Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Bisexual Man Shot to Death Outside His Home; Suspect Arrested and Charged with Hate Crime

Juan Ceballos, 20, gunned down because he was bisexual [KESQ photo].

Juan Ceballos, 20, gunned down because he was bisexual [KESQ photo].

Mecca, California – A 20-year-old openly bisexual man was murdered in his car as he parked in the driveway of his home.  Juan Ceballos, a student at the College of the Desert, had just returned home Sunday night, July 13, from work with pizza for his four siblings and his mother when a co-worker who had been lying in wait opened fire, fatally wounding him. According to KESQ TV News, his younger brother, 17-year-old Sergio Ceballo, rushed outside to find his brother Juan dying behind the wheel of his car.  Sergio and the family say that the reason for the murder of their beloved Juan was because of irrational hatred for Juan’s bisexuality.  Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputies agreed with the motive for Juan’s murder.  After the arrest of Miguel Angel Bautista Ramirez, 25, of Thermal, California, on Monday, July 28, he was charged with felony murder, hate crime, and lying in wait. The Desert Sun reports that prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Ramirez citing “bias against” gays and bisexual persons. On August 1, Ramirez pled not guilty to the charges.  He is being held without bail, and will be arraigned on August 11. Because the attack was bias-driven, premeditated, and fatal, Ramirez could face the death penalty.

“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.”

August 7, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, California, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alarming Rise in Transgender Murders, NCAVP Reports

Mia Henderson, 26, slain transgender woman in Baltimore this week.

Mia Henderson, 26, slain transgender woman in Baltimore.

Baltimore, Maryland – The discovery of the body of Mia Henderson, slain transgender woman of color, in Northwest Baltimore signals an alarming increase in the numbers of violent attacks on gender variant and transgender persons.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and TransGriot, a blog dedicated to raising issues pertinent to the African American transgender community, note that Ms. Henderson’s murder this week is the fifth report of a trans person murdered since June nationally, and the second for Baltimore during the same time span.

Henderson, 26, the sibling of NBA star Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers, was found dead in an alley Wednesday morning.  Gay Star News reports that her body had suffered “severe trauma,” according to Baltimore Police Department sources, resembling the savagery that took the life of Kandy Hall, 40, in early June, also in Baltimore.  No suspects have yet been identified in either of the homicide investigations.

The most recent annual NCAVP report on anti-LGBTQ violence in the United States signals a troubling spike in the number of violent attacks on transgender persons, especially male to female transgender women (M to F), and persons of color. The 2013 report details that “almost three quarters (72%) of  [LGBTQ] homicide victims were transgender women, and more than two-thirds (67%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color, yet transgender survivors and victims only represent 13% of total reports to NCAVP.”  The report goes on to say that transgender victims are more at risk of  injuries, and ethnic/racial minority transgender persons were more likely to be harmed in shelters than the population at large.  From the report: “Transgender men were 1.5 times more likely to experience injuries as a result of hate violence and 4.3 times more likely to be the target of hate violence in shelters when compared with other survivors. Transgender people of color were 1.8 times more likely to experience hate violence in shelters.” 

July 18, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Los Angeles Clippers, Maryland, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender persons, TransGriot, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Transgender Sibling of NBA Player Murdered in Baltimore; Second Trans Murder in Two Months

Transgender murder victim Mia Henderson, 26, was the sister of Los Angeles Clippers player Reggie Bullock, pictured here.

Transgender murder victim Mia Henderson, 26, was the sister of Los Angeles Clippers player Reggie Bullock, pictured here.

Baltimore, Maryland – The “severely traumatized” body of a transgender woman was discovered in Northwest Baltimore early Wednesday, and a National Basketball Player is grieving the death of his sister.  WJZ CBS TV is reporting that Mia Henderson, 26, died brutally in a manner reminiscent of another transgender homicide that took place in Baltimore just last month.  Her stricken brother, Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers, tweeted his grief Wednesday, saying that his sibling “taught me how to live [my] own life. Love you so much.”  Bullock continued, “[She] never cared what others thought. Always tried to keep people smiling and would do anything for me.”

Baltimore Police who have an aborning epidemic of transgender murders in their city (three now since April 2013) were quick to address the public, and particularly the transgender community whose nerves are on edge at the news another of their number has been savagely killed.  Major Dennis Smith speaking for the Baltimore Police Department said that officers discovered Ms. Henderson’s body while serving an arrest warrant. “We do know that there was trauma to the body to indicate that there was a homicide,” he said.  Police Commissioner Anthony Batts pledged to find the killer, saying, “I will not slow down. I will not allow us to not stay on top of these. We will push extremely hard.”

While investigators do not know if the June 3 slaying of transwoman Kandy Hall is related to Ms. Henderson’s murder, members of the Baltimore transgender community have no doubt that it is–and they are alarmed.  Speaking to WJZ, Jaqueline Robarge said, “They are connected in that the vulnerability of the women are being preyed on.”  Lasaia Wade agreed, “It’s another trans woman, another sister of mine that’s died. And I’m afraid to even walk out the door.”  Mark McLaurin, another member of the Baltimore LGBT community, explained, “We are a small tight-knit collaborative community. so, it’s a very frightening time.”  The body of Ms. Hall was found stabbed to death in a Northeast Baltimore field just weeks ago.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Police Commissioner Batts answered questions from “a roomful” of concerned LGBT leaders Wednesday.  “We want to be strong partners with our LGBT community,” he sad. “Not by talk but by action.”  He pledged that detectives were working hard on both murder investigations.  But some members of the transgender community are not co-operating with police for fear of being targeted as prostitutes.  Equality Baltimore advocacy and programs director Keith Thirion weighed in, “It’s clear the community is concerned about the continued violence against transgender women, and we need to see action.”

A neighbor of Ms. Henderson who refused to give her name to The Sun out of fear of retribution said she believes she saw the killer walk down the alley where the victim’s savaged body was later found.  Around 5 a.m., the woman said, she saw a light skinned African American man lurking around the neighborhood.  He approached the woman and her friend and offered them $10 for “a date.”  She described the man as young, wearing a white T-shirt, a white baseball cap, and a pair of jeans.

July 16, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Equality Baltimore, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Los Angeles Clippers, Maryland, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cyber Bullied Teen Dies After “Secret” Video Goes Viral; Boy’s Family Stonewalled by School System

Matthew S. Burdette, 14-year-old victim of cyber bullying and cyber voyeurism.

Matthew S. Burdette, 14-year-old victim of cyber bullying and cyber voyeurism.

San Diego, California – The family of a teen who took his life after a secret video of him in the school Men’s Room went viral on the web say bullying drove him to it–but his school refuses to communicate with them about it.  Matthew S. Burdette, 14, fell victim to a classmate at University City High School who allegedly videoed Burdette masturbating in the toilet by holding a phone over the top of the stall, and then blasted the images on the internet, according to ABC 10. Matthew left a note to his family detailing a storm of bullying targeting him as the reason for his fatal despair.  His aunt, Laura Burdette Mechak, said her nephew just couldn’t take the bullying anymore–but since she and his parents knew nothing of the video, they had no idea why Matthew took his life. He was a popular boy, working on his Eagle Scout rank, a member of the water polo team, and well-liked by everyone, so far as they knew. Then something happened at high school that he didn’t want to talk about. Mechak told ABC 10 about the contents of her nephew’s suicide note, “He said, I can’t do school anymore. I have no friends. I don’t want to kill myself but I have no friends.”

Since Matthew’s death in November 2013, his family has repeatedly tried to get answers from the school, but to no avail.  His aunt and his father took the suicide note with them to the school, and asked officials what they knew about whatever had driven their beloved Matthew to such despair.  The school dropped a cloak of secrecy over the incident for months, and refused to share information with the Burdettes.  The distraught family only pieced together what had happened to Matthew after classmates blew the whistle on the school, and revealed the existence of the excruciatingly embarrassing video.  Mechak said, “Kids came forward to help them figure out what was going on.”  They told Matthew’s parents that after his antagonist spied on him over the stall, the student put the video he shot on Snapchat, Vine, and other sites on the web.  “It went viral. It went beyond his school. It went to other schools in California,” Mechak said. “Kids in the neighborhood who didn’t go to Matthew’s school had heard about it and seen the video that was taken of him.”  Then the weeks of brutal taunting and bullying started.

The bullying was unrelenting, according to Mechak, though Matthew hid his crisis from the family.  “Kids saw this video and began to tease Matthew mercilessly — they teased him, they harassed him. They made his life miserable over a two-week period,” she said. Then, he took his life.

Matthew’s parents demanded to know what the school had done about the boy who videoed their son.  Mechak says that she and they bear no ill will toward the kid who ignited all this sorrow.  It was only after the San Diego Police Department told them that the unnamed juvenile had been arrested and confessed to taking the video, and the District Attorney refused to supply the family with any more information about the case that the Burdettes secured an attorney to file a claim against the San Diego Unified School District, and bring their side of the story to the public.  “I don’t have hatred for the kid who took this video. He was a dumb kid who did a dumb thing. But these kids don’t get it. They don’t realize how big the cyber bullying world is,” Mechak told ABC 10.

sdusd-signThe Los Angeles Times reports that Matthew’s parents, Timothy and Barbara Burdette have filed a $1 million claim against the school system, alleging that a teacher, a school administrator, and possibly other school employees knew about the incriminating video and its creator, and did nothing to protect or help their son. In the claim, the Burdettes say that they are now “forced to bear the death of their son for the rest of [our] lives.”  The school system rejected their claim, so the family now has six months to file a lawsuit.  Their attorney says the school failed Matthew on several counts, and that the creator of the video may be guilty of breaking California’s anti-bullying law.  The District Attorney says that their will be a hearing for the young man who ignited this whole incident on July 23.

This past Monday, the San Diego Unified School District issued a statement expressing sympathy for the family, but continuing to stonewall them at every turn.  In part, the press release reads: “At San Diego Unified, the safety and well-being of our students is a top priority. The district also adheres to the privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations related to students, families and ongoing investigations.”

Bullying in schools remains at epidemic levels throughout California and the United States.  Matthew Burdette’s case shows that even athletic and well-regarded teens can fall victim to suicidal despair, whatever their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and presentation may be.  It is imperative that parents and friends know the warning signs of the onset of suicidal thoughts in teenagers.  The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), among others, have excellent online resources to help teens and families.  Their teen suicide prevention information may be accessed here. 

July 16, 2014 Posted by | Bullycide, Bullying in schools, California, cyber voyeurism, harassment, National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), San Diego Unified School District, suicide, teen suicide | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trans Woman Savagely Attacked in Atlanta’s Little Five Points; Details Still Emerging

Video capture of stomping attack on trans woman in Atlanta.  GA Voice image.

Video capture of stomping attack on trans woman in Atlanta. GA Voice image.

Little Five Points, Atlanta, Georgia – A trans woman yet to be identified was brutally stomped in an attack following a verbal engagement with a group of men in the Little Five Points section of Atlanta.  GA Voice reported the attack after videos appeared showing a shouting match between the trans woman and her unidentified attacker.  The video shows the explicit moment as the attacker, a much larger man than his victim, stomps on her repeatedly.  The extent of the victim’s injuries is unknown, but must have been severe.

Atlanta transgender people are on edge ever since two trans women were assaulted on the MARTA in May of this year. Two men were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in the wake of that crime.  Now that another trans woman has been targeted for violence, the Atlanta transgender and social advocacy communities are up in arms.  Most disturbing to the trans community is that bystanders in both assaults did nothing to help.  Cheryl Courtney-Evans, founder of Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth (TILTT) told GA Voice, “If this person is not in the hospital, I don’t know why the Atlanta Police don’t know about it—she should have reported it. I’m sickened by the fact that people were once again standing around doing nothing, when this waste of DNA should have been detained and locked up for assault. As a community, transgender individuals are just tired of having to fear and worry about our safety at any given moment that we leave our homes,” she said. “While we understand that the LGB community has the same worry, we also know that they have reached a point in society where it is not so prevalent or common. Transgenders, on the other hand, particularly MTFs, must worry about ‘passing’ or they become instant possible targets for verbal or physical abuse.”

Jeff Graham, executive director for Georgia Equality, said, “That’s another horrific attack against a transgender or gender variant person. I hope that the person who has been attacked comes forward so that the police can fully investigate. It is also time to address the overall violence that transgender people live with every day through increased public education and enforcement of the policies that the city of Atlanta has put in place.”

Since the attack, the videographer who captured the brutal stomping and put it up on YouTube has said that the incident had nothing to do with transphobia.  Though the investigation is still proceeding, it is hard to believe that the victim’s gender variance and gender expression had nothing to do with the savagery of the assault.  The entire Atlanta LGBTQ community is awaiting word on the motive that caused a big man to move beyond slurs to inflict such horrific violence against a trans woman.  Robbie Medwed spoke for Atlantans in a tweet on Wednesday night: “Cringe is too soft a word for the visceral reaction I have when I watch that vine [referring to the video]. I can’t accept that this is Atlanta.”

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Georgia, Georgia Equality, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stomping and Kicking Violence, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Charting the Future of Ministerial Ordination for LGBTQ People: When the Unthinkable Becomes Commonplace

SVS Russell ORD47 (Note: This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on June 11, 2014.  The original posting can be accessed here, and we encourage you to do so.)

A quiet revolution is taking place in once anti-LGBTQ denominational circles. Women and men who are widely known to be openly partnered and “practicing” queer people are being ordained as ministers in churches once ardently opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians—and are being celebrated for it. The recently unthinkable is becoming commonplace, and none too soon.

Late May and June is prime ordination season, with Pentecost Sunday as the day of choice for many. Graduation Day has come and gone by then in seminaries, and Ordination Day approaches. In Texas, the storied “buckle on the Bible Belt,” this season I have watched as several recently authorized women and men knelt for the laying on of hands in their sponsoring congregations, and their same-sex partners have participated in the ordination of their beloved spouses as openly and joyously as any traditionally married partners would: attending the service, organizing the reception, and in some cases participating in the liturgy itself. Denominational officials presiding at these ordinations are seemingly as happy to carry out their duties at these LGBTQ ordinations as they are for those of their “straight” ordinands. What a difference a year or two makes!

Make no mistake about it: the genuine acceptance of LGBTQ candidates for ordination in traditional and mainline contexts is revolutionary. Though closeted gay men have been ordained for generations, and more recently closeted lesbians as women’s ordination came online, stigma often haunted any clergy person suspected of being a member of the sexual minority. Not long ago, authorizing boards were battlegrounds. Gay and lesbian candidates for ordination were rejected outright, and anyone already ordained by “don’t ask, don’t tell” systems who was perceived to be “different” was subject to church trial and defrocking. The bittersweet evidence of this sad history is on display at the Shower of Stoles Project, where over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items of those defrocked and hounded into exile are archived in testimony to the injustice aimed at LGBTQ clergy. Today’s spirit of openness is unprecedented. Though some ordaining boards are still rejectionist, each year the evidence mounts that once-ostracized queer people are moving from the periphery of their religious groups into leadership positions. The outrageous, wasteful loss of gifted religious leadership based on heterosexist, homophobic, and transphobic prejudice may be finally nearing its end for many traditional Protestant communions.

Of course, there are exceptions, like the struggle now taking place in the United Methodist Church. But the prophetic leadership of the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Alliance of Baptists, and, of course, the Protestant Episcopal Church is demonstrating that just as women’s ordination caused none of them to collapse, just so, the ordination of LGBTQ women and men of faith strengthens the communions to which they belong. Even the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is coming on board quietly now, region by region. Though Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seem unmoved by ordination developments among Protestants, their hierarchies are monitoring what is happening for queer folk as closely as they have watched the ordination of women, one of the great movements of the Holy Spirit in late 20th and early 21st century ecclesial life. Surely, the “Grandmother” of all LGBTQ ordaining bodies, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Churches (MCC), must be smiling at these developments.

Ordination: Celebrating the Gift of Ministry, by Stephen V. Sprinkle

Ordination: Celebrating the Gift of Ministry, by Stephen V. Sprinkle

I wrote a book about ordination to Christian ministry in 2004 when the open ordination of lesbians and gay men was virtually unheard of, save in one or two denominations. The Bad Ol’ Days of secrets and ambushes over sexual orientation and gender variance were awful to live through. So much hurt and needless pain! Now, however, with the advent of a new day in ordination, anyone called by God and willing to prepare for a life of service in the church has a shot. Today, I celebrate what is coming to be, not what once was, and I live in hope of a clergy more realistic, faithful, and humane than I once knew. LGBTQ sensibilities have never been the most distinctive or predominant qualities of who queer clergy were, as important as sexual honesty and orientation are in anyone’s life. The “Otherness” of gay people is a gift to the church’s ministry, among the many gifts bestowed by the One Spirit, as L. William Countryman and M.R. Ritley said in their book, Gifted By Otherness. The obvious gifts of effective ethical leadership, compassion, courage, intelligence, skill, and devotion to God have always been what really counted in the formation of clergy. Now that the noisy clamor of bigotry in North American Protestantism and culture is dying down, the churches’ ordaining bodies are more able to discern how often LGBTQ people display the true ministerial character that the 21st century church so desperately needs. While we must never forget the struggles that have brought us to this new era, we do not need the distraction of placing blame for what has been. Instead, straight and LGBTQ people must chart the future of ordination from this time forward, together.

Today’s ordination of LGBTQ women and men, though officially unobtrusive, is a welcome antidote to the old toxic hatreds of the past. As these gifted ordinands take their places among their peers in ministry, the presence and witness of LGBTQ clergy will become less remarkable and more commonplace. Oh, how I welcome that development! But until the old has fully passed away, and the new is fully come, I cannot help pausing to reflect, to remember the pioneers who brought us this far along the way, and give thanks for the colors of the rainbow. For “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6, NRSV).  ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of The Unfinished Lives Project

June 27, 2014 Posted by | GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Religion Page, LGBTQ, LGBTQ clergy, LGBTQ Ordination, Mainline Protestant Churches, Shower of Stoles Project, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fresno Drag Queens Targeted in Arson Attack by Bible-Verse-Spouter; Anti-Gay Hate Crime Suspected

Two gay drag artists, Brandon Jackson (l) and Chris Ruiz (r) show the charred remnants of their SUV to reporters.  Hate crime is suspected.

Two gay drag artists, Brandon Jackson (l) and Chris Ruiz (r) show the charred remnants of their SUV to reporters. Hate crime is suspected.

Fresno, California – Two gay men well-known in Fresno as drag artists say the arson attack on their vehicle was a hate crime solely because of their sexuality.  Local law enforcement authorities are investigating the possibility that they are right.  ABC Action News 30 reports that Brandon Jackson and his partner Chris Ruiz rushed to stop the fire that had been set to their SUV, but too late to save thousands of dollars of wigs and costumes they use in one of the most successful drag shows in Fresno County.

Ruiz told Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputies that as he ran out of the house to help douse the flames consuming their vehicle, a former lover of his partner’s mother confronted him with a torrent of anti-gay slurs. According to Ruiz, Chuck Bullock Jr. yelled at him, claiming to have set the blaze, “I’m lighting your f***ing car on fire f****t!”  Jackson and Ruiz also say that Bullock, whose father was a Christian minister, demeaned them with a flood of Bible verses, condemning them for being abominations.  The use of anti-LGBTQ slurs is a prime marker suggesting that the attack was bias motivated, and Deputies are investigating for a hate crime dimension.

After the attack, Bullock allegedly took responsibility for the crime in text messages sent to Jackson’s mother, his ex-lover.  He used more anti-gay slurs in the texts and accentuated his profanity with the threat, “I’m going to burn you down!”  Officers went to Bullock’s father’s home Tuesday looking for the suspect, but were unsuccessful.

ABC 30 videoed the wreckage of the totaled SUV: the melted interior, the charred remains of gowns and wigs, and even the imprints of Jackson’s hand on the hood where he vainly attempted to put the fire out with his bare hands. Jackson managed to put out the fire with a garden hose.  “The smell was god-awful and then it just looked as if it was melting – waxworks — it just looked like it was melting,” he told ABC 30 reporters. “And this was because, simply because of my sexuality.”  Thankfully, the loss of the vehicle, while costly, could have been far worse, and Jackson and Ruiz know it. Their SUV is a total loss, but they were the real target. They could have been immolated in their own home.

June 26, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, Arson, Burning and branding, California, drag queens, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBTQ, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gay Native American Murder Sentence Decried as Too Light; Mother Indicts Judge and Wyoming Court

David Moss, 25, gay Arapaho beaten to death with a bat and brass knuckles by teenagers.

David Moss, 25, gay Arapaho beaten to death with a bat and brass knuckles by teenagers.

Riverton, Wyoming – Santana Mendoza, the second teenage defendant in the September 2013 murder of a gay Native American was sentenced for manslaughter yesterday in the death of a gay Native American, and the victim’s mother is crying foul.  Her son’s murder was a hate crime, Victoria Moss said, and the sentences the court handed down to the teens who killed him show the world that the life of a Native American gay man is worth less than if he were straight and white.  County 10 reports that Ms. Moss declared that since this is National LGBTQ Pride Month, she would be honoring her son while gay people and allies celebrated Pride.  “This Saturday,” she said, “I will be celebrating the pride I have for my gay son.”

David Ronald Moss Jr., 25, was bludgeoned to death by teenagers Santana Mendoza and John Potter on the Rails to Trails Pathway behind a Riverton trailer park on September 4, 2013. Moss’s companion, Aleeah Crispin, was beaten into brain damage by the teens during the same attack, leaving her unable to speak for weeks afterwards. Mendoza and Potter, 16 and 15 at the time of the brutal assault, were both tried as adults. Both initially pled not guilty to all charges.  In April of this year, after a plea deal reducing the charge from second degree murder to manslaughter, Potter was sentenced, as reported by County 10.  After the same plea deal was accepted by District Attorney Michael Bennett for Mendoza, his sentence was handed down by Ninth Circuit Judge Norman E. Young after a one-hour sentencing hearing at which Crispin herself testified.  Mendoza’s sentence mirrors Potter’s sentence almost perfectly: 12 to 18 years for the murder of Moss, minus time served, and 8 to 10 years for the assault on Crispin, both sentences to run concurrently.  The sentence also mandates that the youths share a restitution of $12,000 to be paid to the living victim and the families. Moss’s mother is convinced that her son’s sexual orientation and Native American heritage played into the judge’s decision to hand down a light sentence that would never have been tolerated by the white, straight community if the victim had been one of their own.  Some say that the revelation of Moss’s sexual orientation came as a surprise to them.

Judge Young denies being influenced by the knowledge that Moss was gay.  He told County 1o that he now believes neither of the youths “intended” to kill Moss, who succumbed to blunt force trauma to his head according to the Coroner’s report. What Judge Young does admit to considering was the age of the defendants.  Both were born in 1997.  He said that he had never sentenced anyone in his career as young as they.

The attack was swift, terrifying and brutal.  Mendoza testified that he and Potter saw two friends eating fast food near the beginning of the pathway.  The Daily Ranger reported that while Mendoza watched Moss and Crispin, Potter left to retrieve a ball bat and brass knuckles that they used in the attack on Moss and Crispin. The teens beat them in the face with the bat, and repeated kicked them. When they left, Mendoza testified, both victims were unconscious, and Moss was making a “snoring” sound. The next morning, two unresponsive bodies were found on the trail.  Moss was dead.  Crispin was beaten mute, and left with significant brain injuries.

Hate crime was never considered during the investigation. Instead, law enforcement and the District Attorney sought for other motives for the senseless crime.

Moss was an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and proud of it.  His obituary portrayed a young man who was devoted to family, especially to his niece, Morning Star, and liked by a wide circle of family and friends.

The accusation of David Moss’s mother still hangs in the air as the two youths serve out their sentences: What is the comparative worth of the life of a gay Native American?  Where is the justice in any of this senselessness?

June 26, 2014 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Native Americans, Northern Arapaho Tribe, Racism, women, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Florida Transwoman Discovered Burned to Death Behind Garbage Cans; Media Disrespect Her in Her Death

Transwoman Yaz'min Shanchez, 31, immolated to death behind a trash dumpster down a private road in Fort Myers {Facebook photo).

Transwoman Yaz’min Shanchez, 31, immolated to death behind a trash dumpster down a private road in Fort Myers {Facebook photo).

Fort Myers, Florida – A 31-year-old transgender woman of color was found burned to death in Fort Myers behind a garbage dumpster, according to the Naples News.  Yaz’min Shanchez who identified as a woman since 2004 was found on June 19 behind a Budget Truck Rental site on a dead-end road in an industrial part of the city. The victim’s father arrived at the scene to find his child’s body charred and bloody, according to reports in the media. Lt. Jay Rodriguez said that hate crime is not a dimension of the investigation as things now stand. Though authorities wish to rule out anti-transgender hatred as a motive, fire is often used as a weapon against LGBTQ people, and is often a tip off to homophobic and transphobic hate crimes.

“We have no indication at this time to say this was specifically done because it was a male living as a female or anything like that,” Lt. Rodriguez said. “If you really think about it, a hate crime is killing someone for a specific reason, being black, Hispanic, gay. We’re investigating as we would any other homicide.”  Yet, recent reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) show that while numbers of other bias-driven crimes are declining slightly, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, especially those perpetrated against transgender people of color, are escalating.  The reports document that:

  • Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, were two to three times more likely to experience physical violence, police violence, and discrimination than victims who were not transgender women.
  • LGBTQ people of color were 1.8 times more likely to encounter hate-motivated violence than white LGBTQ people.

The Center for American Progress is sounding the alarm about the precipitous increase in anti-LGBTQ and anti-gender variant hate crimes in the U.S. by calling on law enforcement states like Florida to strengthen the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by passing local and state protection statutes for transgender people, and by aggressively educating law enforcement agencies and the general public.

The immolation of Yaz’min Shanchez indicates that the work it will take to educate the media and law enforcement about the nature of transphobia and racism will be immense.  News reports quoting Shanchez’s family show that while they loved her, they had never reconciled themselves to her chosen way of identifying herself as a woman.  After ten years, her father was still referring to her as “he,” and “him.”  The police report led with the identification of the victim by a cisgender name, Eddie James Owen, though the family acknowledged to police repeatedly that she had identified as a transgender woman.  Naples News does little or nothing to redress this problem in their report of the murder. While how a person is identified within a family is a matter they must resolve themselves, there is no excuse for media and law enforcement to add disrespect of the victim’s self-identification by insisting on cisgender language.  The transgender community and its allies are already in enough pain, fear, and turmoil without compounding the problems surrounding Ms. Shanchez’s murder.

EDGE on the Net quotes GLAAD spokesperson Ross Murray as saying that whether Shanchez died of a transphobic hate crime or not, “no one deserves to be violently murdered and set on fire and put behind a Dumpster.” Murray added, “Particularly transgender women of color, face the most violence against them. I think that transgender people are still marginalized and stigmatized in our society. We tend to talk about transgender people in a way that discounts their experience and makes them a butt of a joke or deviant or suspicious and doesn’t take (their) whole life into account.”

Over 200 people participated in a Sunday vigil organized by The Southwest Florida Equality Coalition and the Center of Southwest Florida for Ms. Shanchez.  Naples News reports that Heather Lunsford, a founder of The Center, told the crowd, “We’re here to show unity. We’re in support of any community members, especially on the LGBT spectrum. [We’re here to bring awareness] especially because of the nature of the crime committed against [Shancez].” In a poignant moment, attendee Jenna Satterfield said to a reporter, “The amount of violence in this crime screams the perpetrators were trying to send a message. In spite of the fact we’re lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgendered, we’re no different than anybody else … We’re no different and we mean no harm.”

June 23, 2014 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Burning and branding, Center for American Progress, Florida, GLAAD, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, immolation, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Media Issues, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Southwest Florida Equality Coalition, The Center of Southwest Florida, transgender persons, transphobia, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Infamous Lesbian Murder Case Cracked in Texas: Alleged Shooter Arrested After Two-Year Investigation

David Malcolm Strickland, suspect in the lesbian murder assault case (EDGE photo).

David Malcolm Strickland, suspect in the lesbian murder assault case (EDGE photo).

Portland, Texas – Nearly two years after teenage lesbian lovers were abducted and shot on a steep grassy hillside in this South Texas coastal town, a 27-year-old suspect has finally been arrested, according to Portland, Texas law enforcement authorities.  David Malcolm Strickland was arrested Friday and charged with the capital murder of Mollie Olgin, 19 at the time of the shooting, and for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of Kristene Chapa, 18, whom he allegedly shot in the head at the same time.  Chapa survived, though the damage to the left side of her brain left her unable to walk, sit, or stand.  Only with years of therapy and surgery has Chapa been able to reacquire her balance and mobility.  In addition to these charges, the shooter has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. Details are still emerging from the investigation, and further charges may be brought, according to authorities. Strickland’s wife, Laura Kimberly, 23, has also been detained by Portland Police, and faces charges of tampering with evidence.

“I hope that it gives [the victims, their families, and community members] some closure knowing that this person is taken off the street,” Portland Police Chief Gary Giles said to NBC News. “It is one day before the two-year anniversary. We’ve been working very hard to make sure we get him as soon as possible. A series of fortunate events has led us to this point and I’m just very happy that we could help in — at least at this point — in bringing him to justice.”

Strickland was apprehended in the Helotes suburb of San Antonio on Friday by Texas Rangers and U.S. Marshals. Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals, and Portland Police officers took Strickland’s wife into custody.  Robert R. Almonte, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas told NBC News, “My sympathies and condolences to the victims and their families who had to endure this wicked act of violence. [Strickland] is a stone cold killer who thought he got away with murder, but will finally pay for his crime.”

The reconstructed murder event that took place in Portland remains chilling, even after two years.  Chapa, now 20 years old, said she went with Olgin on Friday night, June 23, 2012 to Violet Andrews Park, to see where Olgin had been baptized.  The suspect forced the teenagers at gun point down a steep incline where he bound them, sexually assaulted them, and shot them both, leaving them to die.  A couple out bird watching the next morning discovered the victims.  Olgin had died of her wounds, but Chapa, who had clawed her way out of the sharp, thorny brush, survived, and was rushed to a medical center for emergency surgery.  Chapa returned to the scene of the crime to assist investigators.  She recounted to a reporter how difficult it was for her to go back to the place where her lover died so cruelly. “I felt every cut, every thorn go through my hand,” she said of the brush she fought to get out of, pointing to the scars still plainly visible on her arms. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get help.’”

Sergeant Roland Chavez of the Portland Police Department discussed the investigation with reporters.  DNA evidence from finger prints around the crime scene initially belonged to over 250 suspects, Chavez said.  Then the slow process of singling out the shooter had to go step-by-step.  Investigators wanted to make sure they had the right man before making the arrest, else they feared Chapa would only be victimized again by a false ID.  The shooter used a .45 caliber handgun on the teenagers, sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Friday, June 23, 2012.  The teenagers had no prior knowledge of their attacker, which complicated the case, making it even seem more brutal and bizarre.  Neither did the suspect have a previous criminal record, providing officers another hurdle to overcome.  Chavez speculated that the shooter may have fantasized about such a crime long before the actual event, and worked himself up to doing it over time. The birdwatching couple who discovered Olgin and Chapa stumbled across the gruesome scene at about 8:30 a.m. the next day.

R to L: Mollie Judith Olgin (deceased), and Mary Kristene Chapa, teen victims of brutal shooting two years ago this month.

R to L: Mollie Judith Olgin (deceased), and Mary Kristene Chapa, teen victims of brutal shooting two years ago this month.

Authorities are still at a loss to explain the motive for the crime at this point.  They have consistently ruled out anti-lesbian hatred as a motive, but the suspicion that homophobia and certainly heterosexism may have played a part in targeting the couple just won’t go away. Hate crimes against women are particularly difficult to sort out, since homophobia is so often a weapon of sexism.

Chapa still struggles to open and close her left hand.  The bullet destroyed the area of her brain controlling motion on her left side.  Her wounds left her an invalid, much like a stroke victim.  Hard work, support, and courage are paying off.  Though she will never regain total mobility, Chapa told reporters that she knows she will almost get there, if she just keeps up the struggle.  Worse for her is the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie Olgin.  “Every day I think about her,” she said of Olgin. “I pray for her, just for her to watch over me.”  Since the attack, Chapa has reached out to other victims of gun violence and paralysis, like the families devastated by the Newtown School shooting in Connecticut.  “I opened up myself to them and just told them how my story is similar, I just put my feelings in there,” she said to NBC News, also saying that she hopes “to meet more victims who have been shot because we relate. I’m pretty sure we’ve been through a lot of the same things and have felt the same ways.”

She and her parents are still appealing to the public to help fund Chapa’s rehabilitation, care, and recovery.  Her family has exhausted their resources, and though a good deal of money has been donated these past two years, it hasn’t been enough.  Chapa says that she and her folks are “pretty much alone” in the effort to finance her health care. The funding site originally set up to assist with Chapa’s care has been discontinued without public explanation.

After a news conference arranged by the Portland Police Department to announce Strickland’s arrest, Chapa reflected on her feelings.  Though she told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times she felt safer now that the suspect was in custody, the pain and loss are still there for her. “It will never take back the pain and hurt he did to our families. And it won’t bring Mollie back,” she said. “Right now for both our families this is very hard.”  

San Patricio District Attorney Michael Welborn believes they have their man. “We feel we have a very strong case to put forth,” he said. “We fully believe that we are going to bring justice to these two young ladies and their families.”

June 23, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay teens, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian teens, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Texas, women | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,789 other followers

%d bloggers like this: