New Orleans, LA – The Times-Picayune and Advocate.com report the Sunday murder of a victim who presented femininely and referred to herself as “Beyoncé,” in tribute to the popular star of soul and pop/rock, Beyoncé Knowles. The victim, Eric Lee, 21, was stabbed repeatedly at an apartment complex in the Algiers neighborhood. Police found Lee’s slashed body inside a first-floor apartment. Witnesses say they heard Lee arguing heatedly with a group of women before the time of the murder. While police have not announced a suspected motive for the killing, the m.o. fits a transphobic hate crime pattern. Residents who knew her say that Lee, who was in transition from male to female, often dressed in women’s clothing, and drew ridicule from the neighborhood because of it. An unidentified source told the Times-Picayune that Lee “dressed to the nines.” Carl Adams, who claimed that he did not know the victim well, told reporters that he had often heard Lee arguing with neighbors. “Probably because they made fun of him,” he said. In recent years, other trans and non-gender conforming African Americans who have identified with the megastar Knowles have died at the hands of phobic killers. Simmie Lewis Williams, Jr., 17, who also called himself “Beyoncé,” died from gunshot wounds in 2007 in the 1000 block of Sistrunk Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Adolphus “Beyoncé” Simmons, 18, a talented female impersonator from North Charleston, South Carolina, similarly died outside his apartment while carrying out the trash to a bin, also in 2007. Much like queer southern whites have idolized Dolly Parton, dressing like her and lip-syncing her hits, Beyoncé has entranced young black cross dressers and transgender women, and has legions of gay and lesbian fans, both black and white. Yet she has not become the advocate for LGBT people that Ms. Parton has. Ms. Knowles has occasionally reached out to her LGBT fans, especially after an international flap over her comments concerning the onstage kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears at the MTV Awards in 2003. At the time, the British tabloid, The Sun, charged Knowles with homophobic statements based on her strict religious upbringing. On her website, she refuted the claims of the tabloid, writing, “I’d like to clarify any confusion over some quotes that were attributed to me totally out of context in a recent interview. I have never judged anyone based on his or her sexual orientation and have no intention of starting now. I have a lot of gay and lesbian fans and I love them no differently than my straight fans.” For an interview in Instinct reported on AfterElton.com, she revealed that she was raised by a gay uncle who died of AIDS-related complications. “He helped me buy my prom dress. He made my clothes with my mother. He was like my nanny. He was my favorite person in the whole world,” she said. To date, her love and respect for her uncle and her LGBT fans notwithstanding, she has not spoken out against the harm being perpetrated against queer fans who are suffering the ultimate price for paying her the ultimate tribute. The murder of Eric “Beyoncé” Lee, while outrageous in its own right, underlines the need from some statement on Ms. Knowles’ part, condemning such killings. Of course, Beyoncé Knowles is not responsible in any way for the killing of Lee, Williams, Simmons, or anyone who chooses to bear her name. But the number of those dying to emulate her suggest that statements from her and other influential black entertainers against homophobia and transphobia is at least urgent, if not overdue. ~ NB: Pronouns in this article reflect the usage of the source in quotations. Williams and Simmons referred to themselves using masculine pronouns. As is appropriate for an M to F transperson, Lee is referred to using feminine pronouns.
Washington, DC – Last night the U.S. Senate passed the mammoth Department of Defense Appropriations Bill with the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act attached as an amendment. HRC Backstory explains the process of reconciliation that this version of the bill will undergo in the Senate-House Conference Committee. According to HRC Senior Policy Analyst David Stacy, “During the month of August, while the Congress is in recess, House and Senate staff will work out differences between the House and Senate bills. Most of these decisions are unrelated to hate crimes and can be worked out at the staff level. Key decisions will be made by Senators and Representatives when they return in September. Most important among these will be the final decision about whether to keep the Matthew Shepard Act. Beyond that threshold question, which we fully expect will be an emphatic “YES,” decisions will have to be made about the amendments passed by the Senate this week.” This is great cause for celebration since LGBT people are very close to having federal protection in an unprecedented way in our history. Not only does this legislation honor Matthew Shepard, for whom it is named. It also remembers and honors thousands of other LGBT hate crimes victims for whom this legislative act is a vindication of sorts. But while there is reason for rejoicing, the ultimate passage of anti-LGBT hate crimes legislation is not a done deal yet. The DOD bill did attach other amendments, such as the Sessions Death Penalty amendments, designed to make the Matthew Shepard Act less palatable to sponsors and the public. The protections provided in the bill for LGBT people are limited, if still important and historic. Hate crimes against us are on the rise, and the old bromide activists rehearse, that as the younger generations take the reins of culture and government, the war against LGBT people will be over, is just not borne out by the facts. If younger Americans are more open statistically toward LGBT people and our relationships, then why is the profile of the people who actually kill us men from teenage to mid-30s, for one thing? So, we must keep at this work. Those of us who believe in justice cannot rest. Those of us who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes. [Illustration thanks to Advocate.com].
~ Stephen Sprinkle, Director, Unfinished Lives Project
San Diego, CA – The U.S. Navy says that a decorated petty officer has been charged with murder and other offenses in the June 30 slaying of gay Seaman August Provost at Camp Pendleton, California. Jonathan Campos, 32, has been in military custody since July 1, when the smoldering remains of Seaman Provost were found inside the guard shack where he stood sentry on the night of his murder. Campos, a Lancaster, CA native, enlisted in the Navy in 2001. He is a military fuel-system technician who had received numerous decorations, including the Good Conduct Medal. He has been charged with murder and arson, as well as charges of wrongful possession of a firearm, unlawful entry to a military base, carrying a concealed weapon and stealing military property. Forensic evidence shows that Provost was shot multiple times with a .45 calibre pistol. The sentry shack was then torched with Provost’s body inside in order to destroy evidence of the crime. The Navy continues to deny that the victim was killed because of his sexual orientation. Instead, naval investigators for NCIS contend that Provost surprised Campos as he was seeking to gain entry to the anchorage where hovercraft were docked in order to set one of them afire, and that Campos shot Provost at that time. Provost’s family and friends, along with gay rights activists, believe that his sexual orientation played a factor in the murder. His aunt has told the press that her nephew complained to her about being repeatedly harassed for his homosexuality, and that he had one prime antagonist on base at Camp Pendleton. Though it is not known whether Campos is that antagonist, both he and Provost served in the same unit, Assault Craft 5. Ben Gomez, head of the San Diego chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, a national LGBT servicemembers organization, said to San Diego 6 that he and other LGBT activists believe Seaman Provost’s murder was a hate crime. They contend that he was killed after having an argument about his sexuality with an antagonist on base. They do not find the Navy’s claim credible that Provost was a “random” victim. While the Navy largely bases their claim that sexual orientation did not play a part in Provost’s murder since he had never filed a complaint with his superiors about being harassed for being gay, family and the LGBT community counter that he could not have felt safe approaching his commanders at Camp Pendleton because of the threat posed to his continuing military service because of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). Members of the U.S. House of Representatives from California and Provost’s native Texas are calling for a full investigation into the case.
Satendar Singh, gay Indo-Fijian immigrant to the United States, would have been 29 years old today. He was fatally injured at California’s Lake Natoma State Park by Slavic fundamentalist Christians who shouted slurs at him on July 1, 2007, calling him “Hindu,” “7-11 Worker,” “Faggot,” and taunting him that he should “go to a good church” like they did. Punched in the face by Andrey Vusik, a Russian car exporter who had just come from church that Sunday morning, Singh fell backward, striking his head on a concrete walk. Though he regained consciousness for a short time, Singh went into a coma, losing all brain activity. Since his parents lived 5,000 miles away in the South Pacific nation of Fiji, the decision to remove life support from him fell to his uncle and aunt, who like Singh, lived in Sacramento. Vusik fled the United States, leaving his wife and three small children behind in West Sacramento, and is still at large. An accomplice of his, Alexandr Shevchenko, stood trial in May 2008 for inciting a fight, assault, and a hate crime. He was found guilty of the two misdemeanor charges, but the the jury deadlocked 7-5 on the hate crime charge. Shevchenko was sentenced to 150 days in jail. Singh’s fatal offense seems to have been dancing with both men and women friends who went to the lake with him to celebrate his promotion at work. Friction between Slavic fundamentalist Christians who teach that homosexuality is a sin and the large LGBT population of Sacramento had been growing for over two years, with thousands of “Russian Baptists” and Pentecostals from Russia, Uzbekistan, the Ukraine, and Belorussia who emigrated to the US for religious freedom protesting any public LGBT celebration or event in the Sacramento Valley. LGBT rights advocates feared that something deadly might happen one day, and they point to Satendar Singh’s murder as evidence that they were right. The two men who attacked Singh and his party of friends had ties to the anti-gay extremist group, Watchmen On the Walls, featured in the Intelligence Report of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Singh, a Sikh and not a Hindu as his attackers falsely assumed, was transported back to Fiji for the last rites of his funeral. Rest in peace, sweet brother!
After a hard review of the facts on the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act as a part of the DOD Appropriations Bill, the Unfinished Lives Team supports a Presidential veto if the final version is still inclusive of increased funding for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet program. Conservative Republican U.S. Senators feel pretty good about now because of the bind they believe they have put President Obama in. They cynically stonewall any attempt to remove the F-22 program from the DOD bill, citing “job creation” in hard economic times, and national defense. As Emma Ruby-Sachs writes for 365gay.com, these Republican Senators are counting on LGBT Americans, for whom they do not care a whit, to become angry with Obama again for broken promises over the veto of a wasteful, obsolete fighter jet program that not only the President opposes, but the Pentagon as well. Here is where the LGBT community can rise to the occasion, and eliminate the problem for the President on his left flank. We at Unfinished Lives support the President if he needs to veto the bill, even inclusive of the Matthew Shepard Act Amendment. We are not uncritical of this president. He has given favors to the LGBT community with one hand, and taken them away with the other from the time of his election. He and the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate must make good on their promises to us, not just because we supported them heavily in this last election cycle, but because it is the right thing to do for the sake of our constitutional democracy. This is a matter of justice. One murder at the hands of homophobes is one death too many, and our community is suffering every day, as this blog site has demonstrated for over a year now. But the cynicism of the Republican conservative leadership apparently knows no bounds. They believe LGBT people are not just perverse. They must believe we are fools to boot. They believe that they can pawn off death and destruction abroad in the guise of an F-22 project and in exchange enact hate crimes legislation that they should have passed 15 years ago. This is a bargain we reject, and a crass gamble we want them to lose. The Matthew Shepard Act must be passed by this Congress! But on this one, we stand with the President.