New York City – Six teenagers have been charged with second-degree murder as a hate crime in the fatal March attack on an 18-year-old male perceived to be gay. 365 Gay reports that the youths attacked and stomped Anthony Collao of Bethpage on Long Island to death as he was leaving a birthday party on March 15 in Woodhaven, Queens. The suspects, none of whom are older than 18, crashed the party, breaking windows, shouting “homophobic remarks,” and scrawling anti-gay slurs and epithets on the wall with a red marker. Collao and his cousin, sensing trouble, tried to leave the home, but were chased outside where the assailants threw Collao against a car, and savagely beating and stomping him until he no longer moved. His cousin screamed for them to stop, saying that Collao was not gay and had a girlfriend, but the attackers continued pressing their assault with their fists, shod feet, and a metal pipe. Collao fell into an irreversible coma and died two days later at a Jamaica hospital when life support was removed from him. Four suspects — Alex Velez, 16, of the Bronx, Christopher Lozada and Luis Tabales, both 17 and from Queens, and Nolis Ogando, 18, also from Queens – were arrested soon after the attack. A fifth suspect, Calvin Pietri, 17, of Woodhaven, who allegedly bragged about the killing on Facebook, was arrested within a day of the attack. Jonathan Echevarria, 16, of Brooklyn was also arrested and charged. Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown told news reporters that each suspect has been charged with a 21-count indictment of murder as a hate crime. The charges were upgraded after new evidence in the case came to light. The suspicion that someone might be gay, or even an unsubstantiated accusation of it, as in this case, carries the potential of death. Homophobia and heterosexism are deadly to straights as well as gays. The defendants in this case could each face as much as 25 years for the crime if found guilty.
Washington, DC – On a red letter day when lawmakers voted to end the most notorious anti-gay policy in the federal canon, LGBT servicemembers and veterans who have been murdered because of their sexual and gender non-conformity must not be forgotten during the celebrations over passage of repeal of DADT. In a historic vote in the history of the human rights movement, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to end the ban on LGBT patriots from serving openly in the armed services of the United States. Saturday afternoon, 65 Senators voted for repeal with 31 in opposition. A simple majority of 51 was all that was required for passage of the Senate bill, which is identical to the one passed earlier in the week by the House of Representatives. Eight GOP Senators joined their Democratic colleagues to pass the repeal of the 17-year-old discriminatory policy that ended the military careers of 13,500 women and men because of their sexual orientation. Joe Manchin, the freshman Senator for West Virginia, was the only Democrat not voting for passage. According to the New York Times, his office informed the public that he had a “family commitment” he could not break.The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature to set the repeal in motion. GOP opponents of the repeal criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for the vote in the lame duck session just before the Holiday recess. Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Service Committee, disputed the Republican claims that Democrats were ramming legislation through just to please the so-called “gay lobby.” In remarks to the New York Times, Senator Levin (D-Michigan) said: “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.” Yet it is not only for the living that this vote is significant. Our military dead are honored by this historic vote to end anti-LGBT discrimination, among whom are far too many gay servicemembers who were killed because of their sexual orientation. Our gay military martyrs, murdered because of homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia in the armed services loom large in the memory of the LGBTQ community today because they are both a sign of hope and caution. They are a sign of hope that no more women and men need lose their lives in the military because of their sexual orientation and gender presentation. They are a sign of caution, because the passage of DADT repeal in no way guarantees the end of anti-gay violence in the military. We must name our LGBT military dead until violence against queer servicemembers ceases forever: Seaman Allen Schindler was beaten to death by shipmates in a public toilet in Sasebo, Japan. PFC Barry Winchell was murdered with a baseball bat in the Army barracks at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Seaman August Provost was shot to death on base in San Diego, and then his body was set afire in a guard shack in the vain attempt to destroy evidence of the murder. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher was lured into a fatal ambush by local youths near his home in Pennsylvania. These four are representative of the many more slaughtered by ignorance and hate by fellow servicemembers and civilians. Pundits say that after President Obama signs the Repeal Act into law, it will still take at least sixty days for the military ban to be lifted for LGBT military personnel. Until that time, the current discriminatory law stays in effect. But the culture of violence that harasses and kills LGBT women and men who wear the uniform remains virulently poised to take more lives until the root of fear is eliminated in the armed services. To that end, the historic passage of the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is simply the beginning of a new campaign, in the name of our gay military martyrs, to replace the fear and loathing of the sexual minority with education and respect.
Pearland, Texas – Joshua Wilkerson, 18, missing for 24 hours after leaving a Pearland school, was found deceased, his body partially immolated in an overgrown field off a desolate stretch of road in Fort Bend County. Hermilio Moralez, 19, was charged Thursday with the murder, according to a report in the Dallas Voice. Moralez confessed that he hit Wilkerson with a large wooden rod until “he didn’t move anymore.” Then Moralez said that he loaded up the corpse, drove the victim’s truck down to Fort Bend County, and attempted to burn the body. After torching Wilkerson’s remains, Moralez drove to a strip mall where he dumped Wilkerson’s shoes and backpack in a trash receptacle. When law enforcement officers discovered Wilkerson’s partially burned body, they found his hands and feet bound. Investigators also found a large amount of blood on the patio of Moralez’s home, and a large, bloody wooded rod nearby. The youths had been acquaintances at school for over five years, and at the time of the murder were classmates at the Pace Institute, an alternative education school. Wilkerson had offered Moralez a ride home from Pace, as school sources say he often did. The only account of a motive for the murder is from Moralez, who contends that Wilkerson “made a pass” at the older teen, which sparked the fight leading to the murder. ABC News 13 reports that Moralez was apprehended as he suspiciously hung around Wilkerson’s abandoned vehicle. At the time of his arrest, Moralez refused to give his full name or address to police. ”The things that he said weren’t adding up,” said Pearland Police Officer Lt. Onesimo Lopez. “He gave the officers some false information and the decision was made at that time to take him into custody for failure to identify.” Under interrogation, Moralez admitted the murder, and lead the authorities to the overgrown roadside where he attempted to burn Wilkerson’s body. ABC News 13 also reports that Moralez attempted to grab a police officer’s pistol as he led the law enforcement officers into the area where the charred remains of his victim lay. As of this writing, Moralez is being held in a Pearland jail on $30,000 bond for the weapon offense. There has not yet been any bond placed on Moralez for the murder charge. While hate crimes charges have not been made in the case, which is still under investigation, the sexually charged allegations of the suspect, and his well-known homophobic attitude toward gay people make anti-gay hatred a possible motive for the homicide. Texas has a hate crime statute on the books including sexual orientation as a protected class, but police have been resistant to invoking the law, and conservative district attorneys have avoided using the hate crimes act in their prosecutions. A bill is pending in the Texas Legislature to mandate the use of the hate crimes law in cases such as this one, where homophobia is a possible motive. Wilkerson’s family has expressed thanks to searchers and law enforcement for the swift way the search was carried out. Pearland Independent School District released this statement to the press: ”Pearland Independent School District has learned that a missing student has been found dead. PACE Center student Joshua Wilkerson disappeared after school on Tuesday, Nov. 16. The Pearland Police Department and Texas Equusearch volunteers launched a search in Pearland after Wilkerson’s parents reported his disappearance. The search ended when investigators discovered a body overnight believed to be Wilkerson. PACE Center is providing counselors to speak with students and staff today and as long as needed. Pearland ISD offers its deepest sympathy to Wilkerson’s family. ’We will all miss Joshua. He was a polite, dedicated student. At school, he worked hard to accomplish his tasks, and each day he left with the same resolve to conquer any challenge that lay ahead,’ Julia Hall, PACE Center principal, said.” KHOU News 11 reports that members of Wilkerson’s family contend that Joshua was not gay. Officials now suspect that Moralez may have not acted alone, since someone put up a bogus Facebook page claiming to be Wilkerson after the time Moralez was taken into custody.