Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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!

U.S. Marine Charged in Murder of Philippine Transgender Woman

Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted to a shipmate, "I think I killed a he/she."

Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted to a shipmate, “I think I killed a he/she.”

Manila, Republic of the Philippines – A United States Marine has been formally charged with the October murder of a transgender Filipina, according to The Washington Post.  Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, had “probable cause” and employed “treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty” against his victim, Jennifer Laude, lead prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos said in a televised statement. Ms. Laude’s body was found naked with her head submerged in a toilet. “You can see the kind of cruelty she endured, the injuries she sustained,” de los Santos said. “We believe we have a strong case.”

Pfc. Pemberton, who was identified in a line up by two witnesses, will not be allowed to post bail.

The murder took place in a flop house hotel in the port city of Olongapo, northwest of Manila. The police autopsy concluded that Ms. Laude died of “asphyxia from drowning.” Filipino Transgender Rights Advocates are calling the killing “a hate crime,” according to USA Today, among them Gender Proud and the Asia and Pacific Transgender Network. The attorney for the family, Henry Roque, concurred. “This is not an ordinary murder. This is heinous because she was beaten up,” he said.

The evening of October 12, Pemberton and other Marines went to a disco bar and picked up partners for the night. Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose, who had accompanied Pemberton at the start of the evening, testified that upon return to the ship, Pemberton confided to him that he had strangled his date when he found out she was transgender. Rose is quoted by the Associated Press as saying Pemberton admitted, “I think I killed a he/she.” 

Prosecutors say that Pemberton, an accomplished boxer, said that he had choked Laude from behind “for a couple of minutes,” and when she stopped moving, he dragged her body into the bathroom.

The alleged murder comes at a particularly delicate time in regard to charges brought against U.S. military personnel for attacks on Philippine nationals. The United States is seeking renewed and strengthened ties with the Philippines as the allies try to counter Chinese incursions in the South China Sea. A recently signed defense accord allows the U.S. military greater access to Filipino military bases.

Pemberton was part of 3,500 U.S. Marines brought to the massive Subic Bay Naval Station to participate in military exercises with the Philippine military. He was held aboard a U.S. Navy ship until massive anti-American protests prompted U.S. officials to transfer him to Philippine soil to the main base of the Philippine military in metro Manila, but still in American custody. The Foreign Ministry of the Philippine government issued a statement saying that they look “forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured for Laude.” 

December 15, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Hate Crimes, Republic of the Philippines, Strangulation, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Gay NC Church Members Indicted for Kidnapping and Assaulting a Gay Man

Matthew Fenner, Gay Christian, kidnapped, beaten, and strangled to free him from "demon possession."

Matthew Fenner, Gay Christian, kidnapped, beaten, and strangled to free him from “demon possession.”

Spindale, North Carolina – Five members of a controversial church in rural Western North Carolina have been indicted for felony anti-gay kidnapping and assault on a 21-year-old gay man. A grand jury indicted Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley on second degree kidnapping and assault charges. A fifth person, Sarah Covington Anderson, was indicted on Monday, December 8 on second degree kidnapping as well as simple assault and assault by strangulation, according to QNotes. Matthew Fenner, currently an anthropology student a the University of North Carolina, told the Associated Press that he was surrounded by members of the Word of Faith Fellowship and attacked on January 27, 2013. Fenner brought the charges against his assailants, he said, because he was one of several others who had been victimized by the church in recent years, and his attackers made him fear for his life. As Fenner said to WRAL News“The line between religion and abuse, they are crossing it quite severely. That’s why I’m doing this. They have to know you cannot hurt people.” An attorney for the five indicted church members claims that Fenner’s charges are unfounded and “a complete fabrication.”

In a period of self-questioning and self-doubt about his sexual orientation, Fenner and his mother joined the 750-member Rutherford County church and started to attend the church’s school, he said.  “My mom and I were always really close and I just thought maybe I can keep an open mind and see if it works — see if I can change. Obviously, that was really a stupid decision because you can’t change who you are. But in my mind it seemed like the right thing to do,” he told the AP. Fenner worked as a tutor and attended church services. He said that when church members began to suspect he was gay, incidents of harassment began against him.

The church has become a flash point of controversy in the Spindale community, exercising strong influences upon the social and political life of this small town 63 miles southeast of Asheville. WRAL reports that former church members say the congregation’s leadership tries to control many aspects of its membership’s lives, including personal dressing habits, where to live and work, and when to have sexual relations with their spouses. In 2012, another gay man, Michael Lowry, accused members of the church with assaulting him for being gay, but later recanted his claims, a pattern of abusive control sometimes seen when individuals are intimidated for bringing charges against anti-gay congregations. Lowry, no longer a member of the church, now says he was manipulated into retracting his accusations. National gay and lesbian rights advocacy groups have criticized the Word of Faith Fellowship for abusing several young men for being gay whose parents were members of the church. Control over members thoughts and ideas even caused Fenner’s own mother and brother, who are members of the church, to disbelieve his account of the attack, and to testify against him in court proceedings. But Fenner would not be dissuaded from pressing for justice in his case, even though it took nearly two years for authorities to take him seriously and bring the indictments against his alleged assailants.

Suspects indicted for attacking, kidnapping Matthew Fenner. Left to right: Sarah Covington Anderson, Robert Louis Walker Jr., Justin Covington, Adam Bartley and Brooke Covington.

Suspects indicted for attacking, kidnapping Matthew Fenner. Left to right: Sarah Covington Anderson, Robert Louis Walker Jr., Justin Covington, Adam Bartley and Brooke Covington.

The church practices “deliverance,” a ritual including “blasting,” high-pitched screaming prayers and thumping suspected gay people to liberate them from their “demons of homosexuality.” Fenner testified that three members of the church asked him to join them at the back of the sanctuary at the evening service on January 27, 2013, but were soon joined by 15 to 20 other church members who commenced the attack upon him. They held him against his will for over two hours, forcing him into a chair and threatening him with confinement in the sanctuary if he did not “confess his sins.”  Justin Brock Covington, Brooke McFadden Covington, Robert Louis Walker Jr. and Adam Christopher Bartley allegedly beat him physically and forced him down into the chair while other members surrounded and screamed at him to stop resisting. In a police affidavit, Fenner testified, “By this point, Sarah [Covington Anderson] began to tell me how much she couldn’t stand to be around me and that I was disgusting because of my sexual orientation. I told her that I was sorry that I didn’t know what she wanted me to tell her and to which she then slapped me with a great amount of force across my left cheek. At this point I was really starting to get scared.” He identified Covington Anderson as the assailant who strangled him about the neck. As Fenner told WSPA Channel 7 News“My head was like being flung back, my vision was going brown and black. I couldn’t breathe and I’m sitting here thinking if I don’t get out of this, I’m probably going to die.” 

Covered in bruises on his collarbone, neck, chest, and shoulders, Fenner finally got free of the assault, and ran to his grandmother’s home. His own mother refused to believe his account of what had happened to him. But Brent Childers of the North Carolina-based advocacy group, Faith In America, has no doubt that what unfolded on that night was nothing less than religious-based bigotry. “It’s pretty clear to me,” Childers told WRAL, “that these individuals wanted to inflict pain on Matthew because of his sexual orientation.”

Josh Farmer, the church’s attorney, says he looks forward to a jury trial to demonstrate that no one carried out any physical harm to Fenner. But that is not preventing this determined young man from pressing forward with the case because he knows it is the right thing to do. “This is the only way that I can get my voice out there to say look, this kind of stuff is happening. It happened to me and it just kind of sheds some light onto the things that are going on in there and that people do know, but can’t really have the facts to go with it,” Fenner said to reporters from WSPA Channel 7.

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-Gay Hate Groups, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Faith In America, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, kidnapping, LGBTQ, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Strangulation, Word of Faith Fellowship | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-Gay NC Church Members Indicted for Kidnapping and Assaulting a Gay Man

Breaking News: FBI Issues Hate Crimes Stats for 2013

FBI Hate stats, 2013Washington, DC – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued its 2013 hate crimes statistics today: Hate Crime Statistics, 2013, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s first publication to present data collected under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. A snapshot of the findings may be garnered from the press release that may be accessed here. Hate Crimes against persons because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender non-conformity comprised over one fifth of the total. 20.2 percent were targeted because of anti-sexual orientation bias, 0.3 percent for anti-gender bias, and 0.5 percent for anti-gender identity bias. 1,461 persons were victimized because of bias against sexual orientation.

To be a gay man, or to be perceived as a gay man, remains the most dangerous sexual orientation identification in the United States. 60.9 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-gay (male) bias. 22.5 percent were victims of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias. 13.1 percent were victims of anti-lesbian bias. 1.8 percent were victims of anti-bisexual bias. 1.6 percent were victims of anti-heterosexual bias.

Anti-sexual orientation hate crimes add up to the second largest hate crime category reported by the FBI this year. First in number are anti-racial hate crimes, and third in number are hate crimes based on antipathy of one’s religion. A staggering 7,242 persons in the United States were victims of hate crimes last year. Five murders and 21 rapes (15 from agencies that collected data using the revised rape definition and 6 from agencies that used the legacy definition) were reported as hate crimes. While FBI data are collected from cooperating law enforcement agencies around the country, most experts agree that the numbers of hate crimes reported are a severe undercount.

Most hate crime incidents (31.5 percent) occurred in or near residences/homes. More than 18 percent (18.1) occurred on highways/roads/alleys/streets/sidewalks; 8.3 percent occurred at schools/colleges; 5.7 percent happened at parking/drop lots/garages; and 3.5 percent took place in churches/synagogues/temples/mosques. The location was considered other/unknown for 13.2 percent of hate crime incidents. The remainder of hate crime incidents took place at other specified or multiple locations.

The complete FBI report may be accessed here, complete with tables and commentary.

December 8, 2014 Posted by | 2013 Hate Crimes Statistics, Bisexual persons, FBI, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

California Boy Bullied for Being “Fag Cheerleader”; Takes His Own Life

Ronin Shimizu, 12, fell victim to bullying for being a "fag": the only boy on his middle school cheerleading squad.

Ronin Shimizu, 12, fell victim to bullying for being a “fag”: the only boy on his middle school cheerleading squad.

Folsom, California – 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu took his own life because he couldn’t bear the bullying anymore. KXTV reports that after incessant bullying for being a “fag” and loving cheerleading so passionately, this young person became yet another in the growing number of children who found rumor and bullying online and in school too much to take. His parents repeatedly warned local school officials that Ronin was being incessantly targeted by bullies. It had gotten so bad in the sixth grade that Brandon and Danielle Shimizu withdrew their son from Middle School, and schooled him at home. But the accusations of homosexuality and denial of his masculinity for being a cheerleader followed him, and in the end overwhelmed him.

In the wake of Ronin’s suicide, officials of Folsom Middle School, and of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, expressed grief and regret at his passing–too late. Whatever steps they took to stem the tide of cruel bullying were ineffective. According to Gay Star News, Ronin was targeted because he was the only boy on the cheerleading squad. Hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for Ronin on December 4 in his neighborhood. A sixth grade member of the Vista Junior Eagles Cheerleading Squad, Riley Coleman, broke down in tears as she said, “He was bullied very badly. It is not OK to bully people.” Cynthia Brown, a concerned parent from the neighborhood told KXTV Channel 10, “He was just a sweet child. For him to feel that hopeless is heart-breaking.” 

Ronin’s parents issued a statement on December 6 as a moving tribute to their son, and a warning to the community about the seriousness of youth suicide from bullying:

“The tragic loss of our son has and will forever change our life. The love and support that we received from family, friends and the Folsom community has been immeasurable and words cannot begin to express our gratitude through this most difficult grieving process. The people close to our family know exactly who Ronin was, but since the story of this tragedy has spread worldwide, we want to take a minute to let the world know who he was. Ronin was one of the most loving, compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny kids to grace this earth. Ronin was a child who was not afraid to follow his heart, and we as his parents did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions, while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed. As you already know, Ronin loved to do Cheer, but he also loved art, fashion, being a Scout and most recently crew/rowing. It is true that because of his specialness, Ronin was a target of bullying by individuals that could not understand or accept his uniqueness. Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin. We as his parents always knew that he would make an impact on the world, we just thought it would be in something like fashion design or art related. We had no idea that God and Buddha had a more important role for him, and we as his parents will make it our mission in life to turn this tragedy into something positive and hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy. In closing, please remember that education in regards to bullying prevention does not only need to occur in our schools but also in the home.” ~ Danielle and Brandon Shimizu

There is help for families battling school bullying. A Sacramento-based non-profit, B.R.A.V.E. Society, “Bullies Are Actually Violating Everyone,” offers solution focused resources for parents and school officials to help stem the rising tide of pre- and teenage suicide.

December 8, 2014 Posted by | Asian Americans, B.R.A.V.E. Society, Bullying in schools, California, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Mistaken as Gay, Vigils | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,404 other followers

%d bloggers like this: