is a world-wide issue. At the same time, our primary focus will be the United States, where the murders of people in the sexual minority, especially gay men and transgender people of color, have hit historic high rates.”
At this milestone, the Unfinished Lives Project Team, along with Dr. Sprinkle, invite their readers and supporters to revisit the original purpose of the blog:
“The Unfinished Lives Project website is a place of public discourse which remembers and honors LGBTQ hate crime victims, while also revealing the reality of unseen violence perpetrated against people whose only “offense” is their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender presentation. LGBTQ people in the United States are suffering a slow-rolling decimation of terror and murder all across the country. Every locale and demographic of society are affected: First Nations, Anglo, Black, Latino and Latina, South and Southeast Asian, Transgender, Bisexuals, Gay men, Lesbians, disabled, young, and mature. Homophobia has a long, crooked arm, and it is reaching out to snatch the life away from women and men whose tragic stories are under-reported to begin with, and whose memories are swiftly forgotten.
“The horror of these killings transcends the shock and bereavement of loved ones and friends. These are not typical homicides; they are not killings for money or drugs, incidents of domestic strife, or crimes of passion. The vicious nature of hate crimes against LGBTQ persons is extremely brutal, grotesquely violent, and egregiously hateful.
“Each murder serves the LGBTQ population as a sobering warning about the actual level of danger in our communities. The message these killings send is that freedom and open life for LGBTQ people is a cruel dream. Every time we remember one of these victims, however, the intentions of their killers are frustrated. To remember these women and men is to begin the process of changing the culture that killed them.”
Dr. Sprinkle shared that Unfinished Lives Blog has been shared throughout the Human Rights activist and LGBTQ communities, and is a resource in several cases for academic classes dealing with ethics, sexual minority issues, and LGBTQ literature and history. This milestone is a chance for the creators of the blogsite, as well as many others who labor for the cessation of all bias motivated violent crimes against marginalized people, to rededicate themselves to the work of justice for all people.
“Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, followers, and supporters of this work of love and justice!” ~ The Unfinished Lives Project Team
Laramie, Wyoming – On October 12, Matthew Wayne Shepard died because of the unreasoning hatred of two young men. It has been 16 years since then, and the killings have not abated. Instead, the numbers of murdered LGBTQ people are higher today than when Matt was murdered in 1998. On the University of Wyoming campus, a single bench is his memorial. But for us who labor for justice to come in his name, his true memorial is our dedication to end anti-LGBTQ hate crimes forever. Rest in peace, Matt. ~ The Unfinished Lives Project Team
Sacramento, California – The Golden State has outlawed the notorious “gay panic defense” as an excuse for violence against the sexual minority. Defendants in California can no longer claim their deeds of physical harm against gay and transgender victims were triggered by alarm at a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on September 27.
As Gay Star News reports, Rick Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, said in a statement to the press on Sunday, “The ‘panic defense’ is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them.” Zbur went on to commend Governor Brown for signing the bill making this infamous legal dodge based on fear illegal: “[Such a ploy] has no place in California’s legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation.”
The law, according to California Legislative Information, entitled “AB-2501 Voluntary manslaughter,” now bans the excuse from use in California courts that “the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant” or “the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”
Some defendants in horrendous cases of physical violence against transgender or gay/lesbian victims succeeded in playing upon the fears and latent biases of juries with the gay panic defense, and winning lesser sentences and penalties from the courts as a result. The most widely covered California case in which the gay panic defense was effective in reducing a sentence was the execution-style gunshot murder of teen ager Larry Fobes King of Oxnard by his teen age classmate, Brandon McInerney. In the 2011 trial, defense attorneys argued that the real offender was the murdered King, who allegedly flirted with McInerney, a youth who had been deeply influenced by Neo-Nazi ideologies and prejudices. The court reduced McInerney’s charges to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after trying him as a juvenile, in contravention of California law that clearly mandated McInterney, though a teen, must be tried as an adult because of the heinous nature of the crime, and the premeditation exhibited in King’s execution in their morning computer classroom. King was, of course, unable to defend himself against the charges and allegations made by defense attorneys, since he was dead and buried. Because of a plea bargain deal, McInerney received a 21-year sentence instead of a longer, more appropriate term, solely because of the gay panic defense.
Reflecting on the King/McInerney case, SF Weekly carried an op-ed article arguing that “It’s a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury’s own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Leaning on a ‘heat of passion’ line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can’t be trusted not to curb their appetites.”
Now, such legal queer-baiting is out of bounds in California and has become a model for other states to emulate.
Wilton Manors, Florida – A gay resident of Wilton Manors was assaulted by a slur-shouting attacker who pelted him with rocks this past Tuesday. Police are searching for a Hispanic man with a shaved head who stoned his victim about 12:40 a.m. on September 16 as his gay target walked home along Wilton Drive, the main street in what has been described as the “second gayest city in America.” Residents are outraged and frightened. They believed until recently, as others who live in America’s “gay meccas,” that anti-gay attacks “couldn’t happen here.” They can, and do.
Local 10 News reports that the victim, currently too terrified to make a statement on tape, was walking to his residence when the assailant approached him on foot, shouting anti-gay epithets and throwing rocks he picked up along the street. One of the stones hit the victim in the stomach. NBC 6 says that the victim hurried away toward his apartment with his attacker close behind, still shouting slurs and throwing rocks. When the victim got to his home, the attacker got in a gold colored Honda Accord and rushed from the scene. At the time of this report, authorities are searching for leads in what they are describing as a hate crime case. The gay victim whose identity remains concealed for the sake of protection, has made a formal complaint.
This latest attack has reverberated strongly throughout the South Florida Gay community. Well it should. This is the second violent attack against gay men in Wilton Manors since June. On June 16, two gay men were run down by a driver who struck and injured them in a hit-and-run incident that is described as “no accident” by Miami attorneys. CBS Local reports that the hit-and-run left one victim limping and in need of a cane long after the attack. In an age of Marriage Equality successes in the courts, the idea that LGBTQ people are not safe in their most cherished “gayborhoods” is shocking. But, as residents of other large centers of gay and lesbian population have discovered, anti-gay attacks have not abated in this country. Instead, they are alarmingly on the rise.
The Wilton Manors Mayor and officials of the local gay and lesbian center have called for a complete and swift investigation, and the apprehension and arrest of the assailant in this latest case of bias-motivated crime in the heart of one of the nation’s strongest gay and lesbian cities. But the story of attacks like this one have largely remained local, and are receiving little regional and no national attention. Meanwhile, homophobic violence rages on in American cities and towns. It remains to be seen if an attack of virtually biblical proportions, a stoning no less, will help awaken the public to the epidemic of hate violence being perpetrated against LGBTQ people in the USA at record levels.
“I have to step up now, like [Juan] did,” Sergio said to KESQ. Juan Ceballos was a well-regarded, happy person who worked hard to help out his mother and four siblings. He had worked in the agricultural fields to pay personal bills and help support his family, but currently was working two jobs to make ends meet: at a gas station and a Pizza Hut. Upon hearing the news of Ramirez’s arrest, Sergio said, “If he is the one who killed [Juan], I hope they keep him off the street so that no other family will have to go through the pain we are.” When asked about how someone could kill another person because of his sexual orientation, Sergio said wiping away tears, “If that is the reason [Ramirez] did that to him, I don’t even know why.” Speaking with KMIR NBC News, Sergio said that his brother’s killer was “stupid” to do such a thing because of sexuality. “[Juan] was more like a father, not as a brother, he was head of the house, he was our support,” said Sergio. “He said he was looking for happiness in a world full of evil,” Sergio continued, “maybe he was right. The world is full of evil, and I don’t know why they ever did this to him. He was our guide. Everything we have now we owe to him. I’m going to continue with all of this, but now I’m going to have to do this without him,” Sergio concluded.
Juan’s mother, Maria Teresa Mendez, said, her son was “a happy person who tried to guide his siblings to do good in life. I expect justice for the person who did this.”