Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

With sorrow and sympathy

We at the Unfinished Lives Project convey our deepest sympathy to the Rev. Chris Buice and the members of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. We are concerned especially for the children of the congregation who were putting on their stage version of “Annie, Jr.”, and for the families of Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger, who have both died as a result of gunshot wounds. Our prayers and thoughts are with the six other members of the church who were wounded in this senseless attack.

Tennessee Valley UU has been courageously advocating for LGBT people and for other social justice causes since the 1950s. In grief at the loss they have endured, and in hope for a better world, we stand together with them.

Stephen V. Sprinkle
The Unfinished Lives Project


View an Associated Press video reporting the violent incident:

July 28, 2008 Posted by | Condolences, gun violence, Hate Crimes, multiple homicide, religious intolerance, School and church shootings, Tennessee | , , , , | Comments Off on With sorrow and sympathy

Special Comment: Newsweek magazine and the Re-victimization of Larry King

by Stephen V. Sprinkle


If only journalists and their editors had a Hippocratic Oath to hold them responsible for the stories they tell about the dead. Medical doctors pledge, “First, do no harm.” If doctors proceed to do harm to their patients, then there is a professional society to hold them accountable. The editor of Newsweek, and the team who wrote the Cover Story on Larry King, “Young, Gay and Murdered,” for the July 28, 2008 issue have exercised no constraints on themselves, and unlike the backlash against Dan Rather’s reportage on President Bush’s military service record, there appears to be no one in the journalistic community willing to call their hand for re-victimizing an infamously murdered 15-year-old boy, Larry King. King, you will recall, was shot twice in the head by his alleged killer, 14-year-old classmate, Brandon McInerney.

I want to disclose fully. I am an out gay man who has been studying and writing on the stories of LGBT hate crimes murder victims. I am director of the Unfinished Lives Project that seeks to remember and honor the lives and deaths of women and men who have died violently because of whom others perceived them to be. Further, I am writing a book that will tell the stories of over twenty such LGBT people, and Larry King is one of them. I have spoken publicly at the Vigil for Larry King held in my hometown, Dallas, Texas. That is my “agenda”: to see that stories such as Larry’s are told in such a way that the society may encounter these murdered women, men and youths as human beings who are basically unremarkable from the rest of America, with the difference that as LGBT people, they belong to the last great group in our country it is still permissible to abuse.

Editor Daniel Klaidman, lead reporter Ramin Setoodeh, and team members Andrew Murr and Jennifer Ordoñez do not spell out their sexual orientations or their agendas for us to examine so that we can more fully evaluate how they tell Larry’s and Brandon’s stories. We are left only with their silence on these matters, antiseptic silence that suggests an objectivity that no one ever has when it comes to issues of society and morality. Journalists may have “trained subjectivities” they can bring to their tasks, but that is all they have, and to pretend anything else is dishonest. They do indeed have their agendas, and these agendas serve some end, but we are only left to speculate about what they may be.

The article is written from the angle that Larry’s story, being less “clear cut” because it is “more complicated than it had first appeared,” needs to be rescued from the LGBT people who are, in the words Setoodeh quotes from Larry’s father, using his son’s death as “a gay-rights issue, because it makes a poster child out of my son.” In brief, Setoodeh and his team write about Larry as “troubled,” “disturbed,” and quite possibly “a danger to himself.” The accounts of what growing up as a femininely-presenting boy of mixed race is like in grade and middle school are touched lightly, and the authors then go for their real goal: to pathologize Larry medically, suggesting that there was something sick about him. His diagnosis as ADHD is given, his history of therapy, and an assertion that runs throughout the article that Larry yearned for attention and didn’t know his own mind when it came to being LGBT. The authority for these statements is his father’s quotation of an anonymous “therapist” whose credentials to evaluate a gay youth are never given, and teachers most of whom by the authors’ own admission believed Larry to be a big problem. In contrast to the column space given to Brandon whose peccadilloes and flaws are presented minimally as the outworking of a troubled home, the dark star of the article is Larry who dressed provocatively, who cannot walk well in his heels, who sported glitter, spoke in a “roar,” was a “bully,” and sexually harassed Brandon and others in school. Setoodeh and his associates indict Larry without the benefit of dissenting voices. There is one mention of his being “gentle,” a gay stereotype. The accounts of classmates who claimed he was brave, unique, and nice are perfunctorily mentioned in the context of a school memorial service, leaving the unspoken assumption with us that memorials by grieving students are well meaning but shallow. The overwhelming assessment of the authors of the article is that Larry was a boy too hard for any parent or school to handle, who needed protection from others and himself like Britney Spears, and whose terrorizing behavior made teachers and students “not unsympathetic” to his killer.

The second irresponsible feature of the article is the way Joy Epstein, a lesbian, is put on trial as the alleged instigator of Larry’s outrages. She has an “agenda” of “gay rights.” Greg King, Larry’s adoptive father, is set over and against her, alleging that Epstein confused “her role as a junior-high principal,…asserting her beliefs for gay rights” in her dealings with his son. Even Epstein’s promotion to principal at another school because of her qualifications is portrayed as an attack on the King family. The lesbian school administrator is painted with a rather broad brush as a manipulating authority figure who is somehow the wicked puppet-master behind Larry’s excessive, needy narcissism.

The third and fourth irresponsible aspects of this article are the use of parentheses to soften the way Larry is indicted for his own demise, and the refusal to quote anyone who liked, taught or counseled him for Casa Pacifica. Editor Klaidman parenthetically whispers in his Editor’s Desk introduction to the Cover Story that, even though Larry’s behavior may have led to his death (nothing warrants his murder). The use of parentheses downplays the information encased in them. It is like an aside, and here it is used essentially to set aside the truth that should have been at the core of this article, not secreted away in punctuation: There is never an excuse for murder. Ever.

The absence of any voices from Casa Pacifica with the exception of a hearsay quote from Vicki Murphy is a failure of journalism on the part of the authors. Casa voices were not omitted in the cover story on the King murder published by The Advocate in its April 8, 2008 issue, and their omission in the Newsweek story raises the question of whether those people who knew Larry best in his last months have been silenced by attorneys, or were thought to have nothing to contribute that the authors wished to quote. The silence is provocative, and no reason for it is given. If Setoodeh spent five months rooting around Oxnard and environs, he surely could have written more than the scant, spare paragraph on Casa Pacifica in the article. If Casa Pacifica was the place where Larry was best able to explore his budding gay identity in security and acceptance, if indeed it was a time for him that “was the happiest of his life,” why leave it out? Why deal with the Ventura gay youth group meetings that were important during Larry’s residence at Casa in a single sentence? The interaction of the two main institutions in Larry’s life, Casa Pacifica and E.O. Green Middle School, is entirely left out, along with any insight on how this institutional interplay shaped the context of the murder.

The emotional impact of this irresponsible storytelling is that Larry King, the primary victim, the person who died with two bullets in his head, is actually the heavy in the Newsweek article. His killer, McInerney, who is undoubtedly the secondary victim in this tragic chain of events, is portrayed as confused and understandably violent toward this dangerous wild child. LGBT people are portrayed as agenda-driven and manipulative. Teachers, the superintendent, and the school board are treated sympathetically, and Casa Pacifica is essentially written out of the equation, along with the Ventura gay youth group Larry attended.

It is no surprise that Larry had his faults. LGBT hate crime murder victims are as noble and as ordinary as every one else. Even if the “pathology report” given about him was 100% true and accurate, what in any of this rises to the level of murder by two bullets in the back of the head in plain sight of all the youth in the classroom? Nothing. What is going on here is common in the treatment of the murders of LGBT people: discredit the humanity and character of the victim. Make bizarre behavior or drugs or a criminal record the lens through which the murderer is seen. Muffle the moral impact of the crime, downplay the hate crime aspect, and re-victimize the victim. After Satoodeh and his associates got done with Larry King, there was little left to mourn.

The Newsweek journalists and editors behind the “Young, Gay, and Murdered” story framed their article and selected their sources carefully to make a point about the equation of sexual harassment with male feminine-presentation and gender-variance in middle schools. This is not a neutral or objective piece, and it was not ultimately about Larry King at all. It was about changing the subject from a brutal school murder to “the limits of tolerance.”

When major articles invoke an inquiry into “the limits of tolerance” as the reason to publish them, we must ask whose sense of tolerance and which accounts of the range of acceptable expression dominate the story. The “tolerant” mercies of heterosexists are cruel to gay folk. California is stereotypically presented as the liberal incubator of gay rights by the authors of the Newsweek article. No one has paused long enough to ask how many murders and gay bashings lie behind these policies and laws in the Golden State. There have been so many, in fact, these laws were crafted and enacted to protect a vulnerable population from physical harm and a whole catalogue of discrimination. People are still being killed for being gay in the Bay Area, in Sacramento and environs, and in L.A. The report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs for 2007 showed that one of the most alarming increases in anti-LGBT violence in the country took place in Los Angeles—100% in one year. The point is that limits of tolerance cannot be invoked if there is no place in America where tolerance is a leading virtue. However that may sound, it is true. LGBT people are treated as second-class Americans, and it is somehow permissible in this country for the sexual majority to impose “acceptable limits of tolerance” upon people whose lives they do not understand.

Larry King was a boy whose life is held up to a level of scrutiny his journalistic judges could not withstand themselves. If the “gay activists” are guilty of using Larry as a justification for their purposes, the Newsweek team is no better. The context in which to understand Larry King’s murder is not just the school culture of blue-collar Oxnard. It is the nationwide context of violence against teenage boys who present femininely in a dangerous world of fragile, macho egos. 15-year-old Larry King died brutally in the same two-month period of 2008 during which 18-year-old Adolphus “Beyoncé” Simmons in North Charleston, South Carolina was shot by a teenage assailant as he carried out his trash, and 17-year-old Simmie Williams, Jr. was gunned down by unknown assailants in Fort Lauderdale, Florida while he was wearing a dress.

Setoodeh and his team are irresponsible for a more basic reason than framing their story with too narrow a context. They took their eyes off of the two points of reference essential for telling a true story about what happened that morning in E.O. Green Middle School’s computer class. They took their eyes off of the back of Larry’s head, and off of Brandon’s hand wrapped around his pistol.

Larry King brought a Valentine card to school. Brandon McInerney brought a loaded pistol. After all the whys and wherefores of the case are debated, these are the undisputed facts, and no responsible journalist may ever forget them.

Stephen V. Sprinkle
The Unfinished Lives Project



Read this response by Alex Blaze, or this Box Turtle Bulletin article by Timothy Kincaid, which also question Newsweek’s journalistic approach. For another perspective, read this Bilerico post by Cathy Renna that provides a different opinion about the Newsweek article.

July 24, 2008 Posted by | Blame the victim, California, gun violence, Hate Crime Statistics, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, School and church shootings, Social Justice Advocacy, Special Comments | , , | 1 Comment

Newsweek cover story about Larry King described as a “hit piece”

Timothy Kincaid, a commentator for the Box Turtle Bulletin, says Newsweek’s July 28 cover story about Lawrence “Larry” King invites readers to conclude King provoked his own murder.  Kincaid’s response to the Newsweek article says author Ramin Setoodeh employed biased language, anti-gay catch phrases, and one-sided reporting to make King appear culpable for the fatal gunshots fired by classmate Brandon McInerney.  “Other than the briefest of disclaimers,” says Kincaid, “there is little [in Setoodeh’s article] to suggest that King was not fully to blame for his own death.”

In his Newsweek article, Setoodeh says “the reason Larry died isn’t as clear-cut as many people think.”  To support his claim, he goes on to say that King was “a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon.”

Kincaid’s Box Turtle Bulletin rebuttal expresses confusion about the Newsweek article’s author and purpose.  “I don’t know Ramin Setoodeh’s orientation or his personal tastes or biases,” says Kincaid.  “Nor do I know his reasons for writing an article that serves as little more than a press release for the defense on this murder case.”

July 23, 2008 Posted by | Blame the victim, California, gun violence, Latino and Latina Americans, Media Issues, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, School and church shootings | , | Comments Off on Newsweek cover story about Larry King described as a “hit piece”

Remembering Satendar Singh

July 21 marks the birthday of Satendar Singh, the victim of a 2007 anti-gay hate crime in Lake Natoma State Park in California. Russian evangelical Christians mobbed Satendar, shouted homophobic slurs, and beat him severely enough to cause a fatal brain injury. What began as a day to picnic and dance with friends is now a day of mourning for the LGBT community.

On Satendar’s birthday, we remember and celebrate his life.  Singh would have been 28 years old today.


This “Being Gay Today” video describes the events leading to Satendar Singh’s death:

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Asian Americans, Beatings and battery, California, gay men, mob-violence and lynching, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Unfinished Lives receives endorsements from prestigious advocacy groups

Unfinished Lives is proud to receive endorsements from two prominent and respected American advocacy groups. Paul W. Dodd of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and Harry Knox of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation have recognized the Unfinished Lives project for its work to reclaim the memories of anti-gay hate crime victims in the United States.

Dodd expresses the urgent need for a project like Unfinished Lives: “For their sake, for the sake of shattered families and grieving friends, and for the sake of all that is decent and moral in civil society, we can finally hear their stories, honor their lives, and take steps to stop the hate and violence.” Additionally, Knox says our effort “is the most important one of which I am aware seeking to illuminate the lives and struggles faced by gender-variant and transgender people in the United States.”

Both endorsements honor our efforts, and, in return, we work every day to remember and celebrate persons whose lives were unjustly and violently torn from us. We at the Unfinished Lives project are truly grateful for the recognition by these two organizations, and we are proud to stand with them in the effort to guarantee dignity and respect for all people.

July 19, 2008 Posted by | Endorsements | | Comments Off on Unfinished Lives receives endorsements from prestigious advocacy groups

Remembering Scotty Joe Weaver

On this day in 2004, Scotty Joe Weaver fell victim to an anti-gay hate crime in Bay Minette, Alabama. He died at the hands of his own roommates, people who on the surface represented friendship and trust. Yet Scotty Joe was murdered while pleading for his life in front of people who betrayed that relationship and bond.

Today, join the Unfinished Lives project as we remember Scotty Joe, mourn his loss, and celebrate his life. In our memory, we restore to Scotty Joe the dignity and worth that rightly belongs to every individual, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

Read a September 2007 news story carried by WKRG about the prison sentencing of Weaver’s assailants, and view the related television news report:

July 18, 2008 Posted by | Alabama, Anglo Americans, gay men, Law and Order, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Father assaults gay son with baseball bat

[NOTE: The veracity of the teen’s claims are now under investigation.  See this July 23, 2008 update to the story.  – The Unfinished Lives Project team]


An article in the Anderson Independent-Mail (South Carolina) reports that a father assaulted his own son for having attended a gay pride parade last Sunday.

The article says “the teen’s 49-year-old father yelled, cursed, swung a baseball bat, prayed and tried to ‘cast the demon of homosexuality out of him,’ according to the teen’s version of events.”  A second incident occurred when the son returned home to collect some clothing.

Both occurrences are under investigation by deputies in Anderson County.

July 18, 2008 Posted by | Beatings and battery, Domestic Violence, gay men, Hate Crimes, religious intolerance, South Carolina, Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off on Father assaults gay son with baseball bat

As Ebony Whitaker laid to rest, hate crime concerns continue in Memphis

According to a July 8 Out & About Newspaper article, the murder of transgender woman Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker has raised concerns about anti-gay violence in Memphis, Tennessee.  As Whitaker’s body was laid to rest on Monday, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) called upon the Memphis Police Department to be more responsive when it comes to crimes committed against the transgender community.

Whitaker’s murder is considered the latest in a string of violent crimes against transgendered persons in Memphis.  TTPC president Marisa Richmond said that the unsolved murder of Tiffany Berry and the police beating of Duanna Johnson point to an unacceptable trend of violence.  “The lack of response by the Memphis Police Department,” says Richmond, “has set a tone in the community that the lives of transgender people, especially African-American, are irrelevant.”


Watch the video of Duanna Johnson’s beating by Memphis Police in February.


For more information about Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker, read a related article at the Memphis Eyewitness News website.

July 11, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Hate Crimes, police brutality, Tennessee, transgender persons | , , , , | 1 Comment

Remembering Charlie Howard

July 7 marks the twenty-fourth anniversary of Charles O. “Charlie” Howard’s murder in Bangor, Maine. As Charlie and his friend Roy Ogden walked on a downtown street, three teenagers accosted Charlie and his friend, shouted homophobic slurs, threw Charlie to the ground, and then punched and kicked him. The three youths decided to force Charlie over a bridge railing and into the Kenduskeag Stream twenty feet below. Ogden, who had initially fled from the assailants, looked back to see them throw Charlie over the railing. After sounding an alarm for help, Ogden, together with firemen and police, looked for his friend, whose body would not be found until hours later. On that same night, at a party, the three teenagers bragged about having thrown Charlie into the stream.

Today the Charles O. Howard Memorial Foundation and the City of Bangor are working to establish a granite monument to mark the place of Charlie’s murder.  Despite earlier disagreements about the proposed memorial, the City of Bangor approved installation of the monument by unanimous vote during a City Council meeting last November.

Today the Unfinished Lives Project also remembers Charlie.  The tragedy that befell Charlie twenty-four years ago still touches lives today, and as we remember him we also hope for a world where hate-crime violence no longer occurs.

July 7, 2008 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, drowning, gay men, Maine, Monuments and markers, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Remembrances, Slurs and epithets, Stomping and Kicking Violence | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Remembering Barry Winchell

Barry Winchell horizontal

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the death of hate crime victim Barry Winchell. He served in the United States Army and held the rank of Private First Class. Following a period of ongoing harassment directed at Winchell for having dated a transsexual showgirl, fellow soldier Calvin Glover used a baseball bat to bludgeon Winchell as he slept on a cot in the barracks of Fort Campbell. Winchell died of massive head injuries the following day.

Winchell’s brutal murder prompted President Bill Clinton to review the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy, which many cite as a factor in the hate crime.

Today we remember Barry Winchell, and in our memory we restore to him the dignity and respect belonging to every person, regardless of sexual orientation.

July 6, 2008 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Bludgeoning, Don't Tell (DADT), gay men, harassment, Kentucky, military, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Remembrances, U.S. Army | , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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