Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Remembering James Byrd Jr.: Hate Crime Murder 15 Years Ago Today

James Byrd Jr. (May 2, 1949-June 7, 1998)

James Byrd Jr. (May 2, 1949-June 7, 1998)

Jasper, Texas – James Byrd Jr., father of three children, never intended to become a key player in the struggle to protect LGBTQ people from hate crime violence.  But when he fell into the hands of three haters by accepting a ride from them on June 7, 1998, he became one of the most famous hate crimes murder victims of all time.

Byrd, 49, was looking for a ride home to be with his family.  Instead, his three abductors, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King, aged 23 to 31 years of age, drove him out to a lonely road outside of the small town of Jasper, Texas, beat him senseless, urinated on him, and tied his ankles to the hitch of their pick up truck–apparently for no reason other than race hatred.  It was a lynching-by dragging.  Byrd’s killers dragged him three miles along an asphalt road until he died.  Speeding along the road, his body struck a concrete culvert, severing his right arm, shoulder, and head.  Investigators located 81 sites along the route where remains of Byrd’s body were scattered.  Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray, said that the murder of James Byrd Jr. was the worst he had seen in over 20 years as a prosecutor.  Berry, Brewer, and King dumped Byrd’s body beside the cemetery of an African American Church, and went on to celebrate their deed at a barbecue–feeling that no one in Jasper County or the State of Texas would miss a lone African American.

They were desperately wrong.  Brewer and King, well-know white supremacists, were early suspects, causing DA Gray to investigate the murder as a hate crime.  The FBI was called in to assist in the investigation within 24 hours of Byrd’s remains being found.  Echoes of lynchings throughout the South amplified the outrage surrounding Byrd’s hate crime murder.  Brewer, King, and Berry were arrested, and eventually convicted of murder as a hate crime.  Brewer and King were sentenced to death, and on September 21, 2011, Brewer was put to death by lethal injection.  King awaits execution on death row.  Berry was sentenced to life in prison.  The Byrd Family opposed the death penalty for the men who killed their beloved James, believing that more deaths could never bring peace or closure to his murder.  Only justice for everyone could.

James Byrd Jr.'s gravesite.

James Byrd Jr.’s gravesite.

In May 2001, Texas enacted the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into law. Because of advocacy within the Byrd Family, James Byrd Jr.’s name lent credibility to make the statute a gay-inclusive hate crimes protection law, and linked it to the Laramie, Wyoming anti-gay murder of Matthew Shepard. Then, after decades of advocacy, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, extending federal protections to LGBT people in America for the first time in history.  Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of Matthew, were joined at the White House by Betty Bryd Boatner and Louvon Harris, sisters of James, for the signing ceremony.  President Obama said:

“This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade.  Time and again, we faced opposition.  Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed.  Time and again we’ve been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we’re all free to live and love as we see fit.  But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation — (applause) — and all who toiled for years to reach this day.”

Then, the President underlined the ongoing significance of the Act named for James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard:

“You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear.  You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights — both from unjust laws and violent acts.  And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.”

So, today, we remember James Byrd Jr.  His death has not been in vain.  The road toward full equality for all Americans is a long one.  Many have died in the 15 years since the murders of Byrd and Shepard at the hands of irrational hatred.  More will die, succumbing to injustices of the worst kind.  But James Byrd Jr. is not forgotten, and his killers have not had the last word on his life.  The struggle continues, and right is on the side of life and inclusion.  This 15th anniversary of James Byrd Jr.’s death, we who believe in justice cannot allow ourselves to rest.  We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | African Americans, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Racism, Remembrances, Texas, White supremacist groups, Wyoming | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ryan Keith Skipper Would Be Thirty-two Today

Damien Skipper and his daughter Ryan at the grave site of Ryan Keith Skipper (photo courtesy of the family).

Damien Skipper and his daughter Ryan at the grave site of Ryan Keith Skipper (photo courtesy of the family).

Wahneta, Florida –  Had Ryan Keith Skipper not been murdered in one of the most heinous anti-gay hate crimes in the history of Florida, he would be celebrating his 32nd birthday today.  Losses like his change the world.  On March 14, 2007, two ne’er do wells, Joseph “Smiley” Beardon, and William “Bill-Bill” Brown slit his throat, stabbed him 20 times, dumped his body on a dark, rural road, stole and tried to fence his new car, and then unable to get any money for it, botched an attempt to burn up the vehicle on a boat ramp at Lake Pansy.  They said their motive was to rid the world of “another faggot.”

Ryan was deeply loved by his mom, Pat, stepdad, Lynn, older brother, Damien, and a whole host of friends.  He also left a brokenhearted lover and two distraught housemates who loved him like a brother.  Lies on the part of the killers, and compound falsehoods by the Sheriff of Polk County kept Ryan’s murder from reaching the world as it should have.  Other LGBTQ lives were lost because Ryan’s full story was suppressed by rumor, unsubstantiated allegations about his character, and crass, anti-gay politics.  His parents took up the cause of justice for their son, and have become two of the most effective advocates for LGBTQ equality and anti-bullying in America. Beardon and Brown were separately convicted, and are now serving life in prison.  Nothing takes the sting of loss away, but many good people have stepped into the breach to ensure that Ryan will never be forgotten, and that his death will not be in vain.  Lesbian Filmmakers Vicki Nantz and Mary Meeks produced and filmed a 72-minute documentary about Skipper’s murder entitled Accessory to Murder: Our Culture’s Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper, that premiered in January 2008.  In 2011, Ryan’s story was published in a book dedicated to keeping the memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Murder Victims alive and before the public, entitled Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications).  The Gay American Heroes Foundation has memorialized Ryan, as well, and seeks to include him in a national monument to the victims of LGBTQ Hate Crimes.

But by far the most wonderful remembrance of Ryan has been done by his older brother Damien and wife, who gave Ryan’s name to their baby girl.  Uncle Ryan now has a living memorial in the person of his thriving, laughing, vital niece, Ryan Skipper.  The story of Ryan Keith Skipper is, like the stories of so many other anti-gay murder victims throughout the nation, a story of life, not death.  Every time little niece Ryan runs and plays, or anyone retells the story of her Uncle Ryan, the intentions of his killers is foiled again. We remember Ryan today, not in sorrow, but in gratitude–and in dedication to the spread of justice and equality for all people, gay, transgender, bisexual, and straight alike.  Rest peacefully, Ryan.  We have not forgotten you!  For we who believe in Justice cannot rest. We who believe in Justice cannot rest until it comes!

April 28, 2013 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Florida, gay bashing, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Remembrances, Slashing attacks, stabbings | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

PFLAG Founder, Our Mother, Jeanne Manford Dies at 92

Jeanne Manford (1920 - 2013), proudly cradling the photo of her gay son, Monty.

Jeanne Manford (1920 – 2013), proudly cradling the photo of her gay son, Monty.

Washington, D.C. – The founder of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Jeanne Manford, has died at the age of 92.  She was a Giant whose influence for healing and hope among queer folk and their families is incalculable.  Tributes are pouring in from all over the world, led by this one issued by PFLAG Executive Director, Judy Huckaby, which we quote here in its entirety:

“Today the world has lost a pioneer: Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and the Mother of the Straight Ally movement.
 
“Jeanne was one of the fiercest fighters in the battle for acceptance and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It is truly humbling to imagine in 1972 – just 40 years ago – a simple schoolteacher started this movement of family and ally support, without benefit of any of the technology that today makes a grassroots movement so easy to organize. No Internet. No cellphones. Just a deep love for her son and a sign reading “Parents of Gays: Unite in Support for Our Children.”
 
“This simple and powerful message of love and acceptance from one person resonated so strongly it was heard by millions of people worldwide and led to the founding of PFLAG, an organization with more than 350 chapters across the U.S. and 200,000 members and supporters, and the creation of similar organizations across the globe.
 
“Jeanne’s work was called ‘the story of America…of ordinary citizens organizing, agitating, educating for change, of hope stronger than hate, of love more powerful than any insult or injury,’ in a speech by President Barack Obama in 2009.
 
“All of us – people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight allies alike – owe Jeanne our gratitude. We are all beneficiaries of her courage. Jeanne Manford proved the power of a single person to transform the world. She paved the way for us to speak out for what is right, uniting the unique parent, family, and ally voice with the voice of LGBT people everywhere.”
Jeanne Manford’s world changed the day in 1972 when she saw her gay activist son, Monty Manford, brutally attacked at a Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) Rally.  The police refused to intervene.  In her sorrow and outrage, Mrs. Manford wrote letters to the New York Post, penning the now famous words, “I have a homosexual and I love him.”  With uncommon courage, in a hostile context we have largely forgotten once existed, her mother-love acted to defend and empower her child, and all the children of difference who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. She founded Parents of Gays (POG), the parent organization of we know now as PFLAG.
Through decades of harsh heartbreak, Mrs. Manford comforted the parents and friends of the queer community, fired their children with the grace and fire to live everyday of their lives as the beloved creations of God they were born to be, and challenged the systems and structures of oppression.  Because of her efforts, the world we know experiences less hostility and discrimination than the one she and Monty knew all too well.  In too many ways for us to count, Jeanne Manford was the Mother of us all.
Fr. James Martin, SJ, moved by the news of her passing, wrote his Evening Meditation as a tribute to her today. He concludes it with a heartfelt benediction and blessing upon the work, soul, and life of this great, prophetic spirit.  His words serve as ours tonight:  “May Jeanne Manford rest in peace, and may we always love prophetically, recklessly, prodigally, dangerously, eternally.”  Amen.  Mother of us all, rest well.

January 8, 2013 Posted by | GLBTQ, Jeanne Manford, LGBTQ, PFLAG, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Hanukkah 2012: Hope in the Unlikeliest of Places

chanukah_lightsTo you and yours from the Unfinished Lives Project Team, sincere wishes for a Happy Hanukkah!  This year, the Jewish Festival of Lights begins at sundown on Saturday, December 8, and concludes at sunset on Sunday, December 16.  There is a natural connection between the story and values of Hanukkah, and the hopes of LGBTQ people around the world for freedom and full equality.

For one thing, Hanukkah symbolizes the successful fight for freedom.  It is the remembrance of the rebellion of Matathias and his sons (the Maccabees) against Antiochus, the Syrian tyrant of the Greek Empire, in 168 BCE. Jews expelled the Syrians from Jerusalem and reclaimed the Holy Temple.  The struggle for LGBTQ human rights began with a rebellion of sorts, too, in the streets and gay bars of Greenwich Village, New York City, in late June 1969.  The freedom we seek may be a long time coming, Hanukkah teaches us, but it is coming, indeed.

Another Hanukkah value LGBTQ people and allies should cherish is that hope springs up in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and often looks insignificant at the time. In that respect, Hanukkah shares a common theme of hope with the celebration of Christmas. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, in a FOX News interview, said recently: “While Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas, each tells a story of finding greater hope and salvation than one could reasonably expect, and of doing so in the most unlikely of places. Whether in a little jar of oil that lasted longer than it should have or through a newborn baby delivered in a Bethlehem, we are reminded that good things do come in very small packages when we open our eyes and our hearts enough.”

When LGBTQ people work for justice FOR ANYONE, they are carrying out the central message of Hanukkah, whether they realize it or not. Rabbi Hirschfield went on to say: “One could certainly argue that the most important Hanukkah practices are whatever acts help us find the light in our lives and in our world, empower us to help others do the same, and celebrate those moments when we have done so. Hanukkah really is an amazing holiday – one that testifies to peoples’ ability to create light where there is darkness, bring hope when most despair, and not only await the future, but create it.”

Hasten the coming of the Light!  We who believe in Justice cannot rest.  We who believe in Justice cannot rest until it comes…Happy Hanukkah!

December 8, 2012 Posted by | GLBTQ, Hanukkah, LGBTQ, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012: Never Forget Our Dead

Dallas, Texas, and around the globe – The 14th Annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is set for November 20, 2012.  Women, men, youth, and queer folk of every stripe will be gathering throughout the week, and especially on this coming Tuesday evening, to memorialize our Transgender Sisters and Brothers, gender variant people who have not yet identified, and those perceived to be Transgender who have lost their lives to unreasoning hatred since this time last year.

The first TDOR was established to remember the murder of Rita Hester who died on November 28, 1998–a case that has never been solved to this day. The heinous character of hate crimes against gender variant people is compounded by the fact that so many of these homicides remain, like Rita’s, unsolved, with no one brought to justice.

TDOR offers a chance for lament to take place in a world that customarily ignores the plight of gender variant persons, especially youth of color.  The vigil gives LGB and Straight allies a way to stand together in solidarity with Transgender people, and publicly condemn all acts of violence perpetrated against our sisters and brothers. Since the media turn a blind eye towards the killing of Transgender persons, TDOR breaks the silence in a powerful way, drawing attention to this crisis from local communities to the entire global village. Finally, those who had no voice in life are remembered, and vicariously given voice beyond the grave.

Observances will remember over 265 persons who died this year because of their gender identity and gender expression.  A current listing of the dead may be found on the International Transgender Day of Remembrance website.

This Sunday, November 18, Dallas will commemorate TDOR, according to Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson of Cathedral of Hope. As the Dallas Voice reports, The Dallas Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012, “A Candle Light Vigil and Celebration of Lives,” will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 at Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas. Speakers for the event are Councilwoman Delia Jasso, Carter Brown of Black Transmen Inc., Michelle Stafford of GEAR and youth representative Hanna Walters. Music will be provided by Shelly Torres-West with Paul Allen, Mosaic Song, Terry Thompkins, and the Cathedral Ringers. Doors open at 5 p.m., and refreshments will be available.  

Transgender spokeswoman Michelle Stafford expressed her feelings about the meaning of this year’s memorial to the Voice: “While on the surface this Day of Remembrance is focused on the transgender portion of our community,” she said, “at the heart it is a remembrance of where our community, the LGBT community, was in the past, how it has moved forward, and where it must press forward together to achieve. It is a time of honoring those who have been murdered simply because they were themselves. It is a time of reflecting on what each of us an individual has done to advance our protection under the legal system, our right to access adequate medical care, our freedom to obtain and hold employment without discrimination, the ability to seek housing without prejudice, freedom to dine and shop where we desire without discrimination, and the right to live our lives as the authentic people we know we are.”

November 18, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Cathedral of Hope, GLBTQ, LGBTQ, Remembrances, Texas, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering the 16th Street Baptist Church Martyrs: A Special Comment on Religion and Violence

Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and Denise McNair. They did not die in vain.

Birmingham, Alabama – Today (September 15) marks the 49th anniversary of the senseless murder of four little girls attending Sunday School at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins who were 14, and Denise McNair who was 12.  The church was bombed on September 15, 1963 by a Ku Klux Klan related group in a vain attempt to terrorize the African American community. The nation was stunned by the news, and virtually overnight, these four young innocents became the leading figures in a renewed non-violent Civil Rights movement led by Christian clergy.  Non-violent outrage over their deaths, arguably, became the impetus for the greatest achievement of the black liberation movement in the United States: the Voter Rights Act of 1965.

Wesley, Robertson, Collins, and McNair should, of course, be remembered perpetually for the loss of their young lives to race hatred in the great Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s.  But this year, their loss, and the response of the African American Christian community to their outrageous murders at the time, is a lesson the world needs most acutely.  In the wake of violence throughout the Muslim world over a blasphemous online video defaming the Prophet, and the mounting death toll of American diplomats and Muslim demonstrators, the world needs to pause, take a deep breath, remember the 16th Street children, and choose better ways of protest.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a movingly personal speech Thursday in the aftermath of attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East, calling on religions of the world to affirm non-violence rather than bloodshed. ABC OTUS News reports that Secretary Clinton, speaking at an Eid ul-Fitr reception marking the end of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, decried both the “inflammable and despicable” anti-Islamic film circulating on the internet, and the violence that took the lives of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  While all religions inevitably face insults and defamation, she said, the way in which believers choose to respond to these affronts is what separates people of true faith from pretenders who use such events as excuses to lash out with violence. “When Christians are subject to insults to their faith, and that certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence. When Hindus or Buddhists are subjected to insults to their faiths, and that also certainly happens, we expect them not to resort to violence,” Clinton said. “The same goes for all faiths, including Islam.”  

Speaking out of her own faith as a United Methodist Christian, Secretary Clinton went on to say, “I so strongly believe that the great religions of the world are stronger than any insults. They have withstood offense for centuries. Refraining from violence, then, is not a sign of weakness in one’s faith; it is absolutely the opposite, a sign that one’s faith is unshakable.”  Rather than take the path of violence, she said, when one person acts with violence, a million should respond with deeds of religious tolerance and reconciliation. Instead of amplifying hatred, she concluded, each of us must commit ourselves to acts of religious tolerance in our own communities of faith.

Reflecting on the lessons of the 16th Street martyrs, the verdict of history is that only the power of love can conquer senseless hatred–the sort of love typified by the non-violent Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the wake of irrational hate crimes like the murders of four little girls nearly fifty years ago. Hate crimes are brutal teachers, but the precepts they teach can lead toward justice and hope, and away from hatred and fear.  The difference is the choices we make and the deeds we do. When confronted with savagery, African American Christians and their allies answered with courage and a greater love–love for what is best in faith, what is best in society, and what is supreme in human experience: the power of reconciliation and hope.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his eulogy for the four little girls on September 18, 1963, said to the grieving city of Birmingham:

“These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”

Never has the challenge to true hearts been greater than today.  The lessons of our forebears and the martyrs who preceded us point away from fear and violence and toward justice and love.  The Unfinished Lives Project Team, then, offers this simple prayer for a better world: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

September 15, 2012 Posted by | African Americans, Alabama, Hate Crimes, Racism, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, U.S. State Department | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blessed Rosh Hashanah from Unfinished Lives

L’Shana Tovah!  This year, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, commences with sunset on September 16 and continues through nightfall of September 18.  The beauty of this great festival is that it celebrates the total human race.  Rosh Hashanah, meaning “The Head of the Year,” begins on 1 Tishrei, the first day of the Jewish calendar, and commemorates the anniversary of the creation of womankind and mankind–all males and females, commencing with the mythological First Woman and First Man, Eve and Adam.

Sam Meyer, our Friend on Facebook, reminds us that Rosh Hashanah accentuates the special relationship between G-d and humankind: our dependence upon G-d as Creator of Heaven, Earth, and the whole creaturely Cosmos, and the dependence of G-d upon humanity to make the works and ways of G-d known in the world.

Every remembrance of the fallen in the LGBTQ community we offer on this website, and every call for social justice we make is framed within this great story, in which all are the children of God, all are worthy of life and love, and all have their share in the dignity and co-creativity of creation.  So, the Unfinished Lives Project Team sounds the rams horn of hope as the New Year begins, and prays for your health and prosperity in the days and weeks to come!  L’Shana Tovah!

September 14, 2012 Posted by | GLBTQ, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBTQ, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , | 1 Comment

9/11: Remembering the Fallen on the 11th Anniversary

The body of Fr. Mychal Judge, Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, is carried from the chaos of Ground Zero on 9/11 [photo by Shannon Stapleton of Reuters].

New York, New York – September 11, 2001 is being recalled across the world today.  On this 11th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the thwarted attack on the U.S. Capitol thanks to the heroic action of the passengers aboard United Flight 93 are remembered by a somber and far less naïve nation than the one which awoke to the horror of 9/11.

2,996 people died on that awful day, including the 19 men who hijacked four airliners, and 2,977 victims.  Among the victims were the 246 passengers aboard the planes.  2,606 died in the Twin Towers. 125 died in the Pentagon.  The vast majority of victims were civilians.  At the Pentagon, 55 of the fallen were military personnel.

Of the heroic acts on 9/11, none were greater than the sacrifices made by the first responders. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) lost 343 personnel that day.  75 firehouses suffered the loss of at least one member of their team.  FDNY also lost its chief, its commissioner, its marshal, its chaplain, and many specialty and administrative personnel.

Collateral losses of first responders due to illness and injury sustained on 9/11 continue to this day.

Unfinished Lives salutes the fallen of 9/11 by choosing one among them all to serve as their representative: Fr. Mychal F. Judge, OFM, Chaplain of FDNY, who died offering comfort and assistance to the dying and wounded in the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  Witnesses testify that Fr. Mychal died when debris from the falling South Tower rocketed into the North Tower Lobby with a velocity of over 100 mph. The medical examiner certified that Fr. Mychal succumbed to blunt force trauma to the back of his head.  His victim number is 0001, acknowledging that his body was the first to be recovered and carried from the scene. Among the unforgettable scenes of that awful day, the image of Fr. Mychal’s lifeless body being borne away by his comrades, a modern day Pietà, is a stand out. He was an exemplary man, a dedicated priest, and, among other dimensions of his life, a gay man unafraid to own who he was among his colleagues and before the world.

Amidst the terror and the death of 9/11, the courage, loyalty and love of Fr. Mychal stands for the suffering and hope of all the fallen and their families.  Much has changed since the trauma of that day, but the wounds to the American consciousness remain fresh. May we never forget. May we honor the dead by rededicating ourselves to improve the circumstances of the living, even as we strive to create a better world.

September 11, 2012 Posted by | 9/11, Fr. Mychal Judge, gay men, GLBTQ, LGBTQ, New York, Remembrances, Roman Catholic Church and Homosexuality | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

North Texas LGBTQ Community Grieves the Passing of Thomas Anable

Thomas Anable, 59, President of Fairness Fort Worth.

Benbrook, Texas – Thomas Anable, President of Fairness Fort Worth, an LGBTQ advocacy and education agency dedicated to the transformation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Texas, has died, according to the report of The Dallas Voice.  Anable, 59, was a leading voice in the significant advances for LGBTQ people in the wake of the 2009 Raid on the Rainbow Lounge, Fort Worth’s largest gay and lesbian bar.  Anable, who found himself caught up in the swirl of events around the Raid, was a founding member of Fairness Fort Worth. On the night of June 28, 2009, he was working in the office of the Lounge when police and officers of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the establishment, and began arresting patrons.  According to his own often-repeated testimony, Anable’s life underwent a significant change that fateful night.  As he said in the official trailer for the documentary film, Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, “Those officers took something away from me that I may never get back–they took my sense of safety and security. And they had no right to do that.” He was transformed from a bystander to a passionate activist, bringing his persuasive voice and considerable skills to bear on challenges facing gay folk in the aftermath of the historic Raid.

According to a press release from the Benbrook Police Department, Anable’s body was discovered in Dutch Branch Park at 8:26 a.m. Saturday morning. He died sometime late Friday or early Saturday morning, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The news spread swiftly on Saturday throughout the North Texas human rights advocacy community.

Rev. Carol West, Vice President of Fairness Fort Worth, and Jon Nelson, a co-founder of the organization, praised Anable in public statements and vowed to carry on the work that he had so wholeheartedly dedicated himself to accomplish.  Plans for a memorial observance of his life have not yet been released at the time of this writing.

Tom Anable utterly dedicated himself to change Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and North Texas into a better place for all people to live, especially the LGBTQ community.  A CPA by profession and training, he sold his practice in order to take up the tasks of advocacy full-time after the Rainbow Lounge Raid. Anable’s efforts most recently were centered on two major White House Conferences held on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington–the first on hate crimes and human trafficking, and the second on efforts to combat bullying in schools.  In the past month, he was avidly working to support the Welcoming Schools Program of the Human Rights Campaign as a model for the Fort Worth Independent School District.

In response to the news of his passing, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Professor at Brite Divinity School, and Founding Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, said, “I am saddened and grieved by the passing of Tom Anable.  No one has contributed more to the advancement of LGBTQ human rights in our area than he.  Tom was a consummate networker, tirelessly striving to make our world a better place.  As we miss him, the finest memorial to his memory will be to carry on his work until full equality is achieved for everyone in the Lone Star State.”

“Thomas Anable’s legacy will be a stronger, more confident, and much more politically savvy gay community,” Sprinkle went on to say.  “We are far better for his work, and closer to the goal of equality because of his labors.”

August 18, 2012 Posted by | Fairness Fort Worth, gay men, GLBTQ, Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Rainbow Lounge Raid, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay Literary Lion, Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.” Gore Vidal, Julian

Los Angeles, California – Gay intellectual and literary giant, Gore Vidal, died Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills.  He succumbed to pneumonia after what his nephew, Burr Steers, called “a long illness.” Vidal was 86.

Charles McGrath of the New York Times writes in his obituary, “Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right.”  Eugene Gore Vidal, born at the U.S. Military Academy where his father was an assistant football coach and flying instructor, grew up in the patrician environs of New York City. He dropped his first name so he would not be confused with his father, Eugene Vidal Sr.  His grandfather, Senator T.P. Gore of Oklahoma, tried to steer his grandson toward a life of politics.  Instead, Vidal pursued a literary career, eventually churning out more than 25 books, numerous celebrated essays, a raft of plays for theater, and many successful and lucrative screenplays for Hollywood.

By turns moody, brooding, trenchant, and uncommonly brilliant, Vidal was a star in the remarkable constellation of gay writers who transformed American life and set their stamp on gay culture throughout the world.  Vidal had a celebrated feud with Truman Capote, a rich friendship with Tennessee Williams, and wrote alongside James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Christopher Isherwood. His 1947 novel, The City and the Pillar, was the earliest fiction title in American literature to feature a fully gay character.

Vidal loved sex but rejected labels.  It was clear that his preference was for men, whom he cruised with abandon.  Yet, the only person he ever loved, to whom he dedicated The City and the Pillar, was Jimmie Trimble, a classmate of his at the exclusive St. Alban’s School, who died on Iwo Jima.

Vidal carried out a highly publicized antagonism with conservative maven, William F. Buckley Jr., who, in a fit of pique at being bested by Vidal’s razor tongue and superior wit, denounced him as a “queer” on national television. Vidal accused Buckley of libeling him (though at a later time he agreed that he was, indeed, gay), and the quarrel spilled over into print.  Buckley wrote in the August 1969 Esquire Magazine, “On Experiencing Gore Vidal,” with the subtitle, “Can there be any justification in calling a man a queer before ten million people on television?”  Vidal answered with a broadside of his own in the September edition, entitled “A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr.,” with the subheading, “Can there be any justification in calling a man a pro crypto Nazi before ten million people on television?”  The cover of the magazine flashed the title, “The Kids vs. The Pigs” and a photo of a collegiate boy face-to-face with a live pig, to reflect the confrontation of youth and police at the Chicago Democratic National Convention–the nub of the argument between Vidal and Buckley.

Twice Vidal ran unsuccessfully for public office as a Democrat in New York. But his real charism was writing, and through that medium he left an indelible stamp on the creation and definition of what it means to be gay in American life. For many years, he lived abroad in Ravello, Italy, returning as needed to the States. He once said, “In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you are a great writer, you must say that you are.”  Vidal followed his own advice.  He was never able to remain quiet about his own genius.  In large measure, he was right–both about himself and the American people. 

Gore Vidal was an outlaw prince amidst a band of queer princelings who changed the fortunes of the countless LGBTQ people who followed them.  From the era prior to World War II, when gayness was thought to be unspeakably dirty and verboten, to the 21st century when queer folk have become media darlings, Vidal and his associates wrote a whole new reality into existence–a more diverse and tolerant nation than the one into which they were born.  We owe him and them for that.  And we will not forget it.

August 1, 2012 Posted by | California, gay men, Gore Vidal, Remembrances | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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