Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay Cowboy Stoned To Death in Apparent Revenge Killing

Jason "Cowboy" Huggins, from his Facebook page

San Diego, California – On June 22, a wounded 31-year-old gay man struggled out of a gorge near the 1300 block of Washington Street, San Diego, and flagged down a passing motorist. He managed to tell the driver that he had been attacked with blows to his head from a rock before he fell unconscious from his injuries.  Police and paramedics responded, and Jason “Cowboy” Huggins was rushed to the Mercy Hospital trauma center where his condition deteriorated rapidly.  Huggins, a well-liked member of the San Diego LGBTQ community, fell into a coma, and two weeks later, on July 6, died from massive injuries to his head and brain from blunt force trauma.  He had been literally stoned to death. 10News.com reported that police arrested Joshua James Larson, 37, two days after the stoning, and charged him with the Huggins attack and a second assault charge in another case.  He is being held on $1 million for the crimes, and could serve from 33 years to life in prison if found guilty of the charges. Investigative reporting uncovered that Huggins had testified against Larson two years prior to the attack, alleging that Larson was guilty of drug possession and grand larceny. Though police have not issued a motive in the killing, and have not labeled the case a hate crime, revenge is suspected to be the motive.  Was the murderous attack motivated by anti-LGBTQ phobia?  The facts seem unclear about whether and to what extent that may have been a contributing factor. The nature of the attack, however, a prehistoric homicide with biblical overtones, caught the attention of the press. Even though sexual orientation has not been identified by the police as an aggravating factor in the murder of “Cowboy” Huggins, the San Diego LGBTQ community has rallied to his memory, and have raised money to help his relatives come to his funeral all the way from his native home in Clarksville, Tennessee, according to the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. Huggins, who was easy to spot in the LGBTQ scene, was over 6 feet tall, and wore a cowboy hat, jeans, western shirt, boots, and a large, rodeo-style belt buckle.  In his Google Profile, he wrote, “I am a true cowboy from TN now living in sunny San Diego, CA. I am gay and have HIV too. Came out of the closet to all my redneck friends back in TN and was accepted because I am still a great friend that never overstepped my boundries.”  The New Civil Rights Movement notes that friends and family in his hometown of Clarksville knew about his sexual orientation and loved him very much. “We remember him being a kid with no aggressiveness in him at all,” Jennifer Sanders, Huggins’ aunt, said. “He was a fun-​loving, joking-​type of person, a very good kid. I call him a ‘kid’ because he was like my third child. We still can’t believe that it happened. It’s still a shock. He was only 31 years old. He’s going to be well missed by all of his friends out there in San Diego and his family.”  Faithful friends stood vigil for Cowboy Huggins from June 22 until his funeral day. So, Jason Baron Huggins was committed to his eternal rest on July 11 at Hillcrest in San Diego, attended by his family, friends, and a loyal LGBTQ community who loved him.  As one commenter on the Facebook event page wrote for all the world to see, “Rest in peace, Cowboy.”

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, California, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, HIV/AIDS, Law and Order, LGBTQ, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, Tennessee, Vigils | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Catholic Church Refuses Gay Man’s Funeral; Community Outraged

John Sanfilippo, gay Catholic denied a funeral because of church homophobia

San Diego, California – John Sanfilippo was a lifelong, devout Roman Catholic–and an openly gay man.  His parish church, Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, flatly denied his funeral because of his sexual orientation, according to Channel 10 News.  Sanfilippo, who died last week after a long struggle with emphysema, planned years ago for his funeral mass to be held at Our Lady of the Rosary.  He was a faithful parishioner there for decades, and according to his friends had even left a large sum of money to the church in his will.  That did not stop the church from rejecting his funeral.  Last weekend, his partner of 30 years, his family, and his friends were curtly notified that the funeral was banned from the church because Sanfilippo was an openly gay man.  A storm of controversy has broken out in the San Diego LGBTQ community about the overt institutional homophobia that caused the denial of a dying man’s last request.  Sanfilippo was a fixture in the San Diego gay community, a businessman who owned and operated the popular SRO Lounge. According to EDGE, one of the parish clergy, Fr. Louis Solcia, allegedly said that gays themselves had “set up” the church for controversy in the wake of criticism from all over the region. A group of Sanfilippo’s friends went to the steps of the church to pray and get answers about why a Christian congregation would cause such pain and sorrow so needlessly. Queerty editorialized, “When the priests at Our Lady of the Rosary Church found out that [Sanfilippo] was survived by his partner of 30 years, Brian Galvin, they told Sanfilippo’s family that the Mass was canceled. That the priests managed to do so just two days after Sanfilippo died speaks both to their efficiency and their complete lack of humanity.”

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Little Italy

The Diocese of San Diego, backtracking on the decision, tried to quell community anger by claiming that the initial refusal to hold Sanfilippo’s funeral mass was made by a visiting priest who was “unfamiliar” with customs and practices of the parish. Few are buying the story.  “All of a sudden, they change their mind…Why? Because they got caught in the process of denying equal rights to people,” Sanfilippo’s friend, Neil Thomas, said to the San Diego LGBT Weekly. Six years earlier, another devout, openly gay parishioner of Our Lady of the Rosary was denied a funeral, John McClusker–and the painful memories are still fresh in the San Diego community.  Hurt and deeply angered by the 2005 decision to refuse McClusker the pastoral offices of the church, members of his family converted to the Episcopal Church where his funeral was held in lieu of his Roman Catholic parish. In the Sanfilippo case, diocesan damage control did not work, either.  Though a confusing statement from the diocese said the “ritual” could now be carried out at Our Lady of the Rosary for the deceased, his partner and his family had enough.  On Thursday, John Sanfilippo’s final rites were performed at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mausoleum on 4470 Hilltop Drive. The Roman Catholic Church in San Diego has some explaining to do: to their LGBTQ parishioners, to their families and friends, and to the LGBTQ community—but most of all, they have some explaining to do to themselves: about how a Christian church could reject the dying request of anyone.  Much less a baptized believer who sought to be authentically gay and Catholic at the same time.

July 1, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, California, funerals, gay men, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, LGBTQ, religious intolerance, Roman Catholic Church and Homosexuality, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Southwest Air Pilot Smears Gays on Radio, Suspended, Then Reinstated

Southwest Air Flight Attendant Ken Cummings Jr. (r), and his murderer, Terry Mark Mangum (l)

Houston, Texas – Most passengers are acquainted with a friendly pilot’s voice on the inboard com link, welcoming them aboard a flight.  A Southwest Air pilot, however, launched into a homophobic tirade on a stuck-open mic about gay employees and others in a rant that cost him a suspension, according to EDGE reports. In a March incident only now coming to light thanks to news reports by KRPC-TV, the pilot indulged himself in a series of epithets and slurs against gay people, older employees, and obese employees for two-and-a-half minutes, calling them (in the publishable portion of his rant), “gays, grannies, and grandes.”  Thinking he was only speaking to his co-worker, the pilot did not realize his microphone was on until informed that it was open and broadcasting by air traffic controllers in the tower.  A spokesperson for the airline informed media that the offending pilot was reprimanded and suspended without pay for an unspecified time period.  After a period of LGBTQ sensitivity training, he has been reinstated and is flying the skies again. Corporate and professional amnesia about the effects of homophobic speech and behavior on Southwest Air employees contributed to this regrettable incident.  Kenneth L. Cummings Jr., a longtime Southwest Air Flight Attendant, was brutally murdered by a religious zealot in June 2007.  The grisly slaughter culminated in Cummings’s tortured body being set afire in a shallow stock tank near Poteat, Texas in what his murderer called a “burnt offering to God.”  Southwest Air employees by the score aided in the search for Cummings in an effort co-ordinated by EquuSearch, and uniformed flight attendants, pilots, and company officers attended his funeral to honor him.  But how soon people forget.  Now a pilot in the same organization can rave on about gay people with little or no regard for their humanity, get a slap on the hand, some retraining, and then be put right back on the line, flying LGBTQ people among others to destinations around the world.  Unfinished Lives Team hopes he has learned something from this experience, beyond the old bromide that anything is okay so long as you don’t get caught.  Reports suggest that this pilot had to apologize to air traffic controllers and Southwest employees for his indiscretion as a part of his punishment.  A representative of the Southwest Airlines Employees Union is filing a discrimination complaint with the federal government concerning this matter.  Until then, fly carefully.  You never know who might be at the controls.

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Anglo Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, LGBTQ, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Southwest Airlines, stabbings, Texas, Torture and Mutilation | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

KKK and “GodHatesFags” Zealots Turn On Each Other

Arlington, Virginia – Klansmen joined in a counter-protest attempting to screen military funerals from a Westboro Baptist Church picket at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend.  The Fred Phelps-founded protestors, made infamous by their “God Hates Fags” campaign and their more recent demonstrations at the funerals of fallen United States military servicemembers, found themselves confronted by a number of members of the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist KKK cell based in Powhatan, Virginia, according to the Hatewatch post of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Including the KKK, 70 counter-protestors waved American flags and held up pro-USA signs, blocking the funerals in progress from the demonstrators holding signs brandishing such slogans as “Fag Nation,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God for IED’s,” typical of the anti-American message propounded by the Topeka, Kansas Baptist church in its continuing opposition to “homosexual lifestyles.”

Dennis LaBonte, spokesperson for the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers, said that their counter-protest was in defense of freedom of speech and in support of the U.S. military. LaBonte told reporters that it was the military in this country that fought to defend the rights of groups like Phelps’s Topeka, Kansas church which recently successfully defended itself before the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit brought by the parent of a Marine killed in combat–a soldier whose funeral had been picketed by the Westboro zealots to condemn the “fag-enabling ways” of the nation.  “It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right,” LaBonte said.  Responding to the Klan counter-protestors, Abigail Phelps, an attorney as are many of her siblings, complained to CNN that people should not “idolize” soldiers who died in national service, or anyone else who died in an “unrighteous cause.”  When directly asked about her reaction to the presence of KKK members in opposition to the Westboro Baptist demonstration, she told the reporter, “They have no moral authority on anything.” According to yourblackworld.com, Phelps went on to say, “People like them say it’s white power … white supremacy.  The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.”

Nationalism makes strange bedfellows, indeed–enlisting bigots in competing demonstrations against other bigots.  No one in the LGBTQ community is under any illusion about the feelings of the KKK toward them, however.  As the SPLC points out, the Klan hates gay people only slightly less than they hate Jews, African Americans, and “mongrel races.”  As one blog commentator wrote, “On the one hand, this could be laughable, but it is not. One could also [take this news] with a grain of salt. Neither side are LGBT friendly. Let them fight among themselves.”

June 4, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Arlington National Cemetery, Bisexual persons, CNN, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, harassment, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Kansas, Klu Klux Klan, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Protests and Demonstrations, Racism, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Marines, U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unfinished Lives” Book Tour Rolls Through North Carolina

 

Stephen Sprinkle signs "Unfinished Lives" book at Barton College, Wilson, North Carolina (Keith Tew photograph)

Raleigh, North Carolina – The Unfinished Lives Book Tour is visiting cities, churches, and campuses throughout the Old North State, and buzz is growing on the book wherever it goes.  Dr. Sprinkle commenced at the home of the Reverends Phil Jones and Cathy Cralle-Jones in Cary on April 9, where a packed house heard the story of how Unfinished Lives came to be. “I survived an anti-gay hate crime threat myself in 2000,” Dr. Sprinkle told the gathering of well-wishers for the book.  “That near-brush with physical violence just because I was gay set me on the journey to learn as much as I could about other stories of hate crimes victims in the United States,” he said. Representatives of St. Paul’s Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Hillyer Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, Covenant Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cary, Hopewell United Methodist Church in Sampson County, and the Graduate School at North Carolina State University engaged Dr. Sprinkle in a lively Q & A on hate crimes in America.  On Sunday, April 10, Dr. Sprinkle preached for the 9 and 11 a.m. services at St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church in Wilmington, an LGBTQ-predominant congregation founded after the brutal 1990 disembowelment slaying of lesbian carpenter, Talana Quay Kreeger, “Talana with the wild, blonde hair.”  No church in the city would allow Kreeger’s funeral because of the negativity toward her homosexuality, though she was the innocent victim of a horrendous hate crime.  Coastal Carolina queer folk vowed never to depend on a straight Christian congregation again to allow a funeral for one of their own. Local visionary activist, social worker Tab Ballis, introduced Dr. Lou Buttino, head of the UNC-Wilmington Film Studies Department, and announced that “The Park View Project” documenting the murder of Talana Kreeger, would be seen to completion by the eminent filmmaker. Reverend John A. McLaughlin, pastor of St. Jude’s, welcomed Dr. Sprinkle on behalf of the city of Wilmington. In the afternoon, representatives of St. Jude’s and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Wilmington, and Winterville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) joined Dr. Sprinkle for a book signing at Two Sisters Bookery in the historic Cape Fear Riverfront Cotton Exchange. On Monday, April 11, Dr. Sprinkle spoke at the NC State University GLBT Center “Lunch and Learn” event, and signed copies of his book. Center Director Justine Hollingshead and Emeritus Professor Bill Swallow hosted Dr. Sprinkle at State, where members of the Wolfpack Football Team were in attendance for the talk. This was Dr. Sprinkle’s second appearance at the NC State GLBT Center. In the afternoon, Dr. Sprinkle and Rev. Phil Jones went to Wilson to deliver a lecture and sign books at Barton College.  Dr. Sprinkle was hosted by Dr. Joe Jones, and greeted by members of the Religion and Philosophy, Sociology, Social Work, and English faculties of the college. He spoke on “Honor and Educate: How the Community of the Dead Shapes LGBTQ Community.”  Students, faculty, and staff asked many probing and pertinent questions about the nature of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and the linkage with religious intolerance. On Tuesday, April 12, Rev. Jones and Dr. Sprinkle traveled to Duke University Divinity School in Durham for a book signing sponsored by Cokesbury Bookstore. Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, renowned theological ethicist, called “America’s best theologian” by Time Magazine, attended, and got his copy of Unfinished Lives. “These stories need to be gotten out there,” Dr. Hauerwas said. He presented Dr. Sprinkle with a signed copy of his 2005 book, Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words. Later in the afternoon, the tour went to the LGBTQ Center on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Dr. Sprinkle and Rev. Jones were greeted by Terry Phoenix, Center Director. A topic of discussion was the April 4 torture attack on gay UNC student Quinn Matney, who claimed he was branded by a super-hot metal instrument while being held down by his assailant. “Here is a taste of hell for you, you fucking faggot!”, the UNC student said his attacker shouted while torturing him, as reported to the Daily Tarheel. Before departing Chapel Hill, Dr. Sprinkle introduced his book to Dr. Rick Edens and Dr. Jill Edens, co-pastors at the 800-member United Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ. Dr. Sprinkle plans to contact RDU leaders on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program on Wednesday, before returning to Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth.  The book tour is making friends and news everywhere it goes.  A four-session series on the book is planned for Houston during Pride Month, in June, and a six city national tour in the Fall.  Stay tuned for more on Unfinished Lives!

April 12, 2011 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Barton College, Beatings and battery, Bisexual persons, Book Tour, Bullying in schools, Burning and branding, Cokesbury Books, Covenant Christian Church, death threats, desecration of corpses, Duke Divinity School, Evisceration, First Christian Church Wilmington, funerals, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, gender identity/expression, Gender Variant Youth, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Program, It Gets Better Book, It Gets Better Project (IGBP), Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard Act, NC State GLBT Center, NC State Graduate School, North Carolina, Park View Project, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Public Theology, Queer, Racism, rape, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, School and church shootings, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, St Jude's MCC, stabbings, stalking, Stanley Hauerwas, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Strangulation, suicide, Torture and Mutilation, transgender persons, transphobia, Two Sisters Bookery, U.S. Navy, UNC-Chapel Hill LGBTQ Center, UNC-W Film Studies Program, Unfinished Lives Book Signings, United Church of Chapel Hill, Unsolved LGBT Crimes, women | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Courageous Mother & Pioneer Anti-Hate Crime Activist Dies

Carolyn Wagner (1953-2011), Human Rights Champion

Tulsa, Oklahoma – Pioneer activist, Carolyn Wagner, co-founder of Families United Against Hate (FUAH), passed away January 18 after a protracted battle with cancer, liver failure, and hepatitis. Widely admired for her courageous work on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, Wagner became involved in the human rights struggle in 1996 when her son William, 16,  was brutally harassed and attacked by homophobic students while attending school in northwest Arkansas. Young William survived, but compelled by a need for justice, Carolyn and Bill Wagner waged a successful legal campaign against the Fayetteville, AR school district under Title IX.  The United States Office for Civil Rights ruled against the school district thanks to a complaint lodged by the Wagners on behalf of their son–the first time in U.S. history that Title IX was used to address anti-gay harassment and the bullying of gay and lesbian students, according to the ACLU.  Because of her experience as the parent of a gay-bashed son, Carolyn joined forces with Gabi Clayton to found FUAH so other parents in similar situations could benefit from what she had learned. In 1999, Bill Wagner with Carolyn at his side, became a plaintiff in the history case, Howard v. Child Welfare Agency Review Board, argued by the ACLU to challenge the Arkansas Department of Human Services regulation that foster children could not be housed where adult gays and lesbians reside. Wagner qualified as a plaintiff since their son William, by then an adult, sometimes came home to stay with his parents. After learning about the plight of youth, straight and gay, who were abused because of the perception that they were gay, Carolyn and Bill Wagner took in scores of children through the years as foster parents. In August 2006, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the ban against gay and lesbian foster parents thanks to the litigation initiated by the Wagners and others. But the victory was not without cost for Carolyn, according to a tribute by the ACLU. In the same year as the ruling that struck down discrimination against gay and lesbian foster parents, Carolyn was brutally assaulted on her own property by a man posing as a police officer, who told her he did not like “queer-loving ACLU types.” Though shaken by the beating, she continued working tirelessly for LGBTQ human rights until the end of her life.  FUAH issued this statement: “On January 18, 2011 the world lost a civil rights pioneer and strong voice for equality. Carolyn Wagner fought every day to create a world where equality would become a reality for all, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, race or life circumstances. Her path in life was difficult but she never wavered in her dedication and love for the many communities she advocated so powerfully for until she took her last breath. Nothing could ever stop her from fighting for her family, her friends and her community. Plenty of people tried to stop her, but never with any success. Carolyn’s heart, mind and arms were always open and we will miss her powerful embrace, we know her legacy will never die as long as we carry the spirit of her love within us, and take action with as much courage, humor, and wisdom as she did. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband and children and the hundreds and thousands of people whose lives she touched. She will always be with us.” Carolyn is survived by her husband Bill, a her daughter, and two granddaughters. To hundreds of thousands, she was a champion of their rights, a compassionate, strong, and determined advocate for justice. But it is well to remember that Carolyn Wagner was first and foremost a wife and mother who acted to right a wrong that initially struck her own family, and then opened her eyes to the plight of countless others like her boy. As Bill Wagner said: “Carolyn will be remembered as an activist and civil rights hero to many, but for me she was simply the love of my life, my best friend and an amazing mother to our children. I will miss her beautiful smile, her raucous and infectious laugh and most of all her loving heart.”  Her memorial service was held in Tulsa on January 22 at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center. Rest in Peace, Carolyn. We will miss you.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | ACLU, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bullying in schools, Carolyn Wagner, Condolences, Families United Against Hate (FUAH), funerals, gay and lesbian foster parents, gay bashing, gay men, gay teens, harassment, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, Mistaken as LGBT, Oklahoma, Parenting equality, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ugandan Gay Activist Killed in Cold Blood: Were Christians Accomplices in His Murder?

Kampala, Uganda – Prominent defender of Gay Rights in Uganda, David Kato, was murdered in his home by two blows with a hammer this Wednesday. Kato, 40-something at the time of his slaughter, was a well-known voice around the world for human rights, and an outspoken leader protesting Draconian legislation in his home country which would make consensual same-sex activity punishable by law, perhaps even requiring the state to execute convicted homosexuals. What responsibility does the Christian Church bear for the outrageous murder of David Kato? Many in Uganda, including leading church officials, priests, missionaries, and ministers, fervently believe in a sort of “gay conspiracy”on the part of same-sex loving men whom they say will infect their children with the “virus of homosexuality.” Friday, Kato’s funeral was marred by the homophobic outburst of an Anglican priest, Fr. Thomas Musoke, who loudly invoked dire comparisons with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah until mourners wrenched a microphone out of his hands, according to 365 Gay.  The Ugandan Anglican Church, active in encouraging resistance among conservative Episcopalians to the elevation of gays and lesbians as bishops in the United States in recent years, is well-known for opposing LGBTQ rights in the Central African nation.  Christian evangelical missionaries and so-called “experts” on homosexual sin from the United States, such as the notorious Watchman on the Walls Scott Lively, have preached the judgment of God on the Ugandan people if gays and lesbians are allowed to live and love openly in society. U.S. evangelicals exerting influence in Uganda teach that gays and lesbians could be changed to heterosexuality by prayer and counseling if they had enough faith. According to masslive.com, Lively, part of a 2009 evangelical mission to Uganda preaching anti-gay messages to officials and churchmen (Lively even spoke before the Ugandan Parliament during the tour), now says that it is “too early to call Kato’s murder a hate crime,” since the police have rushed to claim that the murder was the consequence of a simple robbery. In rebuttal, Val Kalende, chairwoman of an LGBT human rights group in Uganda said to the New York Times, “David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.” Indeed, well-funded groups such as the shadowy Washington C Street evangelical organization, “The Family,” have sent funds and encouragement for the “Kill The Gays” legislations still making its way through the Ugandan Parliament. M.P. David Bahati, primary sponsor of anti-gay legislation in Uganda, is affiliated with “The Family.”  NPR host, Michel Martin, explored the culpability of Christians for Kato’s murder with guests on her weekday broadcast, “Tell Me More,” this Friday.  Martin interviewed Jeffery Gettleman, East Africa Bureau chief for the New York Times, asking him directly, “This has also been a big story in the United States, of course, because of the participation of a group of American evangelicals whom we also interviewed on this program. One in particular named Scott Lively, who many human rights activists have said helped to create this context of intolerance. Do you think that that’s true? Do you think the American evangelicals’ visit there was really that influential?” Gettleman replied, “I do think it was influential. I think a lot of people in Uganda and the part of Africa where I live, in Kenya and most of this continent and probably most of this world, there’s many people who are homophobic. But it didn’t take a violent form. It was – people thought that, in Uganda, people thought gay people were strange, that they were outliers, but they weren’t really fired up to do anything about it.” Gettleman continued, “It was only after the visits by these Americans who billed themselves as experts in dealing with homosexual issues that the Ugandan politicians and church groups got really angry about it and suggested killing gay people.” Religious hate speech, whether “soft” in its rhetoric (“Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin”), or blatantly hostile (“Gays and Lesbians are an Abomination in God’s Sight, and Deserve to Die”) has consequences for the safety of LGBTQ people wherever they live. This is certainly true, in our opinion, in Central Africa. David Kato was deservedly called “the father of the Uganda gay rights movement.” In the wave of hostility in tabloid media toward LGBTQ people following the 2009 U.S. evangelical tour of Uganda, Kato’s lynching was suggested in the press. When Christian leaders justify the demonization of LGBTQ people for their sexual orientation or gender presentation, either by selectively quoting scripture and subsequently distorting its life-giving meaning, or by reading their own homophobia back into church teaching to claim that “Gays and Lesbians are sinners,” these clerics are not only exposing a vulnerable minority to religious, political, and social persecution.  They are also exposing their own theology and ethics as woefully bankrupt and void of spiritual integrity. Clerics in Uganda and the United States who stoke hatred against LGBTQ people are no longer messengers of God. They have become a mob of theological thugs.  Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Capetown, Desmond Tutu, is one of the few courageous voices of Christian integrity in Africa willing to speak out against religious intolerance and hate speech. In the Washington Post last March, Archbishop Tutu appealed for the church to own up to its role in fomenting hatred against gays and lesbians, and instead to commit its resources for repentance and reconciliation for all people.  He said, in part, “Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity — or because of their sexual orientation.” Tutu continued, “Our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters across Africa are living in fear. And they are living in hiding — away from care, away from the protection the state should offer to every citizen and away from health care in the AIDS era, when all of us, especially Africans, need access to essential HIV services. That this pandering to intolerance is being done by politicians looking for scapegoats for their failures is not surprising. But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said ‘Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.’ Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God.” Amen, Archbishop!  Tutu must be joined by a world-wide chorus of Christian voices denouncing the murder of David Kato, the terrorization of his LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and renouncing the use of religion to incite bigotry and fear. Unless the world Christian community repents of its role in murder and mayhem like that in Uganda and Central Africa, Christian theology itself will continue to collapse from “heart-failure”–failing to discern and apply the heart of the message of Jesus Christ which was never bad tidings of fear, but Good News of mercy and justice for everyone.

January 29, 2011 Posted by | "Kill the Gays Bill", Africa, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Beatings and battery, C Street "The Family", funerals, gay bashing, gay men, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, home-invasion, Law and Order, Legislation, Lesbian women, mob-violence and lynching, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, soft homophobia, Uganda, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Bullycide” Takes Life of Hoosier Teen

Fishers, Indiana – Hundreds of mourners gathered on Monday to remember a 14-year-old Hamilton Southeastern High School freshman whom his parents and friends say took his life in response to incessant bullying. WISH TV News 8 reports that Corey and Natalie Bell, the parents of Jamarcus “Bucko” Bell, who took his own life last Wednesday, want to send a strong message that bullying kills.  The Bells scheduled an emergency conference with the dean of students at Hamilton Southeastern before the suicide of their son because they were alarmed at the extent of the bullying Jamarcus admitted he was enduring at school.  The conference, put off for days, never happened, according to Jamarcus’s parents, who are calling for a full investigation into the bullying situation at HSE.  WTHR News 13 broadcast that the Superintendent of Schools is now speaking out to parents and the press, trying to impress upon the public that the school district “takes bullying very seriously.”  Many students, friends, and alumni of Hamilton Southeastern High, however, aren’t buying what the Superintendent says, since it is too little, too late.  Present and former students of HSE contend that they were bullied in the halls, gym, classrooms, and grounds of the school, and that while school officials and teachers knew about the problems with bullying, they did nothing to prevent it or to protect the targets of the harassment.  In Jamaracus’s case, his parents say that he was bullied from the time the family moved into the school district three years ago.  Corey Bell says that his son was singled out for torment first at Fishers Junior High School, and then this year at HSE.  The most graphic story the Bells are telling is how Jamarcus was bullied in welding class one day last week, when student antagonists threw fragments of steel at the back of Jamarcus’s head.  Student witnesses have corroborated the welding class account, according to Indystar.com.  Jamarcus is remembered as a good student and good friend by his peers.  He was 5′ 8″ tall, and an aspiring baseball player.  His father told the Indianapolis Star that he seldom talked about his troubles: “He shared bits and pieces, but he was more or less trying to hold it in,” Corey Moore said. “He wasn’t confrontational. He wasn’t aggressive. He was good at holding stuff in. We couldn’t tell how bad it was, but he didn’t seclude himself.” Bell is the second high-profile “bullycide” case in Indiana since September.  Last month, the suicide of gay teen Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana, touched off national attention to the issue of anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools.  At the packed memorial service in the Eastern Star Church of Fishers, Jamaracus was remembered with tears and laughter.  He was also remembered by mourners who came from near and far as yet another victim of “bullycide.”  While news stories have not mentioned sexual innuendo or anti-gay slurs as part of the repertoire of Jamarcus’s harassers, such attacks on the masculinity of young teen men is the rule, rather than the exception in cases of school suicide.  Often a complex series of oppressions play a part in the desperate decision of a youth to take his own life–not just anti-gay epithets, but also racial, ethnic, and class factors are commonly found to torment young people as they face daily harassment in a school culture that tolerates bullies but not youth of difference.  At the end of the Monday memorial for Jamarcus, hundreds of multicolored balloons were released in the night air, carrying their memories of the gentle athlete who saw no other way out of his desperate situation in school.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Bullying in schools, Condolences, funerals, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Indiana, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Racism, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gay Houston Boy Bullied To Death: Shoots Himself After Unbearable School Torment

Houston, TX – An eighth grader took his life on September 23 as a consequence of unbearable bullying in his school.  School officials deny any knowledge of the boy’s mistreatment, an allegation that the boy’s parents vehemently deny.  13-year-old Asher Brown, a bright student at Hamilton Middle School on the outskirts of Houston, shot himself in the head after at least two years of torment from bullies who taunted him for being small for his age, for not wearing designer clothing, and for being “gay.”  According to the Houston Chronicle, Asher’s stepfather found him dead at about 4:30 pm from a gunshot wound on the floor of a closet in their Cypress, Texas home.  He had used a 9mm Beretta pistol his stepfather kept hidden in a closet drawer.  His parents, Amy and David Truong, say that bullies in gym class took advantage of his small stature, and performed mock male-on-male sex acts on him to humiliate their son.  In the most recent case of harassment, Asher told his parents that a student tripped him coming down the stairs, causing him to spill his books on the floor.  When he stooped down to collect them, the bully kicked the books out of his reach, kicked him down the rest of the stairs, and taunted him. His stepfather said to Queerty, “I thought he was laying there [on the floor of the closet] reading a book or something,” he says. “My son put a gun to his head because he couldn’t take what he was hearing and the constant teasing.”  His mother related how anti-gay harassment troubled her son: “They called him different names for being homosexual,” she says. “He just had enough.”  There are conflicting reports about Asher’s coming out process as a gay boy.  According to Queerty, one report suggests that he came out to his parents back in the summer, and found them to be loving and understanding at that time.  Another report contends that he came out to his stepfather David the night before his suicide.  Asher found comfort in a group of other students who were ostracized for one reason or another at school.  In a school culture where officials seemed to care a great deal about dress code and tardiness, but nothing at all about bullying, the pressure got greater than Asher could bear.  The Truongs contend that they have called and emailed Houston Cy-Fair Independent School District officials pleading with them to watch their son.  Kelli Durham, spokesperson for the school, at first denied that any such communication ever took place.  Later, walking back her claim, Durham indicated that she did get an email from the Truongs about Asher, but it wasn’t about mistreatment by bullies.  The Truongs responded to the denials of the school system with anger. “That’s absolutely inaccurate — it’s completely false,” Amy Truong said. “I did not hallucinate phone calls to counselors and assistant principals. We have no reason to make this up. … It’s like they’re calling us liars. “David Truong said, “We want justice. The people here need to be held responsible and to be stopped. It did happen. There are witnesses everywhere.”  The Cy-Fair School District has a history of gay student harassment, as the Unfinished Lives Project reported in November 2009, with a violent attack against a gay youth at Langham High School.  The night before his suicide, Asher seemed sad to his parents.  They asked him about it, but he said he was “fine.”  The next day, he was dead.  Now the Truongs are appealing to other families and friends to go beyond “fine” whenever they suspect depression from a child who has been bullied in school.  They believe that the senseless loss of life due to school bullying and gay teen suicide must stop, and so do we at the Unfinished Lives Project.  Asher may have taken his own life, but the hate-motivated bullying in his school and the attitude that permitted it to go on there constitutes as clear a case of anti-gay hate crime as we have seen. According to the Houston Chronicle, Asher’s mother sent out his message to the bullies who tormented her son: “I hope you’re happy with what you’ve done. I hope you got what you wanted and you’re just real satisfied with yourself.”  A memorial service for Asher is planned for Saturday, October 2, beginning at 10 am in the park beside Moore Elementary School, 13734 Lakewood Forest Drive in Houston.  The public is invited to attend.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bullying in schools, funerals, gay teens, gun violence, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Slurs and epithets, suicide, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Phelps Funeral Protesters Assaulted with Pepper Spray: A Special Comment

Omaha, NE – Protesters picketing a military funeral in Omaha were assaulted by a man squirting pepper spray out his pickup truck window as he drove by them on August 28.  The assailant, George Vogel, 62, was arrested and charged with 16 counts of misdemeanor assault, and one felony count because the pepper spray hit a police officer.  A reporter was also affected by the spray. The motorist was also charged with child neglect since his own child was in the truck at the time of the assault, according to CNN.  Police confirmed that Vogel allegedly extended his arm from the cab of the Ford 150 pickup truck, and discharged a “large can” of pepper spray at the Westboro Baptist Church protesters.  The funeral was being held at First United Methodist Church for the late Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Bock, 26, who died in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on August 13.  The WBC protest at Bock’s funeral is part of Phelps’s strategy to publicize his campaign against gays and lesbians by targeting fallen U.S. servicemembers, since the United States has become a “fag-enabling” nation that is under God’s wrathful judgment.  Members of the church at the Omaha protest carried signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Blew Up the Troops” and “AIDS Cures Fags.”  The pepper spray assault occurred while nearly 600 members of the Patriot Guard Riders ringed the church to prevent the protest and counter-protest from disturbing the funeral services.  No members of the Riders were affected by the spray.  A major case involving a challenge to free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment has grown from a 2006 protest carried out against the funeral of a soldier from Maryland, in which the father of the deceased soldier sued Phelps and the church for 5 million dollars for harassing the family during the funeral.  Albert Snyder, father of the fallen soldier from Maryland, accuses Phelps and his church of emotional distress and anguish.  A lower court imposed a fine of up to 8 million dollars against Westboro Baptist, which was later reduced to a 5 million dollar award to Mr. Snyder.  A court of appeals overturned the verdict, citing the protections afforded by the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in October of this year.  Supporters of the Snyders have lined up against defenders of freedom of speech as the case goes to the high court.  Phelps continues his schedule of protests with impunity.  While the content of Phelps’s protests is so disturbing that high emotions can be readily understood, the larger issue of freedom of speech and expression takes center stage for the Unfinished Lives Project.  We are under no illusions about the nature of Phelps’s work.  He is the most notorious homophobe of this age, and if a link could be successfully established between his hate speech and violence against LGBTQ people, as we believe does exist, he and his church members deserve the punishment of the law.  But freedom of speech is a defining right guaranteed all Americans under the provisions of the Constitution.  LGBTQ people are vouchsafed the right of protest and speech under the same provisions of the law, and to surrender to emotion, no matter how justified it seems in the short term would be to gag and throttle the struggle for human rights in this nation.  So, regretfully, the Unfinished Lives Project must support freedom of speech, even for one of the most noxious of our enemies.  We must believe that the rightness of full equality will win out in the end, no matter how spiteful the opposition becomes.  And, in the spirit of appreciation for the Snyders and all other families and friends of fallen U.S. servicemembers, we offer out sympathy and condolences.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | Condolences, Fred Phelps, funerals, harassment, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Legislation, Maryland, military, Nebraska, Protests and Demonstrations, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Special Comments, U.S. Marines, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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